Harley Race, one of the most beloved and celebrated performers in the history of professional wrestling, has died. A charismatic performer with a noted penchant for playing the heel, Race spent nearly 60 years in the business, from wrestling, to managing, to operating his own promotion and training academy. A long-time mentor and friend to his in-ring rival Ric Flair—on whom he once famously put out a $25,000 “hit”—Race was a long-time member of the WWE’s Hall Of Fame. And while a number of injuries and tragedies marked his long life, he could never seem to stay away from the ring for long.
Born in Missouri in 1943, Race was already an up-and-comer on the local wrestling circuits when he suffered the first debilitating loss of his career: A car accident that killed his wife and unborn child, and nearly necessitated the amputation of his leg. Despite his wounds and losses, though, Race continued to train, enduring months of physical therapy in order to enter the ring again. He would spend the next several decades of his life rising in the ranks of the NWA, the WWF, and more, touring the world and gaining fans and international acclaim—whether as “Handsome” Harley Race, or his WWE-earned title of “The King.” (A gimmick that included forcing defeated opponents to kneel before him in supplication.)
Fans and fellow wrestlers alike have flooded social media today to pay tribute to Race, whose accomplishments included a record-setting run of championships at the NWA, years of tag team supremacy, and even body slamming Andre The Giant. And if some of these tales sound a bit embellished or hagiographic, well: That’s the fate of a legend, right?
Race—who, in his later years, operated the Harley Race Wrestling Academy and World League Wrestling, noted for its family-friendly events and frequent contributions to children’s charities—was 76.