WWE legend 'The Iron Sheik' dies at 81

MIAMI - JUNE 19:  The Iron Sheik attends Supercon 2010 on June 19, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)
The Iron Sheik attends Supercon 2010 on June 19, 2010 in Miami. (Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images)

WWE legend Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, widely known as “The Iron Sheik,” died Wednesday. He was 81 years old.

News of Vaziri's passing was announced by his family on his Twitter account.

Vaziri, born in Iran in 1942, trained as an amateur wrestler in his home country before moving to the United States in the 1960s. Despite never competing in the Olympics himself, Vaziri served as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team in 1972 and 1976.

Vaziri was recruited to be a professional wrestler by legendary promoter Verne Gagne, who ran the AWA at the time, initially wrestling as a babyface. It wasn’t until Gagne’s wife, Mary, suggested Vaziri adopt a villainous name and gimmick that the Iron Sheik was born.

Vaziri dove head-first into the character, carrying an Iranian flag to the ring and sporting curled-up boots. As Vince McMahon grew WWE and with the U.S. in the throes of global political turmoil, Vaziri’s Sheik proved to be the perfect heel for the likes of Bob Backlund, Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter. Sheik and Slaughter’s iconic feud culminated in a Boot Camp Match at Madison Square Garden.

Vaziri would win the WWE world heavyweight championship once during his career and was part of a championship tag team with Nikolai Volkoff in the 1980s.

Vaziri wrestled for nearly a dozen promotions before his final match in 2010.

He battled personal demons for much of his life. Vaziri began abusing substances during his wrestling career, particularly alcohol, crack and cocaine. In one particular incident in 1987, he was arrested for having drugs while driving with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. Vaziri’s drug use worsened after the murder of his daughter, Marissa, in 2003.

After another drug-related incident in Toronto where Vaziri suffered a heart attack, he finally got clean.

Sheik’s body, worn down from the rough-and-tumble lifestyle of professional wrestling, betrayed him in his later years, but Vaziri cultivated a massive following online with his account's intense, often vulgar, tweets. He amassed more than 641K followers on the social media platform. His story was told most recently in 2023 as part of A&E’s "WWE Biography" series.

"I love wrestling and I would do it all again," Vaziri told Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Iole in 2013. "But it is a very, very hard business. There is nothing about it that is easy."

Vaziri was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005 and the NWA Hall of Fame in 2008.

Vaziri is survived by his wife Caryl, children Tanya and Nikki, and five grandchildren. Vaziri's extended family includes his son-in-law Eddie, and his nephews Page and Jian Magen, who were named in the announcement of his death.

News of Vaziri's death led to an outpouring of condolences and reactions from the wrestling community.