Windham Rotunda, professional wrestler who performed in WWE as Bray Wyatt, has died from an undisclosed illness at the age of 36, the wrestling promotion announced on Thursday.
“Just received a call from WWE Hall of Famer Mike Rotunda who informed us of the tragic news that our WWE family member for life Windham Rotunda – also known as Bray Wyatt – unexpectedly passed earlier today,” WWE chief content officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque announced on social media. “Our thoughts are with his family and we ask that everyone respect their privacy at this time.”
Rotunda was a third-generation pro wrestler as the son of WWE Hall of Famer Mike Rotunda, who performed in the 80s under the ring name Irwin R. Shyster, and his grandfather Robert Windham, who performed in the NWA as Blackjack Mulligan. Rotunda’s uncles, Barry and Kendall Windham, were also wrestlers in NWA; as is his brother, Taylor, who wrestled in WWE under the ring name Bo Dallas.
Rotunda got his start in wrestling in 2009 in WWE’s developmental division Florida Championship Wrestling, and briefly wrestled on WWE’s main roster under the ring name Husky Harris.
But it wasn’t until 2012 when Rotunda developed the character that would be his big break: Bray Wyatt, a charismatic and deranged cult leader known for passionate and cryptic monologues in which he would declare himself the “Eater of Worlds.” Wyatt would enter the ring in darkness, with the only light coming a lantern he carried to the ring and from the cell phone flashlights of fans whom he would call his “fireflies.”
As the leader of his own group called the Wyatt Family, Bray Wyatt had matches against WWE’s biggest stars, including John Cena, Randy Orton and The Undertaker, all of whom he had matches with at WrestleMania. Wyatt also enjoyed a brief reign as WWE Champion in the spring of 2017.
Then, after several months off of TV in 2019, Rotunda surprised WWE fans by completely transforming Bray Wyatt from a swamp cult leader into an eccentric children’s TV show host. For weeks, Wyatt perplexed viewers with a vignette series called “Firefly Fun House,” a twisted take on children’s TV shows like “Peewee’s Playhouse” with macabre puppets based on the mythology of Wyatt’s past life as the “Eater of Worlds.”
Then, Wyatt turned his new gimmick upside down, unveiling a violent alter ego known as The Fiend. As The Fiend, Wyatt would carry a new lantern to the ring that resembled the head of his cult leader self and wore a frightful mask co-designed by Tom Savini, the horror makeup artist whose credits include “Dawn of the Dead,” “Friday the 13th” and “The Black Phone.”
From 2019 to 2021, this new incarnation of Wyatt would enter bitter feuds with wrestlers who defeated him in the past, including John Cena, with whom had a cinematic match at an audience-free WrestleMania during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As The Fiend, Wyatt would win the WWE Universal Championship during the pandemic before losing it to Roman Reigns, who still holds the title to this day. The Fiend then began a storyline in which he sought revenge against Randy Orton for defeating him for the WWE title at WrestleMania in 2017, but lost again to Orton at WrestleMania in 2021.
That match would be the last time Wyatt would be seen for over a year, as Rotunda was released from WWE. In 2022, Wyatt returned with another new gimmick in which he promised that he was a reformed man, only to return to his violent ways after being tempted by a mysterious masked figure named Uncle Howdy.
Wyatt would have what would be his final match at WWE’s year-opening special event Royal Rumble in a match against rising star LA Knight, winning with the help of Uncle Howdy. Wyatt was set to begin a new storyline for this year’s WrestleMania, but was quietly taken off of WWE programming after Rotunda was diagnosed with an undisclosed illness.
Along with his father, brother, and uncles, Rotunda is survived by his daughters, Cadyn, Kendyl and Hyrie and his son, Knash.