WWE has issued a statement on legendary pro wrestler “The Patriot” Del Wilkes passing away.

As noted, Wilkes passed away earlier today at the age of 59 after suffering a massive heart attack.

WWE pointed to Wilkes’ successful run on the University of South Carolina football team in college, and his memorable match against WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart at the “In Your House: Ground Zero” event in 1997, for Hart’s WWE Title. WWE’s full statement reads like this:

Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, passes away

WWE is saddened to learn that Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has passed away at the age of 59.

Before making a name for himself in the squared circle, Wilkes was a standout on the football field for the University of South Carolina, where he earned the distinction of being voted a consensus All-American. After making the switch to sports-entertainment, Wilkes competed all over the world before arriving in WWE in 1997 as The Patriot.

A Superstar quickly on the rise, The Patriot proudly donned the red, white and blue of America in the midst of a rivalry with The Hart Foundation, leading to a memorable match against Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at In Your House: Ground Zero just two months after his WWE debut.

WWE extends its condolences to Wilkes’ family and friends.

Wilkes began wrestling in 1988, and had runs with WWE, WCW, AWA, promotions in Japan, and more. He is a former two-time WCW World Tag Team Champion, and a former AWA World Tag Team Champion. Wilkes last wrestled for WWE in October 1997, losing to WWE Hall of Famer Jim Neidhart on Shotgun Saturday Night. He was released in early 1998.

Wilkes leaves behind a wife of more than 40 years, named Cathy. He retired from pro wrestling due to a triceps injury, shortly after leaving WWE. Wilkes had worked for the past 16 years as a car salesman in Columbia, South Carolina, but still made the occasional wrestling-related signing or appearance.

Stay tuned for more on Wilkes’ passing.

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