Professional wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage, one of the most popular and colorful characters to emerge from the heyday of the WWF, has died in a car accident, according to TMZ. Reports from Savage’s brother and fellow wrestler “Leaping” Lanny Poffo say that he suffered a heart attack while driving this morning in Tampa, causing him to lose control of his vehicle. Savage was 58.
Obviously we’re not a sports website, so we can’t offer much appraisal of Savage’s wrestling career, except to say that it lasted for an impressively long amount of time, and that Savage was one of the key players in turning it into the national phenomenon it became in the 1980s. The son of professional wrestler Angelo Poffo, Randy was a major part of that second-generation of grapplers who arose in the late ’70s, beginning with his working alongside—and then feuding with, and then working alongside, and then feuding with—Jerry Lawler in Memphis before signing to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation in 1985.
It was there that Savage quickly became known for his war with George “The Animal” Steele over Savage’s manager (and later his wife), Miss Elizabeth, whom Savage would intimidate while also issuing threats to anyone who had their eye on her. That storyline became one of the WWF’s most popular and longest-running, and thanks also to Savage’s flamboyant persona—which borrowed from hair-metal glam in his taste for flashy animal prints, bandanas, cowboy hats, and ever-present sunglasses—and his catchphrase, “Ohhh YEAH!” delivered in Savage’s menacing rasp, he soon became a star.
That coronation became complete when Savage joined forces with Hulk Hogan as “The Mega Powers,” a dream team that lasted until Hogan also took Miss Elizabeth as his manager, culminating in a 1989 ring battle where Savage did one of his signature heel-turns on Hogan.
Although that storyline officially ended with that year’s WrestleMania V title bout where Savage lost to Hogan, their feud would continue for many years—even turning up again on Savage’s 2007 rap album Be A Man, which included a track making fun of Hogan and how he’d “turned soft” and gone Hollywood by “doing telephone commercials” and straight-to-video movies.
Of course, Savage also “went Hollywood”: Over the years he made appearances in several TV shows like Mad About You, Arliss, and Baywatch—usually as himself, though occasionally playing other things such as a prison inmate on Walker, Texas Ranger. Definitely his biggest role came in Spider-Man, where Savage played the wrestler “Bonesaw McGraw” who takes on Tobey Maguire. (Coincidentally, Savage had started his wrestling career as the Spider-Man-aping character “The Spider Friend.”)
His distinctive voice was also made for cartoons, and Savage could be heard on shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory, Space Ghost Coast To Coast, King Of The Hill, and Family Guy, as well as the Disney film Bolt. And of course, anyone who grew up in the 1990s will remember Savage’s commercials demanding that they “Snap into a Slim Jim.”
Over the years, Savage remained one of the most consistent presences in professional wrestling, returning first as a commentator in the early ’90s, then—after getting sucked back into various feuds with people like Jake “The Snake” Roberts and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair—wrestling in various WCW and NWO matches, and sharing the ring with everyone from The Ultimate Warrior to Dennis Rodman. His last official match was in 2004, although he continued to serve as one of the sport’s most recognizable faces, turning up in promotional campaigns for the WWE and most recently as a playable character in the recently released WWE All-Stars video game, where a whole new generation was just getting to know him.