I've lost too many childhood heroes; you'd think I'd be numb to it.
The circumstances surrounding the death of Jim Hellwig (he would later legally change his name to Warrior) are still days away (at best) from being fully known. Even when we know the cause of death it won't undo the reality of it. I did not know the man. How can I comment on his passing in any way that does justice to it? I don't want to appear insensitive. I can't comment on his death. I didn't know him.
But I knew the Ultimate Warrior.
There have been many pro wrestlers to "embrace the gimmick" or "become the gimmick." The line between the real person and the on-screen persona becomes so blurred after many years of performing that one becomes the other.
Ultimate Warrior/Jim "Warrior" Hellwig was different. Instead of living the gimmick, he treated it like a second personality. He spoke of Ultimate Warrior as though he was a separate person. He would say "Ultimate Warrior would do this and everyone would be in awe of him..." Not "I would do this...", not "When I was the Ultimate Warrior...". No. Ultimate Warrior was a caged animal within him and when the moment arose he let that animal out with a passion.
It was surreal listening to his Hall of Fame speech. His voice and his one-of-a-kind cadence was there. The way he very precisely enunciated and pronounced every syllable. It was the same as it was in 1990. The intensity was toned down, but that voice was unmistakable. It was like hearing Batman use his Bruce Wayne voice. The sound was right but the image was wrong.
I thought his speech (minus a few digs) had some very inspirational moments. He spoke about the power and the responsibility that comes with being a hero to children. There was more on his mind I think but, as he was wont to do, he got sidetracked and took it in a different direction. He talked about doing charity work for kids and while that is certainly related to his point, it wasn't the overall point he was making. It wouldn't be until two nights later, on Monday Night Raw, that he finally got around to making his point.
Before that however he had his introduction on the grandest stage. I remember when Austin was introduced by The Fink at WrestleMania 25. The glass shattered and out he came on his ATV, like he'd never left. That's what the fans want, I think. If Undertaker goes in next year, we won't want to see Mark Calaway meekly walk out and wave. We want the long intro we used to mock because we took it for granted. Oh geez, now I'm getting emotional.
Anyway, the point is, that moment when Fink calls the name of the Hall of Fame headliner, that's the moment when we want to see that guy or gal in all their nostalgic glory.
When Ultimate Warrior's music hit and the call came out, I had no doubt in my mind I would see the seemingly-in shape Jim Hellwig spring down the isle, climb to the ring and shake the ropes. I wanted that mark out moment. For me, it's part of the Hall of Fame package.
Instead he meekly walked out and waved.
And I was mad.
Because I wasn't listening to his speech from the night before (before he got sidetracked).
Then comes Monday night, and again they introduce him. His music hits and I think "This time. Shorter ramp, go for it." But no. He just walked down the ramp. He gave me a couple rope shakes, more of a courtesy to me the selfish fan more than anything.
And he asked the camera man to hold the mic and I was mad again. This was all wrong. This wasn't Ultimate Warrior. Then he put on the mask and slipped back into that other persona, the one he keeps caged away.
And he was back.
And it's not until now, at 1:39 a.m. CST as of this writing, that I look back on that speech and I see what he was trying to tell me.
At the time, I thought the mask was hokey and the speech was rambling. But now I see it and it all clicks. He said it Saturday night when fans were calling for one more match. "No more match." Why? I admit, I wanted him in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, with the whole outfit. Toss out a jobber and make me smile. But here he says "no more match."
Because the Ultimate Warrior is gone. He can't run down the ramp anymore. He can't shake the ropes. He can't slam anyone. Ultimate Warrior has been dead for a long time. All that was left was Jim "Warrior" Hellwig and whatever little was left of that "Warrior Spirit" he had caged within him, ready to be unleashed.
He spoke at Raw and he finished that thought he had at the Hall of Fame. There is a great responsibility that comes with being a child's hero because you instill in them the virtue you yourself exhibit. Hulk Hogan taught children to believe in themselves. John Cena teaches kids the "virtues of hustle, loyalty, and respect." Warrior? He taught kids that intensity and passion can will you to victory. When you want to quit, you can muster the strength to succeed. How? By finding that Warrior spirit within you.
Jim Hellwig found his Warrior spirit and he used it to beat the immortal Hulk Hogan. He used it to retire Macho Man Randy Savage.
Over time, he stopped calling on that Warrior spirit and it faded from him, leaving behind only an echo. He used that echo a few times this past weekend, but it was not the same as in 1990. And that's okay. The vessel that Hellwig used to channel his "Ultimate" Warrior spirit was older, grayer. But on Raw, he stood in the middle of the ring and channeled it once more. And he pointed to each of us and said "I see some with Warrior spirits." He used his to become a legend and he said "I see potential legends in you."
Any of us can be a Warrior. Whether we will be an "Ultimate" Warrior depends on whether or not we unleash the Warrior spirit to its fullest potential, whether or not we attack our challenges with a full head of steam, running with reckless abandon, stopping only to huff and puff and pump our fists. We can all be Warriors if we allow ourselves to become the vessels of our Warrior spirits. And if we do, the storytellers will speak of us in hushed tones the way they speak of Jim Hellwig's Warrior spirit, the conqueror of the Skydome, the slayer of the Macho Dragon.
Jim Hellwig was just a vessel. He was just a man. Men die. Men are mortal.
Heroes are not. Heroes are forever.
"I am Ultimate Warrior. You are the ultimate warrior fans. And the Spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever."