Superstar Billy Graham Passes Away

The trendsetting, charismatic former WWWF champion was 79

Superstar Billy Graham, one of the most charismatic and influential wrestlers of all time, passed away on Wednesday. First notice of Graham's passing was made by Ric Flair, with Excalibur also making note of Graham's passing during Wednesday's Dynamite broadcast.

Graham was 79 years old. He had been in poor health in recent times, with reported kidney, heart, and lung problems, and had recently been placed on life support.

A prolific bodybuilder (as well as training partner of Arnold Schwarzenegger), Graham turned to professional wrestling at the dawn of the 1970s, following training from Stu Hart.

Following runs in Stampede, San Francisco, and Florida, Graham spent several years in the AWA in the mid-seventies. After a brief stint in the WWWF, he came back to Florida, where he defeated Dusty Rhodes for the territory's Heavyweight title, before going on to challenge Harley Race for the NWA World title.

In 1977, Graham returned to the WWWF, where he defeated Bruno Sammartino to win the WWWF World Heavyweight title in Baltimore that April. He held the title for nearly ten months, dropping it to Bob Backlund the following February. Notably, Graham was the first heel to hold the WWWF/WWF/WWE title for more than one month.

From there, Graham dipped in and out of the WWF while working several other territories, before injuries forced him into retirement in 1988. During his final years directly involved in wrestling, Graham was primarily an announcer and manager in the WWF, where he guided Don Muraco.

Numerous wrestlers (chiefly Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, Ric Flair, Triple H, as well as countless others) patterned either their look, their promo style, or both, on Graham. A fast-talking, charismatic villain with a massively-chiseled upper body, Graham set stylistic trends that are still followed in wrestling to this day. Graham is also believed to be the first wrestler to use "brother" as a frequent sentence-ending tag.

Though estranged from WWE at different times, he did receive induction into their Hall of Fame in 2004. Graham is also a member of Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame (1996 charter class) and the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame (class of 2009).

Cultaholic extends its condolences to Mr. Graham's family and friends.

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Justin Henry

Written by Justin Henry

In addition to writing lists and commentaries for Cultaholic, Justin is also a features writer and interviewer for Fighting Spirit Magazine, and is co-author of the WWE-related book Titan Screwed: Lost Smiles, Stunners, and Screwjobs.