The wrestling world is saying goodbye to one of its biggest stars. WWE announced Wednesday that Bruno Sammartino had died. He was 82.
Known as “The Italian Superman,” Sammartino joined his immigrant father in Pittsburgh from Italy following World War II and began lifting weights, according to a statement released by the WWE. Professional wrestling promoter Vincent J. McMahon helped propel Sammartino into a star in sports entertainment, but it was his victory over Buddy Rogers at Madison Square Garden in 1963 that won him the WWE Championship. He held the title for nearly eight years — the longest reign in the organization’s history.
Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as a member of the 2013 class after turning down previous offers to do so, according to ESPN. He accepted after seeing changes made in the organization, such as performing drug tests on athletes and stopping the use of profanity.
“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame at Madison Square Garden is the biggest thing in my life,” Sammartino told ESPN. “Anytime that people feel that you accomplished enough to enter into a Hall of Fame, of course this is a tremendous, tremendous thrill for me. I had a lot of my success due to appearing at the Garden. I wrestled there over 200 times, it’s where I won the title, and it’s where I picked up 630-plus pounds of Haystacks Calhoun.”
Fellow wrestlers flooded Twitter with condolences upon hearing of Sammartino’s passing.
“RIP Bruno,” wrote Hulk Hogan. “Thank you for loving and living our business,only love.”
“Bruno is indirectly responsible for where I am today. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he was my father’s hero, and sparked my dad’s passion for the business that he passed on to me,” Corey Graves added. “I was lucky enough to spend some time with Bruno, and the man exemplified class.”
RIP Bruno,thank you for loving and living our business,only love HH— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) April 18, 2018
Bruno is indirectly responsible for where I am today. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he was my father’s hero, and sparked my dad’s passion for the business that he passed on to me.— Corey Graves (@WWEGraves) April 18, 2018
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Bruno, and the man exemplified class. #RIPBruno
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man...— Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
A true friend...and one of the toughest people I've ever met.
My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream
Growing up, my grandfather Stu Hart would ALWAYS talk about Bruno Sammartino and what an incredible wrestler he was. I’m so grateful I had the chance to meet Bruno and tell him how much he meant to my grandfather and the entire Hart family. We will all miss you, Bruno. ?????? pic.twitter.com/Dclu5hMGa6— Nattie (@NatbyNature) April 18, 2018
At Wrestlemania 30 I had the chance to meet Bruno Sammartino. He was the most vibrant and spirited person I met that week, and he shared with me invaluable wisdom about the business and life as a whole. He will be missed. #RIPBruno— Dean Muhtadi (@MojoRawleyWWE) April 18, 2018
Bruno is undoubtedly one of the greatest ever. My father's favorite wrestler. He's impacted many generations of superstars and will continue to do so. My thoughts are with his friends and family.— LarsWWE (@LarsSWWE) April 18, 2018
We are what we are and we have what we have because of the path you paved. Thank you. #RIPBruno— Scott Dawson (@ScottDawsonWWE) April 18, 2018
I will always have an enormous amount of respect & admiration for Bruno Sammartino. I can’t thank him enough for always being kind to me & taking time to have a genuine conversation. Condolences to his family & loved ones.— ShinigamE (@WWEBigE) April 18, 2018
Back in July, musician Bruno Mars shared a photo with his namesake holding a replica championship belt.
“I was nicknamed after this professional wrestler Bruno Sammartino. Tonight in Pittsburgh I had the honor of meeting him!” the singer captioned the image.