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Paul Orndorff Dies: Wrestling Legend Known As Mr. Wonderful Who Fought In 1st WrestleMania Was 71

Paul Orndorff, aka “Mr. Wonderful,” one of the greats from the World Wrestling Federation’s 1980s heyday, has died. He was 71.

His son Travis made the announcement Monday on Instagram, where he has documented his father’s recent health struggles.

“It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Paul Parlette Orndorff Jr,” wrote the younger Orndorff. “He is better known as “Mr. #1derful” Paul Orndorff.”

Orndorff was instantly recognizable in the ring for his impressive build and blond hair, but his son said friends and family loved him for something else.

“Most of you will remember him for his physique,” he wrote. “Many will remember his intensity. But if I could only get you to understand and see his heart.”

Orndorff came up in the Southern wrestling circuit, and signed with the WWE predecessor World Wrestling Federation in late 1983, where “Rowdy” Roddy Piper became his manager. Piper nicknamed Orndorff “Mr. Wonderful,” a moniker that stuck.

He made his WWF debut in 1984 against Salvatore Bellomo in Madison Square Garden and shot straight to the main event less than a month later. He fought Hulk Hogan for the title as the “Hulkamania” wave began to crest. He also fought the Intercontinental Champion Tito Santana. Orndorff and Piper often faced Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and “The Tonga Kid” in tag team competition.

The first WrestleMania in 1985 saw WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hogan and Mr. T, accompanied by Snuka, face off against the Piper and Orndorff, who were accompanied by Cowboy Bob Orton.

Travis wrote that, while his father often played the villain, he loved wrestling fans, even when they hated him: “As much as many of you hated him as a wrestler, he absolutely loved you for it.”

Mr. Wonderful left the WWF in 1988. He went to the WCW, where he won the World Television Championship and the WCW World Tag Team Championship.

Before wrestling, Orndorff was a running back at the University of Tampa, where he scored 21 career touchdowns and gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards. The New Orleans Saints picked Orndorff in the 12th round of the 1973 NFL Draft, but he failed to pass the physical with both the Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs. However, he did play for the Jacksonville Sharks of the World Football League in 1975. After one season in the WFL, he began training as a professional wrestler.

Despite his physique, Orndorff’s career was plagued by injury. Specifically, a nagging neck injury that led to arm atrophy and forced him to retire in 2000. He fought and survived cancer in 2011.

Travis Orndoff posted a message two days ago on Instagram relaying his father’s confusion about a phone number with the plea, “I hope the world will start to take notice of the brain damage and the consequences of this lifestyle. I do not blame the WWE or Vince McMahon as you might think. No one knew this would happen. But we can do something now.”

Frequent foe Hogan took to Twitter on hearing the news of Orndorff’s death and wrote, “thank you for always making me fight for everything in our matches.” He ended with, “heaven just got even more Wonderful.”

Another legend from the sport’s golden era, The Iron Sheik, posted his own all-caps tribute to Orndorff.

The WWE followed suit.

Paul Orndorff was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005 and the National Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame in 2009. After retiring from wrestling, he trained other wrestlers.

In 2014, Orndorff made an appearance at WrestleMania XXX. It was his first WWE television appearance since the 2005 Hall of Fame ceremony. He appeared with others who were a part of the first WrestleMania: Rowdy Roddy Piper, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Pat Patterson and announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund.

Along with the announcement, the younger Orndorff posted a GoFundMe link to help pay for his father’s funeral expanses.

Here is Travis’s full statement:

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Paul Parlette Orndorff Jr. . He is better known as “Mr. #1derful” Paul Orndorff. Most of you will remember him for his physique. Many will remember his intensity. But if I could only get you to understand and see his heart. He will always be Pop, Paw Paw, and Daddy at home. And as much as many of you hated him as a wrestler, he absolutely loved you for it. He was an amazing father that showed me more love than I ever deserved. I love you Daddy.

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A post shared by Travis Orndorff (@travis_orndorff)

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