Pat Patterson, the WWE Hall of Famer who is considered the sport’s first gay superstar, has died. He was 79.
Patterson’s death was announced by the WWE on Wednesday morning in a statement that called him a “true trailblazer of the industry” who made his mark as a renaissance man not just in the ring, but as a color commentator and behind the scenes as well.
“WWE is saddened to learn that Pat Patterson has passed away at the age of 79,” the WWE said in a statement.
Born Pierre Clermont in Montreal, Patterson — who said he spoke only French and no English when he moved to the U.S. — began his wrestling career in 1958 before joining the WWE in the late 1970s.
In September 1979, he became the first Intercontinental Champion, and two years later, saw his rivalry with Sgt. Slaughter culminate in an infamous match at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
“When my hand was raised as the winner, I went down on my butt and thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe we did this,’” Patterson later recalled of the match. “It was a night I’ve never forgotten, to this day.”
Patterson officially retired from the ring in 1984, but continued to work with the WWE, becoming a color commentator and taking on a role as confidante for WWE CEO Vince McMahon.
In 1988, he created the original format for the Royal Rumble Match, and in 1996, was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Bret Hart.
Patterson notably came out as gay in an emotional 2014 episode of WWE Legends' House.
“Sitting here tonight, I’m going to say something that I would never want to say publicly,” he said on the show. "But … for once in my life, I’m going to be me. I survived all this being gay. I lived with that for 50-something years. I had a friend with me for 40 years and I lost him because he had a heart attack and I ended up alone. I survived in this…I did and I’m so proud of me. It’s tough. It was tough.”
In his 2016 autobiography Accepted, Patterson wrote that during his wrestling career, he only told those close to him about his sexual orientation, but still, many knew about him and his longterm partner Louie Dondero.
Dondero was the man to whom he referred during his reveal on Legends' House, and he died in 1998, on the same night that Mick Foley and the Undertaker took part in their famous Hell in a Cell match, Patterson wrote.
“I can’t find words powerful enough to explain how important it was for me to tell the world I am gay,” Patterson wrote in Accepted of his decision to publicly come out. “When it was done, I felt good about it — and I realize that’s how you really get to know someone, with the truth.”
He added during his Legends' House appearance: “I gave my life to the business. I don’t regret nothing. And for the rest of my life, I want to be happy.”
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