Former Lexington wrestler 'Macho Man' Randy Savage dies in Fla. wreck

Before he became Randy Macho Man Savage, he was minor-league catcher Randy Poffo. Former Reds infielder Doug Flynn and ex-UK coach Keith Madison played with him in the farm system.
Before he became Randy Macho Man Savage, he was minor-league catcher Randy Poffo. Former Reds infielder Doug Flynn and ex-UK coach Keith Madison played with him in the farm system. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Randy "Macho Man" Savage, the professional wrestler who got his start in Lexington and was known for his raspy voice, rainbow-colored cowboy hats and oversized sunglasses, died in a car crash Friday in Florida. He was 58.

A Florida Highway Patrol crash report said the former wrestler — whose legal name was Randy Mario Poffo — was driving a Jeep Wrangler when he lost control in Seminole around 9:25 a.m. The Jeep veered over the raised concrete median divider, crossed over the eastbound lanes and crashed head-on with a tree.

Police said he might have suffered a "medical event" before the accident.

The report did not elaborate, and it said officials would need to perform an autopsy to know for sure.

The report said a woman in the vehicle, identified as Barbara L. Poffo, 56, suffered minor injuries. A statement from Stamford, Conn.-based World Wrestling Entertainment said the passenger was the wrestler's current wife. Both were wearing their seat belts, according to the police report.

"Poffo will be greatly missed by WWE and his fans," the statement said.

Mr. Savage was a charismatic wrestler made famous for his "Macho Man" nickname and his "Oooh Yeah!" catchphrase. He was a champion in Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation — which would become the WWE — and Ted Turner's now-defunct World Championship Wrestling.

Mr. Savage was under contract with WWE from 1985 to 1993 and held both the WWE and Intercontinental Championships.

"Our sincerest condolences go out to his family and friends. We wish a speedy recovery to his wife, Lynn," WWE said.

Mr. Savage's father, Angelo Poffo, ran International Championship Wrestling in Lexington, where Savage wrestled before hitting the more profitable pastures.

Mr. Savage began his career in baseball. The "Macho Man" tag came not from his distinctive flying elbow wrestling move but from his abilities as a hitter. Savage said he took that last name because he didn't want to become successful by using the name of his father, who wrestled in the '50s and '60s.

Mr. Savage never broke out of the minor leagues during his four years in baseball, some of it with the Cincinnati Reds farm organization.

He told a Herald-Leader reporter in 1988 that having spent more than nine years in wrestling's minor leagues — appearing in National Guard armories and high school gyms — made his success all the sweeter when he finally broke through to World Wrestling Federation popularity in 1986, winning the Intercontinental Championship.

"But then it just hit," he said. "It was a combination of me being ready after all those years, and being unbelievably hungry."

Despite his gruff ring persona, Mr. Savage was soft-spoken in a 1984 Lexington interview, peppering his conversation with references to authors Henry David Thoreau and Norman Vincent Peale.

Mr. Savage was married from 1984 to 1992 to Elizabeth Hulette — known as wrestling's frilly, demure "Miss Elizabeth" in her long-running role as a distressed damsel, in which she was associated with Savage.

Hulette was from Frankfort and was a graduate of the University of Kentucky. The couple married in Frankfort.

The two were "married" in the ring while in character at WWE's SummerSlam event at Madison Square Garden in 1991. The bride wore white; the groom, a shiny gold tuxedo and matching hat with a towering feather.

The pairing was so popular that Elizabeth became known as "the first lady of wrestling" and "managed" other wrestlers, including Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Sting and the late Chris Benoit.

Hulette died of an apparent drug and alcohol overdose in 2003 while living in Atlanta with wrestler Lex Luger, whose real name is Laurence Pfohl.

Mr. Savage also was engaged in a long-running "feud" with Tennessee native Jerry "The King" Lawler. Lawler said in 2008 that his favorite memory of wrestling in Kentucky was a loser-leaves-town match in Lexington against Savage.

"Randy, I'm sure, never thought that losing that match would be the best thing that ever happened to him," Lawler said. "He was then forced to get out and basically go national. From there, he went on and caught on with the WWE and had a huge run as 'Macho Man' Randy Savage."

Mr. Savage defined the larger-than-life personalities of the 1980s World Wrestling Federation. He wore sequined robes bejeweled with "Macho Man" on the back, rainbow-colored cowboy hats and oversized sunglasses, part of a unique look that helped build the WWF into a mainstream phenomenon.

The WWF made Mr. Savage their champion after a win over Ted DiBiase in the main event at WrestleMania in 1988.

Mr. Savage had not appeared for a major wrestling organization since 2004, when he performed for Total Nonstop Action.

He was at times both the most popular and most hated wrestler in entertainment — a "face" and a "heel," in the lingo of professional wrestling. His flying elbow off the top rope was mimicked by basement and backyard wrestlers everywhere.

Mr. Savage made good use of his deep, raspy voice as a corporate pitchman as well, for years ordering Slim Jim fans to "Snap into it!"

He's most known for his legendary rivalries with Hulk Hogan, Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair.

Wrestlers took to Twitter to let fans know Mr. Savage won't be forgotten.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson hailed Mr. Savage as one of his childhood inspirations and heroes, while Mick Foley, who has wrestled as Cactus Jack, Dude Love and Mankind, and is also a best-selling author, called Savage "one of my favorite performers."

Wrestler and actor John Cena called him "one of the greats." Wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper described himself as "too sad to Tweet."

Hogan said he and Mr. Savage had just started talking again after 10 years.

"He had so much life in his eyes & in his spirit, I just pray that he's happy and in a better place and we miss him," Hogan wrote.

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