Death of Road Warrior Hawk
Soldier of fortune
He's a man of war
Just can't remember
What he's fighting for ...
Can't predict the future
Can't forget the past
Feels like any moment
Could be the last
- Robbie Robertson
I was writing a eulogy for my father when the call came. Yet another member of the wrestling brotherhood was gone. I couldn’t help but think, now they’re dying faster than we can bury them.
Even the most casual wrestling fans are familiar with Hawk and Animal, the infamous Road Warriors, also known as The Legion of Doom. They were the most impressive looking tag team in the history of wrestling and certainly the most imitated.
Hawk was the one whose trademark growl was Oh What A Rush. He’s gone.
His born name was Mike Hegstrand and he was the sort of guy who made it fun to be in the locker room. He always seemed to be in a good mood and only had positive things to say. In a business full of tough guys nobody pulled his tail much. And he didn’t take himself too seriously. On October 18th Mike and his wife were packing up their belongings at their Florida condo to move into a new house the next day. At 8:30 pm Mike said he was feeling tired and went upstairs to lie down, asking his wife to wake him later. When she went to bed at 1:30 a.m. she realized that he was never going to wake up again.
Here’s a guy who toured the world day after day, year after year - countless planes, rental cars speeding in the most treacherous weather to make so many shows that they’re all a blur, injuries and all the attempted remedies for the pain, not to mention a hundred thousand bumps. That he finally made it home, only to die in his own bed, at forty-six - the suddenness of it has given me pause.
The Road Warriors are the only tag team in the history of wrestling to hold the WWF, NWA, AWA and All Japan tag team titles. As groundbreaking a phenomenon as they were in their WWF hey day, their stardom was unsurpassed in Japan where Hawk’s death made front page headlines.
I was always a big fan of the Road Warriors even though they appeared, to me, to be stiff in the ring, but when The Hart Foundation worked with them we found them to be nothing but total pros. In the 80’s and early 90’s, when tag teams reigned supreme, they were known mostly for their size and their promos and they were among those who set the standard for mic work. Three years ago Hawk suffered a heart attack as a result of cardiomyopathy, a disease that enlarges and inflames the heart that has been linked to steroids, even when they are taken by medical patients in much smaller amounts. After that he found religion and by all accounts had changed his wild and reckless roadlife ways and had been clean for some time, possibly even a couple of years, and was carrying a bible with him wherever he traveled. It looks like his decision came too late.
There are three hotbeds that have spawned the biggest stars of professional wrestling over the past three generations - Calgary, Texas and Minnesota. The years and the business have been hard.
Texas lost the four Von Erich boys, Bruiser Brody and Gino Hernandez, all before their time - to name a few.
Meanwhile, back home in Calgary, we said good-bye too soon to Larry Cameron, Brian Pillman, Davey Boy, and Owen.
The Minnesota boys of this generation all grew up in Hawk’s neighborhood, Robinsdale. They were wrestling fans as kids, watched it on TV together, and dreamed of lacing up boots.
While I was sixteen and making my way down the halls of Earnest Manning to 4 o’clock wrestling practice only to hear my classmates imitating the latest episode of Stampede Wrestling that they’d seen on TV ... No chan-see Mr. Whalen ....a ring a ding dong dandy ... Half a world away, in Robinsdale, a similar bunch of young scrappy teens were guffawing and jostling each other about their latest girlfriends or whose party was going to be the best that weekend. Much like me, a young curly blonde kid named Curt whose dad was a wrestler, took his fair share of wrestling study hour. His pals, Scott, Mike,, Joe , Brady, Barry, Tom, Wayne, Terry and Rick , among others, would be excitedly talking about the latest rantings of their local TV wrestling heroes like Mad Dog Vachon or even that tall lanky bald headed Baron Von Rashke. Curt would argue that if they knew anything about wrestling they’d know that The Baron was a former NCAA champion and that he was tough as hell. They’d marvel at the huge arms on Jesse “The Body” Ventura or strong man, Ken Patera. They all took to the local gym, pumping weights and competing with each other to see who was strongest, and they’d wrestle on the mats. Rick was a skinny but tough kid and could beat down nearly anybody in arm wrestling. Curt became a top amateur with a scholarship to Arizona State. But most of them wound up bouncing at the local bars, doing the same things I was doing up here in Calgary in the bottom of the 70’s.
When Mike and Joe started to take on the appearance of two life forms from a Frazetta poster, with thick muscles everywhere, they went to see the movie, The Road Warriors and it would change their lives and forever change the face of professional wrestling.
Barry Darsow became Smash of Demolition, Terry Szopinski was the humungus Warlord and Rick was reborn as Ravishing Rick Rude. Brady Boone, Tom Zenk, and Wayne Bloom all wrestled under their own names and various gimmicks throughout the years.
Of that band of brothers from Robinsdale, Ravishing Rick Rude and Curt “Mr Perfect” Hennig died of heart problems most likely caused by prolonged use of steroids and pain killers. Hawk also seems to have died of heart related problems but final word from the medical examiner will take a few months. And Brady Boone died in a carr accident while on the road as a referee for WCW. Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart told me that Hawk was uncharacteristically upset upon hearing the news of Stu’s passing on Wednesday afternoon, October 13th. I intended to call Hawk that Sunday afternoon to see how he was doing. ...
... but now I know he’s doing fine, in the company of an army of fallen comrades.
Casts a shadow up against the sun
If my eyes could see
The spirit of the chosen one
In my dream the pipes were playing
In my dream I lost a friend
Come down Gabriel and blow your horn
'Cause some day we will meet again
- Robbie Robertson