I was a little Warrior. I would run back and forth in front of the TV, trying to go fast enough in the small space to make my hair flow out like The Ultimate Warrior’s did. It didn’t matter that I was a scrawny girl; it was easy to imagine myself as his manager, running down to the ring behind him, music thumping, my own tassels flying. His entrance gave a shot of adrenaline to the fans, who in turn gave it right back to him – a reciprocal energy that made everyone feel good.
If Hulk Hogan was a superhero, The Ultimate Warrior took it to the next level: he was superhuman. He had the biggest muscles. He ran the fastest. He was the strongest. He was practically impervious to pain. His face paint made him so mysterious that it seemed impossible that a regular guy was underneath it. His promos were crazy, sometimes even more frenzied than his wrestling. As a kid, I didn’t care that his words didn’t always make sense. I was so taken by him that it became part of his charm.
He talked about rocketing through the stratosphere, a ridiculous notion that seemed acceptable because of his conviction. Even as a kid, you knew he wasn’t being literal, and so it was okay. It was easy to get caught up in his intensity, and to believe in him. He always did what he said he was going to do. He was always wild and free. He didn’t have the trappings of mortal weaknesses or moral dilemmas. The Warrior code was appealing to me because it was so positive and encouraging. If watching wrestling was an escape, Warrior took us to another dimension altogether. It was okay to be expressive and weird and colorful. It was okay to be a wrestling fan, because someone who was so powerful got his power from YOU.
He got all his power from the Little Warriors: an abstract notion for me as a child, thrilling as it was, but a perfectly sensible one for me as an adult. How many times have wrestlers stood in the middle of that ring, thanking fans for their support, without which they wouldn’t feel successful or fulfilled? Warrior always took it one step further, drawing on the goodwill of the fans to fuel that rocket ship and take us on a ride. We did it together. And it was awesome.
They say that the spirit of the departed will live on in the hearts of those left behind. Jim Hellwig spent his days on earth preaching that same philosophy: the spirit of The Ultimate Warrior lives in the hearts of everyone who believed in him. Jim Hellwig never believed he WAS The Ultimate Warrior, just that he was a character who inspired people to stay positive and work hard to achieve their dreams. That’s why he was able to live a happy life, as Jim Hellwig, regardless of whether The Ultimate Warrior was inducted into a Hall of Fame. That was a gimmick that he didn’t need in order to feel fulfilled, as Jim Hellwig, husband and father. That he accepted the induction, and made peace with the company, shows the evolution of his Warrior philosophy: stand up for yourself, but know when to be the better man.
In a chilling gesture on Monday night, Jim was unable to express himself to the fans on Raw without donning a Warrior mask and using Warrior’s voice. The artificiality of the mask was symbolic, and Warrior was nothing if not into symbolism. He assumed that role for one last speech, and his words now land with a sickening thud in our hearts.
“No WWE talent becomes a legend on their own. Every man's heart one day beats its final beat; his lungs breathe their final breath. And if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit will be immortalized by the storytellers, by the loyalty, by the memory.”
I can’t help but think that he somehow knew that his own heart would soon beat its final beat. I’m trying to see the poetry in it – that he got one last chance to be The Ultimate Warrior in the middle of a wrestling ring. But right now the shock is overwhelming. It’s devastating. I can’t stop crying. And I know that so many people – my age, younger, and older - are all feeling the same way. Thinking about how The Ultimate Warrior made us feel as kids, and how satisfying it was to see him honored just a few days ago. There is no way to make sense of what came next. He couldn’t have been more alive, just then. Right there.
And now he’s gone. And while we have no claim to Jim Hellwig, the man who chose to celebrate his Hall of Fame induction with his wife and daughters after the show, we can lay claim to The Ultimate Warrior, the mask Jim wore when he wanted to be larger than life. Thank you for taking us to the stratosphere. Today we are Little Warriors in our grown-up hearts.
As I'm posting this, I see that Andrew Johnson has already written his thoughts on Warrior's passing, as we are all moved today to contribute our memories and opinions. You can share yours below in the comments, on twitter @kickyhick or by email firstname.lastname@example.org - take care everyone.