The wrestling world lost a living legend yesterday, and the WWE Universe mourns another trailblazing Superstar who helped shape WWE as we know it.
Wrestler Billy Graham Dies at 79
WWE Hall of Famer "Superstar" Billy Graham passed away on Wednesday, May 17. He was 79 years old. Viewed by fans and historians alike as the original pioneer of modern professional wrestling, Billy Graham was a vibrant tapestry of life and charisma presented to a world that hadn't seen anything like him before.
WWE's official Twitter account broke the news late Wednesday evening:
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer "Superstar" Billy Graham has passed away. We extend our condolences to Graham's family, friends, and fans.https://t.co/Qpykpjv616
— WWE (@WWE) May 18, 2023
According to WWE.com, Graham's most outstanding achievement went down on April 30, 1977, when he "accomplished the near-impossible feat of toppling Bruno Sammartino from his WWE Championship perch. Superstar held the title for nearly a year, successfully defending sports entertainment's richest prize against icons like Dusty Rhodes, Gorilla Monsoon, and 'High Chief' Peter Maivia before being dethroned by Bob Backlund in controversial fashion."
As one of the only two men in history to defeat Bruno Sammartino for the WWE Championship (along with Ivon Koloff), Billy Graham was always destined to go down in the history books as one of the most remarkable men to lace up a pair of boots. However, Graham's lasting effect on the business extended far beyond just being the first WWE "villain" to hold the WWE Championship for an extended period – he was one of the first larger-than-life "characters" in wrestling history.
Billy Graham's Trailblazing Career
Photo: Getty Images
The WWE Universe may be surprised to know that Billy Graham was the first professional wrestler to incorporate music into his entrance. Before Graham, wrestlers entered an arena to either raucous cheers, jeering boos, or total silence.
Known for his catchphrases long before WWE Superstars like The Rock could even talk, Graham's "I am the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!" and "I lift barbell plates, I eat T-bone steaks, I'm sweeter than a German chocolate cake, how much more of me can you take?" captivated audiences worldwide in a time when most wrestlers let their in-ring acumen do the talking. It's widely rumored that Ric Flair incorporated many of Graham's mannerisms and verbal stylings when he ascended to the top of the industry.
In fact, many fans credit him for creating the prototype of the character Hulk Hogan would eventually portray in WWE; Billy Graham's long blond hair and stunning bodybuilder physique seemed truly ahead of his time.
Graham's garish ring attire – he often wore tie-dye and outlandish earrings – paved the way for modern Superstars such as Ultimate Warrior to dress the same. When you think about it, "Superstar" Billy Graham served as the blueprint for a WWE Superstar before the term "WWE Superstar" was even a thing! Simply put: Your current favorite Superstars wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Billy Graham.
Inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004, he inspired WWE to produce a documentary about his career titled "20 Years Too Soon: The 'Superstar' Billy Graham Story," released in 2006. Without a doubt, Graham's lasting legacy in the wrestling industry is both well-respected and far-reaching:
Ever since the news broke of his passing, countless men and women in WWE have passed along their condolences over social media. Paul Heyman put it best when he wrote on Twitter, "Before Billy Graham, performers in WWWF / WWF/ WWE were known as professional wrestlers. After Billy Graham left his mark, Vincent Kennedy McMahon decided everyone would be a WWE Superstar. A most heartfelt RIP to the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!"