Guest Editorial: Meeting The Ultimate Warrior Early In His Career, His Passing, Drugs In Wrestling

Robert Bluestein, who is a published author of baseball articles on Bleacher Report and previously with several Baseball publications, sent his first-hand account of meeting Warrior when he was first coming up, which you can read below:


Some of you know this about me, but my first ever paid photography job was shooting portraits for UWF Wrestling and also Midsouth Wrestling. I was 18 or 19 and was working at Fox Photo. I could turn out 8x10s for $1 a piece at my cost. So I would take portraits of the wrestlers in black and white and sell them for $3 each and they would autograph them and sell them to the fans for $10 each. Back in the day, wrestlers had to hawk their own gear if they were going to make any money. This was a great deal because everyone got to make money.

So I got to make some pretty cool friends back then. Ted Dibiase was absolutely one of my favorites. He never uttered an unkind word about anyone. There were others who were very nice as well. I once gave a wrestler named "The One Man Gang" a ride to his Super-8 hotel. He was 6'9" and about 400lbs. He came out to my car wearing his ring attire and carrying a paper sack. "Where's your luggage?" I asked. "I got everything I need right here in my sack." And with that, he pulled a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste out of his sack. (The sack was also full of loose pills) Anyway, I asked " that all you really have?" He looked at me and rather matter-of-factly said, "Yeah, you learn to travel light when you are on the road all the time." (It's one of my favorite stories of all)


Anyway, before they got jacked up, the Steiners were really great. (They went by their real names back then, Robert and Scott Richtsteiner) I also recall a positive impression from Rick Rude, Terry Gordy and Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Some guys were jerks – Scott Hall was the most arrogant and unlikeable person I ever met but I understand he has changed and mellowed after all these years. It was here that I saw a brand new tag-team in The Bladerunners, made up of Jim Hellwig and another guy named Sting.

I never saw anyone so muscled up in my life as the guy who would become The Ultimate Warrior. The Bladerunners were just out of the gate and very raw as far as wrestlers went. They were actually quite shy and awkward when they were sitting at a table signing autographs. And I know I took a black-and-white shot of them that subsequently asked me to print a hundred copies. Hellwig was very critical of the image and I tried hard to please him. I took several more shots and the next night they were wrestling the Steiners and I got to the Sam Houston Colosseum just as their match ended. The timing was perfect and as we were walking to the back he looked at the picture and exclaimed "THAT'S the one I wanted!" It felt good to have him pleased with my work, but he sure made me work for it. I felt like I accomplished something big for them. Otherwise, they were so young and so unsure of themselves in a social setting that they were otherwise unremarkable. In addition, they were among the very few wrestlers that were close to me in age and frankly, it felt odd to have hero worship over them like so many others who believe all of it is real.


But the family of wrestlers are very close and the bond that these guys had was as tight and pure as you will ever see. I also don't think it comes as any surprise regarding the amount of steroids and other drugs these guys were doing. I saw the British Bulldog take a huge handful of vicodin and wash it down with a huge beer. The drugs take their toll and a great many wrestlers have dies far too young as a result. Eddie Guerrero, Macho Man Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, Chris Benoit, the aforementioned Ravishing Rick Rude to name a few.

I never saw Hellwig take anything but he has admitted to using in the past. But — when he became the Ultimate Warrior upon coming to the WWF he created one of the most entertaining and intense characters the wrestling world had ever seen. He was simply electric out there in the ring. No one brought the energy and uncaged fury that the Ultimate Warrior did when he raced at full-speed to get into the ring. Unfortunately, he had an acrimonious departure from the WWF and so bitter were the feelings that Vince McMahon said he would never see the Warrior back in the WWE. They say that in wrestling, anything is possible.

So this last weekend, Vince shook off his grudge and the Warrior shook off his grudge and the two of them buried the hatchet once-and-for all. After many years, the Warrior was finally inducted into the WWE Hall-of-Fame last weekend and the crowd was just as electric for his speech as they were for any wrestling match he ever took part in. Ultimate Warrior also announced that he signed a Lifetime "Legends of Wrestling" contract with the WWE over the last week and would be making appearances on behalf of the WWE.


Like so many others in this grand arena, his life ended just way too short. Just 24-hours after he addressed the crowd on live-TV, Jim Hellwig passed away from a massive heart attack. The signs were all there – he was sweating profusely at the Hall-of-Fame speech and even mentioned it in his induction. His walk was measured and slow. He was winded and having a hard time catching his breath. The warning signs were all there – but the biggest one of all was the culture he was raised in. No one will ever truly know what caused this 6'4" 290 lb manic beast to succumb in life, but one thing is certain – wrestling was a whole lot more fun with him in the ring than outside of it. I hadn't thought much about the wrestling pictures I did back in the 80s and early 90s because I never took it seriously and didn't always follow it. But Warrior's passing made me pause and think about how fortunate it was that he finally got the recognition that was long overdue from the WWE. Clearly, it could not have come at a more crucial time.

In his final speech on Monday night, he told a raucous crowd that his legacy was not defined by anything he did, but rather by the fans, who took him in and helped him define an unforgettable character. In a world of imagary and make-believe, I am inclined to think his words were real and his appreciation, most genuine.