LAS VEGAS – Only three days after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, James Hellwig, who wrestled professionally as "The Ultimate Warrior," died Tuesday at 54, WWE officials said in a statement.
Saddened to announce the passing of the Ultimate Warrior. Icon and friend. My sympathy to his wife Dana and his daughters— Triple H (@TripleH) April 9, 2014
We are all so sad that the Ultimate Warrior has passed away. Our heart is with his wife Dana and his two daughters.— Vince McMahon (@VinceMcMahon) April 9, 2014
WWE did not give a cause of death for Hellwig.
[Photos: Remembering the Ultimate Warrior]
Hellwig collapsed while walking with his wife, Dana, to their car at the Gainy Suites Hotel in Scottsdale, Ariz., at 5:50 p.m. Tuesday, according to a statement from Sgt. Mark Clark, spokesman for the Scottsdale Police Department. The Scottsdale Fire Department transported Hellwig to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead soon after arrival. At this point in the investigation, it appears as though a catastrophic medical condition caused his death.
Hellwig appeared on WWE Raw on Monday in New Orleans on USA Network to a rousing ovation from fans, only a day after WrestleMania XXX.
Known for his extremely muscular physique, long, shaggy hair and colorful face paint, The Warrior feuded with many of the then-WWF's biggest stars, including Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage during his career. He defeated Hogan at WrestleMania VI to become champion, and was also an ex-Intercontinental champion.
The Ultimate Warrior's career spanned 13 years, from 1985-98, and included three stints in the then-WWF. His most memorable run came from 1987-91. He came back for short stints in 1992 and 1996.
After being inducted into the Hall of Fame Saturday in New Orleans on the night before WrestleMania – the WWE's biggest event – Hellwig appeared on Raw on Monday and seemed to foreshadow his death.
Hellwig began his speech in his own voice, saying, "As I thought about what I was going to say this evening, it's been hard for me to find the words."
He then pulled a mask out of his pocket that looked like the face paint he wore at the height of his career and switched into the Warrior's voice.
"Well then, Warrior, you shut up then and let me do the talking," he said, as the crowd roared its approval. "No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat; his lungs breathe their final breath.
"And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory."
He had long feuded with WWE management, but that seemed to end once he was elected to the Hall of Fame.
There was a photo of WWE CEO Vince McMahon and Hellwig warmly embracing at the Hall of Fame ceremony.
"WWE is shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the passing of one of the most iconic WWE superstars ever, The Ultimate Warrior," the WWE statement read. "Warrior began his WWE career in 1987 and quickly went on to become one of the biggest stars in WWE history. Warrior became WWE Champion at WrestleMania VI, defeating Hulk Hogan in an epic encounter.
"We are grateful that just days ago, Warrior had the opportunity to take his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame and was also able to appear at WrestleMania 30 and Monday Night Raw to address his legions of fans. WWE sends its sincere condolences to Warrior’s family, friends and fans."
Hellwig was also survived by his two daughters.
Shock coursed through social media when news of his death was confirmed.
RIP WARRIOR. only love. HH— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) April 9, 2014
Iron Sheik included a video of himself on Instagram in which he said, "Ultimate Warrior, I heard something tonight and I got shocked. I could not even believe it. But I want to let you know, whatever I said, I didn't mean it. It was a work. I love you. Rest in peace."
Former Yahoo Sports columnist Dave Meltzer, the founder of The Wrestling Observer and the foremost expert on pro wrestling in the media, said Warrior was one of the sport's most popular stars.
Meltzer said at Warrior's peak in 1990, he was second only to Hogan in popularity among the then-WWF fans.
"Warrior and Hogan represented that period, the era of the big bodybuilders and he was a huge, muscular guy," Meltzer said. "He connected well with kids and was a massive superstar at the time."
Meltzer said Hellwig had long and bitter feuds with McMahon and WWE management, which included multiple lawsuits.
Meltzer said Hellwig had reconciled with WWE officials and brought his young daughters on stage with him at the Hall of Fame ceremony.
"I didn't know him personally, but you could tell he lived for those kids," Meltzer said of Hellwig and his daughters, aged 11 and 13. "After the [induction ceremony], everybody got together and whatnot, but he disappeared to be with his kids."