The Iron Sheik Dies: Wrestling Star Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri Was 81

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The man born Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri but known to millions of pro wrestling fans as The Iron Sheik has died. He was 81.

His death was announced on his official Twitter page. “It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of The Iron Sheik,” the announcement reads, “but we also take solace unknowing that he departed this world peacefully, leaving behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come.”

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A cause of death was not disclosed. Read the entire statement below.

According to his official bio at the WWE website, Vaziri was an amateur wrestler in his native Iran before becoming a leading star and top villain, or “heel,” of professional wrestling during the World Wrestling Federation’s heyday in the 1980s. He had relocated to the United States in the early 1970s to work for as a wrestling coach and trainer for the U.S. Olympics team, becoming a professional wrestler in 1972.

Initially performing under the ring name The Great Hossein Arab, he switched to The Iron Sheik after joining the then-WWF in the early 1980s (it was renamed as WWE in 2022). Donning traditional, if stereotypical, Arab garb, his role as wrestling’s premier villain coincided, and no doubt benefited, from the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979-81.

By 1983, The Iron Sheik, with his trademark “Camel Clutch” maneuver, had become the only Iranian champion in WWE history, taking the belt that year when he defeated Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden. The victory, according to the WWE, was a controversial one, as Backlund’s manager Arnold Skaaland threw in the towel after Backlund refused to submit.

The Iron Sheik held the title for just under a month before losing the championship to then-named Hollywood Hogan on January 23, 1984, in what is remembered as one of the most famous matches of all time. Although The Iron Sheik lost, he was involved in the match that launched the career of a soon-to-be-renamed Hulk Hogan and moving professional wrestling firmly into popular mainstream culture.

Among his most popular storylines was a long-running feud with the cartoonishly American Sgt. Slaughter, leading to the massively popular Boot Camp Match at Madison Square Garden. Both would become stars of the mid-1980s WrestleMania craze and Slaughter inducted The Sheik into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

The Iron Sheik left WWE in 1988 for the WCW in 1989, returning briefly to the WWE in 1991 in a much-publicized detente with former enemy Sgt. Slaughter. He reappeared in 1997 as a manager of The Sultan and last appeared for one night only as The Iron Sheik at WrestleMania X-Seven in 2001.

With his wrestling fame leading to other opportunities, The Iron Sheik made regular appearances on The Howard Stern Show and in such films as The Tale of the 3 Mohammads (2005), Operation Belvis Bash (2011) and on TV in Robot Chicken, The Eric André Show and in the 2014 biographical documentary The Sheik. He occasionally used his legal name Khosrow Vaziri in credits.

Brett Azar portrays The Iron Sheik in a recurring role on NBC’s Young Rock.

Survivor information was not immediately available.

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