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View Full Version : Death of a REAL Legend...



Jason Huber
10-24-2003, 08:39 AM
BYLINE: Richard Meryhew
CREDITLINE: Star Tribune
HEADLINE: 'Road Warrior Hawk,' wrestler, dies at 46


For nearly a decade, Mike Hegstrand was part of the hottest act in all of professional wrestling.
With his biker boots, spiked shoulder pads, face paint and sculpted physique, the Minneapolis body builder teamed with friend and fellow weightlifter Joe Laurinaitis to make up the Road Warriors, pro wrestling's dominant tag team of the 1980s.
"I would say at their peak, they were the most popular tag team in the history of wrestling," said Dave Meltzer, editor and publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. "They had a certain look and ferocity that really appealed to people."
Hegstrand, a Minneapolis native who wrestled under the nickname Road Warrior Hawk, died in his sleep early Sunday at his home near Clearwater, Fla.
He was 46.
The cause of death was not known. However, the 6-foot-3, 280-pound wrestler had suffered from a heart ailment in recent years and had other health problems, friends said.
"It's such a shock," said Jim Yungner, part owner of a gym in Plymouth where Hegstrand and Laurinaitas, who wrestled under the name Road Warrior Animal, often trained. The two helped Yungner finance the business.
Yungner said he heard from friends Monday that Hegstrand and his wife were moving from their home over the weekend when Hegstrand said he wasn't feeling well. He went to bed and told his wife to wake him in a few hours. When she tried to wake him, she couldn't, Yungner said.
Yungner said Hegstrand is the fourth wrestler from the Minneapolis area to die in recent years.
In 1998, Dean Peters, who graduated from Robbinsdale High School in 1976 and wrestled under the name Brady Boone, died in a car accident while driving to his home in Tampa. A year later, Peters' high school classmate and fellow pro wrestler, Rick Rood, died of heart failure at 40.
Earlier this year, Curt Hennig, another Robbinsdale classmate, was found dead in a hotel room in Tampa. Investigators said Hennig, 44, died of a cocaine overdose.
Yungner said Hegstrand, who attended Minneapolis North, and Laurinaitas, who attended Irondale High School in New Brighton, lifted weights with the others at his gym.
"They were all good friends," Yungner said. "They were all guys we grew up with. I told a couple of friends today, it's like, 'Gawd, who's next in our group?' "
Came out of nowhere
Yungner said he got to know Hegstrand and Laurinaitis about 1980 when they began lifting weights and training in a gym he ran in Golden Valley. At the time, the two were bouncers at a Minneapolis bar.
They got into wrestling after being approached by trainer Eddie Sharkey. They later went out on their own, "but they didn't do very good and came home," Yungner said.
Later, they were approached with the tag-team idea. Soon, the painted mugs of "Hawk" and "Animal" were on millions of TV screens across America.
"They came out of nowhere," said Verne Gagne, who promoted them for a time when they were part of Gagne's American Wrestling Association. "They weren't polished wrestlers. They pounded on guys more than they did any scientific wrestling."
But notoriety had its price.
"It was more like a rock-'n'-roll-star lifestyle that they lived," Yungner said. "And Hawk lived it to the max. He had 20 years of hard living. But in the last three or four years, he really settled down."
Several years ago, Hegstrand became ill while wrestling in Australia. According to a 2001 article in the Orlando Sentinel, Hegstrand was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease that attacks the muscle fibers.
"I was no saint," Hegstrand told the Sentinel. "For years I put a lot of stuff in my body that I shouldn't have. Now it's just the God-made stuff. I'm eating healthy and feeling stronger."
He resumed wrestling, although not as seriously as before. Earlier this summer, the Road Warriors were reunited with their former manager at a show in Chicago to celebrate their years together.
"These guys who had really been such huge stars really weren't anymore," Meltzer said. "People wanted them to be, but they weren't. Physically, they couldn't do it anymore. One of the reasons for their decline in recent years is that he just couldn't do anything because he'd been so sick. He paid the price."

Richard Meryhew is at richm@startribune.com.

Jason Huber
10-24-2003, 08:43 AM
Some of you wrestling/weightlifting fans might appreciate this. The FBI would call this a clue... steroids! Heart failure at such a young age is a "dead" give-away... Other notable (more fortunate) examples like Arnold, Franco Columbo & Louie Ferrigno have survived cardiac arrest episodes, while late Mr. Americas - Dave Johns & The Mentzer Brothers and others were not so lucky... As a fledgling bodybuilder in the 80's, I was fortunate enough to be training @ Ventura's (Jesse...) Gym in North Mpls. @ the same time that Joe, Mike, Rick Rood - others were beginning wrestling careers. Mike was a giant - unfortunately due (at least) in-part to prodigious Anabolic Steroid use... he will be missed. The end of an era... Thanks LOD;) J