Superstar Billy Graham, Influential Pro Wrestler, Dies At 79

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Superstar Billy Graham, the professional wrestler whose larger-than-life ring persona and charismatic style was hugely influential on the likes of Hulk Hogan, Steve , Jesse Ventura and Ric Flair, has passed away. He was 79 years old.

In a tweet, Flair confirmed that Graham had died. “Superstar Billy Graham has left us. Thank you for your influence on my career! Flair tweeted. No cause of death was provided but Graham had been battling poor health for several years and had been hospitalized in February.

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Born Eldridge Wayne Coleman in Phoenix, Arizona in 1943, Graham began bodybuilding at an early . After dominating boxing and pro football, he got his first taste of infamy when he got a The magazine spread with then-fellow bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 1969, he decided to enter the world of professional wrestling, and adopted the ring name Billy Graham as a tribute to the famous promoter of the same name. He first worked with Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling promotion, and then in 1972 adopted the “Superstar” moniker and joined Verne Gagne's American Wrestling Association.

Graham soon became a standout talent with his bodybuilder physique, flashy almost gaudy fashion sense, dyed hair and beard, and charisma with the mic. Drawing heavily on Muhammad Ali's fast-paced style on the mic, Graham became as much essential TV for his interviews and promos as he was for his ring work.

By the late 70s, Graham was one of the leading names in wrestling and his biggest success came in Vince McMahon Sr.'s WWWF when he defeated Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF Heavyweight Championship on April 30, 1977. Graham held the title for nine and a half months. defeated Dusty Rhodes, Gorilla Monsoon and Dwayne Johnson's grandfather “High Chief” Peter Maivia. He eventually lost the title to Bob Backlund.

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Graham's star began to wane in the 1980s as he passed his 40s and a new generation of stars co-opted his style, ring persona and mic work. He left wrestling for good in 1987 and became a color commentator and manager in Vince McMahon Jr.'s WWF.

He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004 by Triple H, one of many wrestlers inspired by Graham.

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