Bruno Sammartino, the former longest-reigning WWWF champion and a true global icon and one of the biggest draws in wrestling history, has passed away at age 82.

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer revealed that Sammartino’s death was due to a combination of factors. A heart condition, diverticulitis, and organ failure all contributed to the icon’s death.

Sammartino was born in Abruzzo, Italy before moving to Pittsburgh, PA as a teenager. He came to America unable to speak English and a target of bullying, Bruno became obsessed with bodybuilding and weight-training, winning several powerlifting and bodybuilding competitions. Bruno got into wrestling after being discovered while performing strongman stunts around Pittsburgh. After wrestling for various promotion, he came to the WWWF (now WWE) in 1963 where he was champion pretty much continuously until 1971. For over seven years Sammartino consistently sold out Madison Square Garden feuding with villains such as Gorilla Monsoon, Waldo Von Erich, George The Animal Steel, Ernie Ladd, Freddie Blassie, The Sheik and many other well-known wrestling villains of the era.

Sammartino would be champion off and on again until leaving WWF for good in 1988. Monsoon would be vocally critical of McMahon’s brand of sports entertainment that deemphasized in-ring work. He also objected to the prevalent use of steroids in the business.

Sammartino would continue to be estranged from WWE until 2013 when he agreed to be inducted into the Hal of Fame after a meeting with Triple H. Sammartino was assured the business had changed and become “cleaner.”

Sammartino’s influence on the business and WWF history can’t be overstated. He was consistently one of the biggest draws in wrestling and was considered a folk hero by the Northeast’s large Italian-American population. He was the ultimate good guy and inspired countless wrestlers.

Tributes have poured in for the legend from legends and WWE Superstars.

Bruno’s influence and kindness will be his lasting legacies. In a business build on mythical heroes with outsized personalities, he was a real hero of the people who you could still talk to.

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