Bruno Sammartino, one of the most iconic stars in professional wrestling history, has died at age 82, the WWE announced Wednesday morning. The outlet says he He died "peacefully" after recently battling health issues.
Known as "The Italian Superman", Sammartino joined his immigrant father in Pittsburgh from Italy following World War II and began lifting weights, according to a statement released by the WWE.
Though the two had a rocky relationship for years, they eventually linked up again in 1963 after McMahon pleaded for Sammartino to return to the WWF and immediately granted him a title shot against the company's first world heavyweight champion, "Nature Boy" Buddy Rodgers. He became the longest-reigning world champion, and held the belt for eight years before losing it to Ivan Koloff on January 18, 1971, ESPN says.
Sammartino returned to the WWE in 2013 when he was inducted into the organization's Hall of Fame.
- Ted DiBiase (@MDMTedDiBiase) April 18, 2018Growing up, my grandfather Stu Hart would ALWAYS talk about Bruno Sammartino and what an incredible wrestler he was.
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WWE and a string of wrestling legends have rushed to pay tribute to the icon. The years after Sammartino transitioned into a broadcasting role. He helped turn professional wrestling into the massive industry it is today, and many current wrestlers shared their memories of him and thanked him for his contributions to the sport after learning of his passing.
Like those born in the Great Depression, who grew up only knowing Franklin Roosevelt as US president thanks to his record four terms and 12 years in office, Sammartino had a similar effect in wrestling to many who came of age in the decades which followed.
Triple H tweeted: "Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man".
We at Wrestling Rumors extend our deepest condolences to the entire Sammartino family during this hard time. After the WWE offered their condolences, many Superstars posted messages about Sammartino on social media.