The world of professional wrestling mourns its latest loss, as legendary WWE tag team champion Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart has passed away at 63. Like many successful wrestlers, Neidhart first tried his hand at making a career in the NFL, briefly playing for both the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. After football didn't work out, Neidhart headed to Calgary, Alberta, Canada to train as a pro wrestler in Stu Hart's famous "dungeon." Neidhart later ended up marrying into the Hart family - essentially wrestling industry royalty - in 1985.
Neidhart earned his signature nickname by actually winning an anvil tossing competition at the Calgary Stampede. 1985 also saw Neidhart make his WWE debut, after Stu Hart sold off his Stampede Wrestling promotion to Vince McMahon. Before too long, Neidhart would form a tag team with Stu's son Bret "The Hitman" Hart, dubbed The Hart Foundation. The duo would go on to become one of the most popular tag teams in WWE history, winning the WWE tag team titles twice. That may not sound like a lot in today's age of title reigns usually lasting a few months or less, but back then, titles didn't change hands nearly as often. The Harts held the gold for a combined 483 days.
TMZ reports that Neidhart passed away early this morning, at his home in Florida. According to TMZ's police sources: "Preliminary information indicates that [Neidhart] fell at home, hit his head, and succumbed to his injury." His WWE legacy lives on through his daughter Natalya, a former WWE women's champion, and current member of the Monday Night Raw roster.
While Neidhart's accidental death is certainly tragic, it at least doesn't follow the all too common circumstance of pro wrestlers dying young due to causes like drug abuse, years of steroid-related heart damage, or suicide. An instance of the latter just occurred recently, when another former WWE tag team star, Too Cool's Brian "Grandmaster Sexay" Christopher - son of WWE hall of famer Jerry "The King" Lawler - died of an apparent suicide on July 29 at age 46.
Making Neidhart's death extra sad is that it leaves Bret Hart as the sole remaining member of the expanded Hart Foundation faction that memorably engaged in battle with people like D-Generation X (Shawn Michaels and Triple H) and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in the early days of WWE's late-90s Attitude Era. Brian Pillman died at the age of 35 in October 1997 of a previously undetected heart condition. Owen Hart infamously lost his life at age 34 during a live WWE pay-per-view event in May 1999, when an equipment malfunction during a stunt sent him falling down from the rafters of the arena to his death. Lastly, the "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith died of a heart attack in May 2002 at the age of 39, which an autopsy suggested may have been tied to years of steroid use.
Rest in Peace Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart: February 8, 1955 - August 13, 2018