Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, ‘The Iron Sheik’ of Wrestling Fame, Dies at 81

Sheik was the only Iranian champion in WWE history

The Iron Sheik
poses backstage at Power 96.1's Jingle Ball 2013 at Philips Arena on December 11, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, aka the villainous “Iron Sheik” of old-school World Wrestling Federation fame and its only Iranian champion, has died, according to his official Twitter account. He was 81.

Known for years as “The Sheik” or just “Sheik,” Vaziri later became infamous for his blunt, often vulgar, always all-caps tweets telling various random entities (wildfires, My Little Pony, Mondays, fellow wrestling veterans, you name it) to go f— themselves.

He was still doing just that on Wednesday afternoon:

It was an extension of his “heel” wrestling persona, a longtime pillar of the original World Wrestling Federation lineup that included bitter rivals like Hulk Hogan and Randy “Macho Man” Savage. The garrulous nature was all an act, of course – privately Sheik was known as a devoted family man, hardworking entertainer and good friend.

As a wrestler, Sheik played up his Iranian upbringing, developing the “Camel Clutch” move and once teaming with Russian tag-team partner Nikolai Volkoff; the two would waive their native countries’ flags and openly disparage America to rile the rabid WWF crowds and TV viewers. They won the WWF tag-team title at Madison in the mid-1980s, much to the consternation of the WWF fans.

Sheik’s never-ending rivalry with Hulk Hogan during that era helped launch the bleach-blonde bodybuilder to international fame. He continued to regularly disparage Hogan on Twitter in the decades that followed, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

Scandal visited Sheik in 1987 when he and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan – his highly patriotic in-the-ring rival – were pulled over on their way to an event in New Jersey. Duggan was suspected of DUI and Sheik was found with a small amount of cocaine – but it wasn’t so much that as being caught fraternizing with a “rival” that brought his temporary departure from the WWF, returning briefly the following year before th decreased mobility of weight gain forced him to retire from pro wrestling’s top tier.

He would made sporadic guest appearances in the reconstituted WWE and other wrestling series around the world, but took on a second life as a radio and social-media personality, appearing as a frequent guest on “The Howard Stern Show.”

He was married to his wife, Caryl, for 47 years, and the two had three children together. He was also survived by a stepchild and five grandchildren.