Gone but not forgotten: Professional wrestling lost memorable names in 2014

WWE PHOTO Warrior died on April 8, 2014, at the age of 54 of a massive heart attack.

It's an appropriate time to reflect upon some of the pro wrestling personalities who passed away in 2014.

Many represented an era that will forever be etched in the memories of longtime fans.

They touched our lives in many ways. For those of us lucky enough to see them perform, we will never forget them.

They were athletes and performers who lived by the credo that "the show must go on."

Some lived out of a suitcase, spending more than 300 days a year on the road, working the territorial circuits during a time when the profession was much different than it is today.

Others never got to realize their full potential.

Some died far too young.

Some were icons.

Mae Young, who passed away last January at the age of 90, was a trailblazer, a pioneer and a role model for generations of women wrestlers and divas who would follow her into the profession.

But above all, Johnnie Mae Young was a force of nature. She was, quite simply, was one of the most incredible characters to ever step inside a pro wrestling ring.

And she did it - for a remarkable nine decades - with force and fury, and with grace and guts.

Young began her wrestling career in 1939 - the year "The Wizard of Oz" was first released and a gallon of gas cost a dime - and nearly 60 years later would win WWE's title of Miss Royal Rumble.

The professional wrestling community - past and present - would collectively agree that Mae Young - dubbed "The Great" and "The Amazing" throughout her career - was as fearless as they had ever witnessed. She boldly proclaimed that she was one of the dirtiest fighters alive, and tried to prove it every night by pulling hair, gouging eyes and taking cheap shots.

She was the baddest of the bad when it came to women's wrestling.

"I don't like women's wrestling, but if ever there was one born to be a wrestler, you're it," the legendary Ed "Strangler" Lewis once told Young.

Young was a villain inside the squared circle, and she played the role to the hilt.

George Scott, who passed away last January at the age of 84, was one of the most influential men in the business for several decades.

During the '50s and '60s, Scott was a top-flight wrestler, forming one of the sport's most successful brother duos, The Flying Scotts, along with younger brother Sandy.

During the '70s, Scott used his considerable talents as a booker to turn the storied Mid-Atlantic territory into one of the hottest promotions in the country.

During the '80s, Scott played a key role in Vince McMahon's national expansion of the WWF and the creation of Wrestlemania.

Scott did all this and much more during a career that spanned from 1948 until his retirement in the early '90s.

"George Scott took a kid who was rough around the edges and molded him into a champion," said 16-time world champion "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. "He was the biggest influence in my career. He was totally responsible for my makeover after the (1975) airplane crash."

Scott, indeed, modeled Flair after close friend "Nature Boy" Buddy Rogers, helping the young Minnesotan fine-tune the gimmick and elevating him to main-event status early in his career in the Carolinas.

"My career took off with George's help and guidance, and I owe much of my success to him," said Flair.

Scott also was responsible for bringing in a greenhorn named Richard Blood, billing him as Ricky Steamboat and matching him up against Flair, the territory's top heel. Their rivalry would become legendary, and Steamboat would become one of the top babyfaces in wrestling history.

Perhaps the most shocking and unexpected passing in 2014 was that of The Ultimate Warrior (Jim Hellwig) in April.

His final week was a script right out of a Shakespearean play - a melodrama that only pro wrestling could have produced.

Just three days after his long-awaited induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, the legendary performer passed away at age 54.

It had been a glorious week - the returning hero being hailed by an adoring audience that never stopped loving him. But there was something much more significant about that week. It really was all about redemption.

At odds for nearly 18 years with the company that had put him on the map, Warrior returned after months of negotiations. Old grudges were put to rest, fences were mended.

It was a long-overdue catharsis for both sides. The old guard that was still around during Warrior's glory days welcomed him back with open arms. The fans who came to New Orleans for Wrestlemania to see him take what would be his final bow greeted him the way his legion of Warrior followers did years ago - with the same energy and passion that Warrior displayed in the ring.

How cruel, it might seem, that the returning hero would be struck down, less than 24 hours after making his final live appearance on WWE's live flagship Raw show.

Could he have possibly known that he was nearing the finish line? Listen to his prophetic words from that final speech, one that eerily resembled a eulogy.

"No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat. His lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit, will be immortalized."

It was as though Warrior had come to terms with his life and his fame, but very publicly, in front of millions of fans. He finally got the chance to talk about his special legacy in the industry. In the process, he was able to confront those demons that had surely haunted him.

Billy Robinson, who died in March at age 74, was called "a wrestler's wrestler."

But that didn't even begin to describe Robinson.

One of the toughest men to ever engage in pro wrestling and mixed martial arts, Robinson during his heyday ranked among the most feared competitors in a profession that had more than its share.

There was no pomp or circumstance about Robinson. He was neither flashy nor flamboyant, didn't have a catch phrase, and wasn't even particularly adept at cutting a promo.

But he didn't have to be.

"The British Lion," who up until his death was still training young students of the game, was the real deal.

Douglas "Ox" Baker, who passed away in October at age 80, was a man of many talents, but none more suited as in the role of one of pro wrestling's greatest heels.

An intimidating giant of a man covered in body hair and sporting a shaved head, pointed, bushy eyebrows and a long, black Fu Manchu, Baker spread fear in the hearts of wrestling fans for decades.

In real life, though, the 6-5 Baker was a gentle giant who loved to recite poetry and croon old ballads.

Baker, who grappled with Kurt Russell's Snake Plissken in the 1981 sci-fi cult film "Escape From New York," retired from wrestling in 1988 and took advantage of his hard-earned down time to produce a number of projects including a children's coloring book and a wrestling-themed cookbook.

Cowboy Bob Kelly, who passed away in October at age 78, was an enduring image of the glory days of Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling.

Kelly was a rare character in the wrestling business who spent virtually his entire career in only one territory. While most wrestlers of that era bounced from one locale to another, not wanting to outstay their welcome or drawing power, Kelly was able to carve out a successful career working on the Gulf Coast circuit as one of its major stars.

Kelly was a blue-collar wrestler and a favorite of the fans who had watched him emerge from the ranks of refereeing and doing everything from sweeping the floors to putting up the ring.

"I never wanted to go to any other territory," said Kelly. "When we got to Mobile, it didn't take long until I knew I had found a new home."

Don Chuy had a short-lived career in the squared circle, but was a fan favorite in the Mid-Atlantic area during the mid-'60s.

Chuy played college football at Clemson under legendary coach Frank Howard before turning pro as a first-team lineman for the Los Angeles Rams. In the offseason he teamed with Notre Dame product and fellows Rams lineman Joe Carollo as The Wrestling Rams. Both were later traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Chuy died at his Myrtle Beach home last January. He was 72.

Sean O'Haire (real name Sean Haire) also had local connections, but unfortunately his life came to a tragic end in September at the age of 43.

It had been a dream come true when O'Haire landed a full-time job with World Championship Wrestling in 2000.

The Hilton Head High graduate wanted to be a wrestler because he was a fighter, first and foremost, shaped by years of kick boxing, mixed martial arts and toughman contests.

But less than two years later, when Atlanta-based WCW was sold and absorbed by the WWF (now WWE), O'Haire was forced into a role that he was neither familiar with nor particularly enjoyed.

And that was the part of a professional wrestler whose role was determined by his acting ability.

"I was a fighter, not an actor," said O'Haire, who was released from the company three years later after enjoying only marginal success.

From the end of his pro wrestling career in 2005 until last week, O'Haire continued to fight - in shoot fighting contests and in local bars.

But O'Haire eventually lost a fight he apparently felt he couldn't win when he was found dead in his Spartanburg home of an apparent suicide.

Like many in the fighting world, O'Haire had his share of demons that blocked his path to what should have been resounding success.

It was later reported that O'Haire had attended WWE-sponsored rehab six times in the past six years, and that he had gone to rehab again earlier that year, but WWE had been unable to reach him following his final stint.

"He possessed incredible gifts," noted former WCW star Scotty Riggs. "But there were issues, and they all made him who he was."

Among those we said goodbye to in 2014:

Don Chuy, Jan. 6, age 72; Mae Young, Jan. 14, 90; George Scott, Jan. 20, 84; Gloria Barattini, Jan. 27, 84; Vic Rositanni, Feb. 6, 74; Ryu Nakata, Feb. 15, 51; Viscera (Nelson Frazier Jr.), Feb. 18, 43; Billy Robinson, March 3, 74; Jerry Kozak, March 5, 79; Lorenzo Parente, March 15, 78; The Ultimate Warrior (Jim Hellwig), April 8, 54; Lee Marshall, April 26, 67; Joe Turner, May 1, 74; Larry Nelson (Larry Shipley), June 23; Ken Lucas, Aug. 1, 73; Ted Heath, Aug. 17, 80; Bonnie Watson, Aug. 21, 82; Don Green, Aug. 29, 84; Sean O'Haire (Sean Haire), Sept. 8, 43; Rikki Starr (Bernard Herman), Sept. 20, 83; Don Manoukian, Sept. 23, 80; Cowboy Bob Kelly, Oct. 12, 78; Dr. Ken Ramey, Oct. 16, 84; Ox Baker (Doug Baker), Oct. 20, 80; Johnny Angel (Johnny Lee Clary), Oct. 21, 55; Bob Geigel, Oct. 30, 90; Brad Batten, Nov. 18, 56; Rodger Kent (Rodger Vogel), Nov. 24, 90; The Mighty Wilbur (Randall Lee Buchanan), Nov. 26, 57; Jimmy Del Ray/Jimmy Backlund (David Ferrier), Dec. 6, 52.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at 843-937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMike Mooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham.