Real-Life Inspiration For WWE’s Eugene Passes Away

Family, friends, and fans are remembering the real-life inspiration for one of the more unique characters in WWE history. Eugene Palermo passed away Sunday at the age of 57.

Palermo's introduction to the world of professional wrestling came through his father. Bucky Palermo (who passed in 2017) worked as a referee in Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas for more than three decades. Those included shows for what was then the World Wrestling Federation. Eugene Palermo lived with Down syndrome, but it didn't prevent him from getting involved in wrestling. After attending WWF shows in the Pittsburgh area for years, he got the chance to work on them as a ring boy, retrieving entrance gear from wrestlers and performing other duties. He was a beloved and well-known presence across the independent wrestling scene in the Pittsburgh area. In 2016, he was inducted into the Keystone State Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame.

The story of how Eugene's name came to be attached to a WWE character started with Rip Rogers, who was a trainer in the company's developmental system. Rogers' son lives with autism, and it was Rogers who came up with the idea of a wrestling savant with similar characteristics, which he discussed with his trainee, Nick Dinsmore.

Dinsmore says he suggested the character to WWE backstage producers multiple times with little success. It wasn't until Dinsmore got the chance to pitch it personally to Vince McMahon that the idea was approved. The name "Eugene" was adopted as a direct result of WWE employees' memories of Eugene Palermo attending shows.

Dinsmore portrayed "Eugene" in WWE from 2004 to 2007.  He shared a brief message on Sunday and a picture of himself with Eugene Palermo on Twitter.

"Thinking of the family of Eugene Palermo today," Dinsmore wrote.

While some fans found the character controversial, Dinsmore recalled many positive interactions with fans who told him it inspired people with special needs.

"So many people said to me, 'My brother has special needs and he told me that he can do anything because Eugene did it,'" Dinsmore said during a 2020 interview. "I heard that more times than I heard 'You're making fun of people.' No, instead I heard, 'You're giving them a voice.' Or, 'Oh my God, there's someone like me.' That's what I want to be. That's what WWE should be: a representation of every type of person that there is around the world."

Dinsmore has been holding a "retirement tour" for the Eugene character this year.