The pro wrestling community is mourning the loss of one of its unique characters and beloved individuals.
William Moody, better known in mat circles as Paul Bearer, passed away Tuesday night in his hometown of Mobile, Ala., at the age of 58.
Moody, who gained international notoriety for his role as the portly, wild-eyed, urn-toting manager of The Undertaker in WWE, had been experiencing problems in recent months with breathing and sleep apnea.
He had emceed the annual Golf Coast Wrestling Reunion last weekend at Mobile International Speedway, but was not feeling well then and used a wheelchair due to weakness, said friend and Gulf Coast wrestling legend Cowboy Bob Kelly.
“He made the reunion, but he said he was having breathing problems,” Kelly said Wednesday night. “He thought it was just a respiratory problem, and thought he’d be OK. He did both nights of the reunion and told me when he left that he’d be down at the school where we were having another event. He didn’t show up.”
Kelly said he later found out that Moody, who reportedly had caught an upper respiratory infection in Chicago the week before his death and had canceled several upcoming appearances, had been admitted to the hospital with a blood clot.
Kelly said he and former NWA world champ Ronnie Garvin had planned to meet Moody in the hospital on Wednesday.
“The hospital told me he was still there and gave me the room number. Ronnie and I were going to go over there Wednesday morning. But about an hour and a half later, I was told that he had passed away. We had no idea that it was a life-threatening event.”
Moody, who lost his wife four years ago to breast cancer, was taking care of elderly parents in Mobile.
“He had a lot of stress on him,” said Kelly. “It’s still hard for me to believe.”
Kelly was scheduled to present the Lou Thesz Lifetime Achievement Award to Moody at next month’s Cauliflower Alley Club event in Las Vegas.
“He was excited about that. We had talked about it, and he told me that he didn’t know anybody else he’d rather present it to him than me. We were both looking forward to doing that.”
Moody was a lifelong wrestling fan who attended area matches as a youngster with boyhood friend and future star Michael “P.S.” Hayes while cheering on Kelly, now 76, and other Gulf Coast heroes.
“He would come to the matches and bought ringside tickets forever. He eventually got into the business,” said Kelly. “There’s nothing we can do right now except pray for him and his family.”
Moody underwent gastric bypass surgery in 2003 after suffering from morbid obesity. At one point he claimed to have weighed nearly 500 pounds, but had dropped more than 200 of those following the procedure.
Moody began his managing career in 1979 under the name Percy Pringle III. His career went to a new level when he made his WWE debut in 1991 as the manager of The Undertaker, and he would become a memorable part of the company over the course of the next 20 years.
With his pasty white makeup and speaking in a high-pitched wail, Moody was a natural for the role.
The character was killed off in 2004 when Undertaker placed Paul Bearer in a glass casket and filled it with concrete. Bearer, though, was later resurrected in storyline fashion.
He made his last televised appearance for WWE last April.
Moody, who was known to most friends as “Percy,” also gave career boosts to such performers as Kane (Glen Jacobs), Mick Foley and Steve Austin.
“I am very true to the proud tradition of the ‘old school’ wrestling that I was brought up on,” Moody wrote on his website. “I am very blessed to be able to live out my dreams, and I have a great respect for the business I am in, especially for the legends that traveled the roads before me. They are the ones who made all this possible.”
Moody, whose “Rest in Peace” catchphrase was imitated by many, was a real-life licensed funeral director and embalmer in his hometown of Mobile.
He is survived by sons Michael and David.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.