The Iron Sheik, the Iranian-American pro wrestler turned WWE Hall of Famer whose rivalry with Hulk Hogan propelled the WWF through its 1980s heyday, has died according to a statement from his official Twitter. He was 81.
“Today, we gather with heavy hearts to bid farewell to a true legend, a force of nature, and an iconic figure who left an incredible mark on the world of professional wrestling,” the statement read. “It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of The Iron Sheik, but we also take solace in knowing that he departed this world peacefully, leaving behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come.”
RESPECT THE LEGEND FOREVER 😢 pic.twitter.com/Cr6CC9pXSO
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) June 7, 2023
Born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri on March 15th, 1942 in Damghan, Iran, he served as a bodyguard to the final Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, per ESPN. In his home country, he was a Greco-Roman wrestler who nearly qualified for the 1968 Olympics. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the United States and became an assistant coach for the U.S. wrestling team, taking the squad to the 1972 Olympics. It was around that time that he entered pro wrestling, ultimately joining the WWF in 1979 and winning the first-ever battle royal match at Madison Square Garden.
In the ring, Vaziri took on the role of The Iron Sheik. His character played on his Iranian heritage as he sported a handlebar mustache, traditional dress, and shoes with curled toes that became a trademark look. As tensions between the U.S. and his home country heightened during the 1980s, The Iron Sheik became a classic heel as he took on opponents like Sgt. Slaughter, Bob Backlund, and most notably Hulk Hogan. It was The Iron Sheik who gave Hogan his first WWF belt when he lost to the Hulkster in 1984, thus igniting “Hulkamania” throughout the nation.
Long after leaving the ring, Vaziri developed a new following through social media. His steady stream of tweets (over 32,000), many in capital letters displaying the same kind of taunts he used to throw out in the ring, endeared him to a new generation of fans who weren’t even born during his WWF days.
In between his Twitter jabs, The Iron Sheik frequently professed his love for the jam band Phish. Sometimes, he’d take on the band’s detractors online like he would opponents in the ring.
RESPECT THE PHISH OTHERWISE I SUPLEX YOU
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) April 7, 2023
JENNY BUBBA. THE PHISH IS IN MY HEART FOREVER I LOVE THEM. IF YOU DONT RESPECT THEM I BREAK YOUR BACK MAKE YOU HUMBLE
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) August 16, 2018
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) January 1, 2014
RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN LIKE AN ANTELOPE YOU DUMB SON OF A BITCH
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) April 7, 2021
MY FRIEND MY FRIEND GO FUCK YOURSELF
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) December 17, 2020
The Iron Sheik Is Coming To See Phish
The Iron Sheik’s love for “The Phish” even propelled a rumor that he would take part in the band’s 2014 New Year’s Eve gag in Miami. Fans put together a few puzzle pieces to form the theory, including an official 2014 NYE shirt depicting a man wrestling an alligator and a tweet from The Iron Sheik to bassist Mike Gordon offering to take on some gators, should they need his assistance.
While The Iron Sheik did not make an appearance with Phish on New Year’s Eve 2014, he did continue to show up for the band for years to come, threatening to suplex any jabronis from all corners of the Twitterverse. Rest In Peace, Bubba.