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Dealing with the death of The Ultimate Warrior in WWE's 'Reality Era'


In 1988, I was hospitalized for a traumatic injury and spent 45 days in recovery. While there, I briefly shared a room with a college student who insisted I call him "Peanut" for reasons he never explained.

Peanut was recovering from a suicide attempt and was scheduled to be transferred to the psyche ward just as soon as he was well enough to be relocated. Naturally, there wasn't much to do in the hospital except stare at the same three television channels (this was 1988) so we struck up a conversation.

It was only a matter of time before curiosity got the best of me and I asked him why he tried to kill himself.

"Because it's the only way I'll ever get anyone to give a shit about me."

I often think about what Peanut said when someone passes, because we as fellow humans -- sociopaths notwithstanding -- have a tendency to sanitize our memories when burdened with the death of those we've come to know, or perhaps those we've cared about.

Celebrities included.

WWE Hall-of-Fame inductee "The Ultimate Warrior" died on Tuesday just days after mending fences with his former employer. While we don't ordinarily associate death with a happy ending, it's comforting to know he had a chance to clear his name in front of the pro wrestling "Universe" and essentially, get the last word.

Warrior finally closed the book on the "Ultimate" era.

My first reaction when I heard that Warrior -- born James Brian Hellwig -- has passed away at just 54 year of age, was not unlike the reaction from most longtime wrasslin' fans. I was shocked, hurt, and mournful for his wife and children. I think it was clear to anyone watching his Hall of Fame induction speech that his family was everything to him.

And vice versa.

But we have to be careful to separate the man from the character, which admittedly, is difficult to do in the "Reality Era." When I grew up, there was no internet to tell me the awful stuff people did in their everyday lives and so the only thing I knew about my heroes is what I saw on television.

This generation no longer has the luxury of accepting things at face value.

Our first instinct is to canonize Warrior in death, because hey man, give the guy a break, he just died! Show some respect! Watch how quickly fans recoil if you mention some of his less-than-stellar moments, like the bizarre rant on the late Heath Ledger that showed a dark and ugly side to the former bodybuilder.

I've heard that Warrior wasn't always a good man. But that's okay, he wasn't always a good wrestler, either.

That didn't stop him from becoming a positive influence on the youth of his generation. He was a fireball of passion and intensity, who gave me -- as a fan -- an excuse to jump up from my couch and scream like a lunatic. And you know what? It felt good to let out some of that bottled-up rage.

Who hasn't wanted to get out there and kick somebody's ass from time-to-time?

My first year in the Army, my drill sergeant explained what can happen to men on the battlefield. How sometimes you will encounter acts of extreme courage in between acts of extreme cowardice, often from the same person. That's part of the human experience when strife meets self-discovery.

Who was The Ultimate Warrior?

To someone like Hulk Hogan, he may have been a self-destructive dickhead who didn't want to do the job. To folks outside the pro wrestling bubble, he might be just another 'roiding dead wrestler. To his fans, he was a source of inspiration. And to his daughters? Probably the greatest person who ever lived.

He was awesome, awful, and everything in between. And at different points in our lives, so are we.

That's what makes it easy to glamorize an imperfect life. I didn't know The Ultimate Warrior and I'd reckon that not many people did. But we, as his fans, celebrated the traits we shared and scorned the ones we didn't. If we stand at his virtual casket to pay our respects, it's not necessarily a nomination for his spot in Valhalla.

It's a reminder that we cared about his life in spite of his death, not because of it.

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