Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as professional wrestling legend the Iron Sheik, has died, according to a statement posted Wednesday on his social media accounts. He was 81.
"Today, we gather with heavy hearts to bid farewell to a true legend, a force of nature, and an iconic figure who left an incredible mark on the world of professional wrestling," the statement read on his Twitter account. "It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of The Iron Sheik, but we also take solace in knowing that he departed this world peacefully, leaving behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come."
World Wrestling Entertainment retweeted the statement, writing: "WWE is saddened to hear of the passing of WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, and extends its condolences to his family, friends, and fans."
WWE is saddened to hear of the passing of WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, and extends its condolences to his family, friends, and fans. https://t.co/uY4mLvnWTF
— WWE (@WWE) June 7, 2023
Born on March 15, 1942, in Damghan, Iran, Vaziri won the Amateur Athletic Union Greco Roman wrestling title in 1971 and served as an assistant coach in the sport for two U.S. Olympic teams.
He started wrestling professionally in 1972 and defeated Bob Backlund on Dec. 26, 1983, at Madison Square Garden to become the World Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Champion. Vaziri lost the title less than a month later to Hulk Hogan in a famous match that is said to have launched Hogan’s superstar career.
One of wrestling's most beloved heels, the Iron Sheik was known for his camel clutch finishing hold, his fierce rivalry with fellow wrestler Sgt. Slaughter and a signature look that included a shaved head, a waxed mustache and curled boots.
Vaziri is survived by his wife, Caryl; three children, Tanya, Nikki and Marissa; and five grandchildren.
“The Iron Sheik was a man of immense passion and dedication,” the statement on his social media accounts read. “He embodied resilience. He overcame countless challenges in his life, both inside and outside the wrestling ring. His journey from a small village in Iran to becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the world of wrestling is a testament to his unwavering determination.”
The Iron Sheik has more than 645,000 followers on his Twitter account, which has been known to feature often-funny, often-profane and often anti-Hulk Hogan tweets. Appropriately enough, members of the professional wrestling community took to Twitter to share tributes to — and amusing anecdotes about — the Iron Sheik.
Ric Flair tweeted: "My Dear Friend Khosrow Vaziri!!! We Started Wrestling Together In 1972. Seems Like So Long Ago! We Crossed Paths So Many Times Over The Years & You Were Always So Entertaining. The Greatest Line You Ever Said To Me In 1972: 'If I Had Your Hair, I Would Be With Elizabeth Taylor!' Rest In Peace My Friend. Be As Entertaining To God As You Were To All Of Us!"
The legend. An all-time great performer and WWE Hall of Famer who brought his character to life and transcended our business.
My condolences to The Iron Sheik’s family, friends and fans.
— Triple H (@TripleH) June 7, 2023
Mick Foley wrote: "Although I never got to know The Sheik well, I was fortunate to have been on hand for two of his most iconic matches — his WWE title victory over Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden on December 26, 1983 and his 'Boot Camp Match' with Sgt Slaughter at MSG in August, 1984," . "I also had the honor of wrestling the iron sheik for the first and only time — on a tour of Dominica in 1987. Khosrow Vaziri was truly one of a kind."
From John "Bradshaw" Layfield: "He thought my name was Brad Shaw, two names. He met my dad and said 'ah, Mr Shaw, your boy Brad is such a fine young man'. Love you Mr Sheik. RIP you legend."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.