Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known as professional wrestling legend the Iron Sheik, has died, according to a statement posted on his social media accounts. He was 81.
“Today, we gather with heavy hearts to bid farewell to a true legend, a force of nature, and an iconic figure who left an incredible mark on the world of professional wrestling,” the statement read on his Twitter account, which has more than 642,000 followers. “It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of The Iron Sheik, but we also take solace in knowing that he departed this world peacefully, leaving behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come.”
World Wrestling Entertainment retweeted the statement, writing: “WWE is saddened to hear of the passing of WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik, and extends its condolences to his family, friends, and fans.”
Born on March 15, 1942, in Damghan, Iran, Vaziri won the Amateur Athletic Union Greco Roman wrestling title in 1971 and served as an assistant coach in the sport for two U.S. Olympic teams.
He started wrestling professionally in 1972 and defeated Bob Backlund on Dec. 26, 1983, at Madison Square Garden to become the World Wrestling Federation World Heavyweight Champion. Vaziri lost the title less than a month later to Hulk Hogan in a famous match that is said to have launched Hogan’s superstar career.
One of wrestling’s most beloved heels, the Iron Sheik was known for his camel clutch finishing hold, his fierce rivalry with fellow wrestler Sgt. Slaughter and a signature look that included a shaved head, a waxed mustache and curled boots.
Vaziri is survived by his wife, Caryl; three children, Tanya, Nikki and Marissa; and five grandchildren.
“The Iron Sheik was a man of immense passion and dedication,” the statement on his social media accounts read. “He embodied resilience. He overcame countless challenges in his life, both inside and outside the wrestling ring. His journey from a small village in Iran to becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the world of wrestling is a testament to his unwavering determination.”