14 years ago today in Tampa, Florida, Curtis Michael Hennig was found dead in his hotel room in Tampa, Florida. He was just 44.
Born in Robbinsdale, Minnesota on March 28, 1958, Curt began his career in the AWA in 1980 as "Cool" Curt Hennig, following in his father Larry's footsteps. After two years, he left for the WWF and teamed with another second generation wrestler in Eddie Gilbert.
In 1984, Hennig returned to the AWA and became a featured player, winning the AWA world tag team titles with Scott Hall in January 1986. With the help of Larry Zbyszko, Hennig defeated longtime champion Nick Bockwinkel to win the AWA World Heavyweight Championship at Superclash in May 1987. Curt with his father Larry would engage in a father-son feud with Verne Gagne and his son Greg. Hennig would join the Diamond Exchange with Diamond Dallas Page, Badd Company, Col. DeBeers, and AWA Women's Champion Madusa Miceli. Hennig would hold the AWA world title for just over a year before losing it to Jerry Lawler in May 1988. Soon after, Hennig left for the WWF.
Hennig returned to the WWF in 1988 as Mr. Perfect, an arrogant athlete who bragged about being able to do difficult things perfectly. Hennig’s actual background (him being a second-generation wrestler) was referred to on occasion, but usually only in passing. Hennig would be shown hitting no-look shots in basketball, hitting half court jumpers, running the table in billiards, sink long putts, throw himself a Hail Mary, hit home runs, and scoring 300 in bowling. Some sports stars of the time made cameos in these bits, including Wade Boggs, Steve Jordan, and Mike Modano.
Hennig would indeed be perfect for over a year. It is also during that time that Perfect would be paired with Lanny Poffo, aka The Genius, an arrogant scholar. Perfect's first major feud came against Hulk Hogan over the WWF Championship. During the feud, The Genius with the help of Perfect beat Hogan via countout, then post-match Perfect destroyed the WWF Championship belt. Perfect would be the last man eliminated in the 1990 Royal Rumble match won by Hogan. A few months later at Wrestlemania, Perfect suffered his first televised loss (though in reality, that actually came at the hands of The Ultimate Warrior, though that match did not air until after the event).
Perfect win his first title in the WWF in April 1990 by defeating Tito Santana to win the vacated Intercontinental Championship. He lost the belt to Texas Tornado at Summerslam in August, but won it back in November (the bout didn't air until just before Christmas). Perfect would take on a new manager in his final months of active competition after Bobby Heenan retired in "Coach" John Tolos, best known as "The Golden Greek" during his wrestling days. At Summerslam 1991, Perfect dropped the Intercontinental title to Bret Hart, two months after effectively retiring from in-ring competition due to a broken tailbone and bulging discs in his back. Perfect would spend the next year and a half as a color commentator and "executive consultant" to Ric Flair.
He returned to the ring at Survivor Series in November 1992 as a replacement for Ultimate Warrior (he got released a few weeks before the event) and he and Randy Savage defeated Ric Flair and Razor Ramon via disqualification. Flair and Perfect would feud until just after the 1993 Royal Rumble when Perfect defeated Flair in a "Loser Leaves the WWF" match. The bout was a way to write off Flair as he was heading back to WCW. Perfect would feud with Lex Luger and Shawn Michaels for most of 1993. Perfect would make it to the semifinals of the 1993 King of the Ring tournament before losing to eventual winner Bret Hart. Recurring injuries forced Perfect to the sidelines again; he would leave the company just before the 1993 Survivor Series.
Perfect's feud with Luger picked up at Wrestlemania X when he cost him the WWF Championship on a disqualification. However, the feud was put on hold again when Hennig's back problems resurfaced and he left the WWF again in the spring of 1994. By the time Hennig returned in late 1995, Luger was gone. Taking out a substantial insurance policy from Lloyd's of London should he return to the ring, Hennig spent most of the year as a color commentator for WWF Superstars and some PPV events. He also refereed the 1996 King of the Ring main event bout between Shawn Michaels and British Bulldog for the WWF Championship.
Perfect was to make an in-ring return in October 1996 against Hunter Hearst Helmsley, but the attack proved to be a ruse, as "Wildman" Marc Mero was screwed out of the Intercontinental Championship against Helmsley. Perfect served as a mentor for Helmsley briefly before leaving the WWF just before the 1996 Survivor Series.
Following the path of many ex-WWF talents at the time, Hennig signed with WCW in early 1997, wrestling there under his real name Curt Hennig. He made his in-ring debut as Diamond Dallas' Page tag team partner at Bash at the Beach, reuniting for the first time since their AWA days. However, Hennig turned on Page and cost his team the match. After a brief feud, Hennig took Arn Anderson's place in the Four Horsemen (Anderson retired due to a botched surgery). However, at Fall Brawl during the War Games match, Hennig turned on the Horsemen to join the nWo. To solidify his entry into the group, he slammed the steel cage door into Ric Flair's head. Soon, Hennig's childhood friend Rick Rude was brought in, also joining the nWo. Hennig won the WCW United States Championship shortly after Fall Brawl and held it until that December's Starrcade when he was defeated by Diamond Dallas Page.
Hennig spent most of 1998 on the sidelines with a knee injury, and he and Rude were the odd men out in the nWo Wolfpac faction (the large group splintered in the spring, with the Wolfpac headed by Kevin Nash and the Hollywood Faction led by Hulk Hogan). Hennig briefly feuded with WCW world champion Goldberg before losing to him at Bash at the Beach. He was taken off TV and returned just before the end of the year at Starrcade to aid Eric Bischoff to victory over Ric Flair.
After being kicked out of the nWo, Hennig spent most of 1999 as a part of the supposedly heel West Texas Rednecks faction with Barry Windham, Barry's brother Kendall, and Bobby Duncum, Jr. and feuded with the supposedly face No Limit Soldiers led by rapper Master P. However, WCW's southern fanbase favored the heel country faction and the angle was dropped. After losing a retirement match against Buff Bagwell at Mayhem in November, Hennig returned to briefly feud with—then align with—Shawn Stasiak. Hennig left WCW after his contract expired in the summer of 2000.
After being one of the featured talents of the shortly lived X Wrestling Federation, Hennig returned to the WWF at the 2002 Royal Rumble. Once again adopting the Mr. Perfect moniker, Hennig finished third in the Royal Rumble match. His appearance was originally a one-shot deal, but his performance and positive reception led him to a full-time contract. His time in the company was short, however; Hennig would be released in May 2002 following his part in the infamous "Plane Ride from Hell". On the flight, Hennig got into a physical confrontation with Brock Lesnar, and the two nearly collided with a plane door.
Hennig's final in-ring days were in TNA. Despite pinning NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ron Killings, Hennig failed twice to win the NWA world title in October 2002. In November, he failed in his pursuit to win the NWA World Tag Team Championship with BG James. He had one last at the NWA world title in December, but lost to champion at the time Jeff Jarrett. He had his final match on January 8, 2003, defeating David Flair in an "axehandle on a pole" match.
Curt was found dead in a Tampa hotel room on February 10, 2003 just hours before he was to promote an event with Jimmy Hart. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office determined acute cocaine intoxication to be the cause of his death, though Curt's father Larry said steroids and painkillers may have played a part in his death as well.
At the time of his death, Curt was survived by his parents Larry and Irene, two brothers in Randy and Jesse, two sisters in Sandra and Susan, his wife Leonice, and their four children, Joe, Hank, Amy, and Katie. Two of his children are in the professional wrestling business; Curt’s oldest son Joe wrestles in WWE under the moniker Curtis Axel. He won the WWE Intercontinental Championship at Payback in 2013, making them the first father-son duo to win that championship.
Hennig was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in March 2007, and in July 2007 into the professional wing of the International Wrestling Hall of Fame. A biographical DVD, The Life and Times of Mr. Perfect was released in September 2008. In 2015, Hennig was also posthumously inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame.