Yesterday, we reported on the death of George “The Animal” Steele, the turnbuckle-devouring madman (and author, teacher, and actor) much beloved by fans of WWF wrestling from the 1970s and ’80s. But it’s turned out to be a rough week in general for some of the biggest old-school names in the sport, with reports coming that Chavo Guerrero, Sr., Ivan “The Russian Bear” Koloff, and Nicole Bass have all died over the course of the last few days.
A second-generation member of a prominent wrestling family, Guerrero came up through the Texas and California scenes, feuding with the likes of Roddy Piper and frequently teaming up with his brothers, Mando and Hector. As he aged into his 50s, Guerrero easily moved into an “elder statesman” role in the wrestling world, signing on with WWE and entering the ring as “Chavo Classic,” frequently competing against and alongside his own son, Chavo Guerrero, Jr.. Sixty-eight at the time of his death last Saturday, Chavo Sr. was still climbing into the ring as recently as last year, appearing on Lucha Underground to give his son a bit of an under-handed boost, and clearly still in love with the high-flying drama of it all.
Bass’ career was just as dramatic, but for less happy reasons. A championship professional bodybuilder, the 6’2” Bass gained national attention from numerous appearances on The Howard Stern Show, eventually being incorporated into Stern’s infamous Wack Pack. In 1998, she moved from bodybuilding into the world of wrestling, signing on with Extreme Championship Wrestling. She parlayed her success there into a role as the bodyguard of wrestler Sable during the WWE’s Attitude Era, but was released after several months. She subsequently sued the company for wrongful termination and sexual harassment, stating that wrestler/road agent Steve Lombardi had assaulted her while they were traveling together. Judges ultimately found in WWE’s favor, and the case was thrown out of court. The next several years were apparently hard ones for Bass, who struggled both financially, and in terms of her health. She is reported to have died today at the age of 52.
Born in Canada as Oreal Perras, Ivan Koloff adopted his “Russian Bear” persona in the late ’60s, transforming himself into one of wrestling’s classic heel characters. Fighting for the WWWF, the WWE, and the NWA—and employing moves like the “Bearhug” and “The Russian Sickle”—Koloff was a popular target for more heroic performers, battling the likes of Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund over the years. His career served as a template for any number of evil wrestling “Russians” in the 1980s, many of whom he partnered with for tag team championships. After retiring from wrestling, Koloff became a speaker and a writer, penning books about the wrestling world and his own struggles with drugs and addiction, and serving as an ordained minister preaching about the effects of faith on his life. He was tributed today by fellow nationalistic heel The Iron Sheik, who posted the following via Twitter: