“The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy.” — John F. Kennedy
The pro wrestling community is mourning the loss of one of its own with the drowning death of former WWE star Shad Gaspard.
It was a tragic yet heroic death; an act of courage and love. And in the darkest of times, when a hero was needed, a father made the ultimate sacrifice for his son.
It happened so fast last Sunday, a father and son swimming on the California coast at a beach that had just reopened days earlier.
The day took a tragic turn when, shortly before 4 p.m., Shad Gaspard and his 10-year-old son were suddenly caught in a powerful rip current while swimming about 50 yards offshore at Venice Beach.
“A wave pushed him under in the impact zone,” Kenichi Haskett, a section chief in the lifeguard division, told ESPN’s Mark Kriegel. “He didn’t resurface after that.”
It was estimated that Gaspard had been pulled out about 75 to 100 yards offshore in just a moment’s notice
Gaspard’s son Aryeh, distraught but not physically hurt, told firefighter-paramedic Steve Smith, “Dad told me to push off to the guy (the lifeguard).”
Gaspard’s wife of 11 years, Siliana Gaspard, shared an Instagram post on Tuesday calling Gaspard a fighter with a “magical soul.”
Gaspard’s family had issued a statement on Tuesday after the U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search after “covering 70 square nautical miles and seven search patterns” in nearly 17 hours.
“We would like to express our gratitude to the first responders who rescued Aryeh and to the lifeguards, coast guard, divers, fire and police departments for their continued efforts to help find our beloved Shad,” the statement said.
The statement also held out hope: “Shad is a fighter, a warrior and a magical soul. We are hoping and praying for his safe return. As a family we thank you all for your concern and well wishes. Please continue to keep sending your positivity and prayers to our beloved Shad.”
Gaspard’s body was recovered early Wednesday after washing up along the shore on the Venice Pier, one mile north from where he was believed to have drowned on Sunday. Authorities later confirmed his identity.
The beach, which had been closed to the spread of the coronavirus, had been reopened the previous week for physical activities, which included walking, running and swimming. It had been the first weekend this year that lifeguards had been present.
Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Lifeguard Division reported more than 450 rescues that weekend, well above a normal weekend. The primary source, said officials, was the hazardous surf, with waves at four to six feet, and strong lateral and strong rip currents through the entire area.
Shad Gaspard died a hero, saving his son’s life.
'A real man'
“Shad Gaspard chose his son’s life over his own. We should all strive to possess courage like that,” a fan posted on social media.
“A real man, a real father, a real parent. Godspeed Shad,” tweeted another.
A loving husband, a loving father and friends to everyone he met. Shad Gaspard was only 39.
“Shad was our whole world and we were his. There are not enough words to describe what he means to all of us,” Siliana Gaspard expressed in an Instagram post.
“He was our heart, our soul, our protector, our warrior. He was a bright force of nature, who brought joy to many through his joyous and gracious nature.”
Being a hero always seemed to come natural to Shad Gaspard. He was known for being kind, generous and courageous.
“A wonderful guy with a huge heart,” commented Bret Hart.
His past and present colleagues in the WWE system, of which he was a part from 2003-10, all hailed him as a hero.
“Shad Gaspard had a huge heart,” MVP (Hassan Hamin Assad) posted on Instagram. “He was like an annoying little brother at times. We often gave each other a hard time, but always with love! He always had a big smile on his face and was ready to share a laugh! I have had a lot of friends and colleagues die. This one hurts different.
“He recently sent me some of the screenplays he was working on. He had big goals. Big plans. His final act on this earth was to give his life to save his son’s. A son, a husband, a father, a friend. A hero …”
“The world has lost a wonderful human being. Shad Gaspard was a true hero in every sense of the word. I’m keeping his family and loved ones in my prayers right now. We love you, Shad,” posted Natalya (Nattie Neidhart).
“Never got the pleasure to know Shad too well personally, but I did have the opportunity to wrestle him countless times,” posted Cody Rhodes. “He was beyond motivated and as a giant, took precautions to protect folks in the ring. I’m saddened by his passing, his last moments were as an undeniable hero.”
“Always when I was around him a lovely, smiling man and his showing of the ultimate gesture to being a real man and father when it matters mean more than any words I could write,” tweeted William Regal.
“I will never forget your smile my brother! You were a Superman Father to your son in your final moment. Now your son has countless ‘fathers’ in your brothers from this Biz. We will protect him for you as you watch down on us all,” wrote Lance Archer.
No stranger to heroic deeds, Gaspard made national headlines in 2016 when he broke up a potential armed robbery at a gas station in Coral Springs, Fla.
According to police reports, the would-be armed robber had walked out of a bathroom when he approached Gaspard, demanding that he buy him a beer.
“There’s a better way to ask than that,” Gaspard responded, according to reports.
The suspect then reached into his waistband for what appeared to be a semi-automatic handgun, police said.
As he approached the checkout counter, Gaspard asked the suspect: “Are you trying to rob me?”
Gaspard then lunged toward the suspect and snatched his weapon. The suspect demanded that Gaspard return his gun because he was going to rob the store.
“(He) was like, ‘Yo, give me the gun back. Give me (it) right now,’” Gaspard said following the incident. “He wasn’t listening so I grabbed him by the back of the neck and I ran to the door. When I ran to the door, I ran into the door hard ... trying to knock him out.”
Gaspard then pulled him to the front of the store and kept him at bay until police arrived to take him into custody for attempted robbery.
“I thought it was a real gun the entire time, and, honestly, I just didn’t want anyone to get hurt,” Gaspar later told the Pro Wrestling Sheet website. “I just kept thinking about how I wanted to make sure I got home to my son.”
As for the suspect: “I hope he gets right for his daughter, or whoever is in his life, and I hope he never tries a stunt like this again,” said Gaspard.
Two days later on social media, he posted: “I’m choosing to live in the peace I talk about.”
Gaspard, the third of six siblings, learned to fight and defend himself at an early age.
Son of an ex-enforcer for street gangs and personal security guard, Gaspard took up boxing at age 5 and began training in martial arts by age 8. By the time the man nicknamed “The Beast” by his mother was 16, he was well-versed in bar fighting tournaments and tough man competitions, often tangling with adults who were much older.
Gaspard was extensively involved in athletics during his high school years, specializing in wrestling, track and basketball. After high school, he continued to play basketball at Georgia Perimeter College in Decatur, and after leaving, became a bodyguard for several celebrities, including Britney Spears, P. Diddy, Mike Tyson and Cuba Gooding Jr., before embarking on a wrestling career in 2002.
In 2005, at the age of 24, he was signed to a developmental deal with WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling. A year later he found himself on the main roster and with a tag-team partner.
Portraying comedy-based street thugs as the team Cryme Tyme, Gaspard and JTG (Jayson Paul) were one of the more over-the-top tag teams in WWE.
Making their debut on the main roster in 2006, the fun-loving, street-wise hustlers were described as “a trash-talking, car-jacking tag-team duo straight outta Brooklyn.” Gaspard had prepped for his Raw debut in a series of SNL-like sketches parodying racial stereotypes.
A series of vignettes featured the two “stealing” items from other performers in the WWE locker room and later giving them to fans in the arenas or auctioning them off.
An entertaining and crowd-friendly team beloved by the fans, Cryme Tyme was never able to achieve tag-team gold in WWE and were released twice, once in 2007 and the final time in 2010.
Gaspard told SLAM Wrestling in a 2011 interview that WWE never took tag-team wrestling seriously.
“I don’t think the WWE has ever really majorly focused on tag teams, since like way back in the early 2000s, maybe earlier than that. But even then did they really focus that much on them?” he asked.
“Tag-team wrestling has always been something that creative teams rarely think that much of. As Cryme Tyme, we were lucky that we had personalities to go along with our in-ring talent and a good gimmick which, if I hadn’t come up with, then we might not have had that.”
While wrestling on the independent circuit would only be an occasional job after leaving WWE, the multi-talented Gaspard found work as an actor and stuntman, appearing in such films as “Birds of Prey,” “Think Like a Man Too,” “Black Panther” and the 2015 Kevin Hart comedy “Get Hard,” as well as small roles in such television shows as “Big Time Rush,” “From Dusk till Dawn: The Series” and the TV movie “The Last Sharknado: It's About Time” where he played Muhammad Ali.
Gaspard, who did the motion capture work for video games, also was the co-creator of the graphic novel “Assassin & Son.”
In 2013, Gaspard performed in the stage adaptation of “Pugilist” as Jack Johnson, the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion from 1908–1915. He was Bane in “Batman: The Enemy Within” and Kratos in 2018’s “God of War.”
Tributes have poured in paying tribute to Gaspard.
“Shad Gaspard is the Ultimate father and universally loved,” posted Tommy Dreamer.
“Really feeling for Shad Gaspard’s family and his friends in the wrestling business. He is about as highly regarded and loved a person in wrestling as you will ever hear about,” said radio and television host Peter Rosenberg.
“Man, this is a tough one. A really tough one,” lamented Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
“Shad drowned in the ocean, but not before instructing lifeguards to save his 10-year-old son first. That’s the love of a father. This is a tough one to process. Love and light to Shad’s family. And your warrior spirit lives on through your son.”
“A friend, gentleman and hero the likes we should all aspire to be,” wrote Frankie Kazarian.
WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry suggested that WWE honor Gaspard’s life with a Warrior Award at next year’s Hall of Fame ceremony. It would mark the first time a wrestler had received the award.
“I’m going to miss my brother! Even for roasting me for my taste in shorts! Warrior award nominee a true hero,” Henry tweeted.
“Dreamer, fighter, entertainer, Husband, Father, my Brother, My Friend … My Hero, Shad Gaspard,” posted Shelton Benjamin.
Former Cryme Tyme partner JTG shared a conversation he had with Gaspard in January.
“If ever I die tomorrow just know I love you as a brother and friend forever even past this life,” he wrote.
To wife Siliana, “Shad was and will always be our real life super hero.”