Pro Wrestling

Pro Wrestling Legend Road Warrior Animal Passes Away

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Animal (Joseph Laurinaitis), one-half of the revolutionary Road Warriors tag team, died on 9/22/20 at age 60. According to TMZ, he was at the Tan-Tar-A resort in Osage Beach, Missouri celebrating his wedding anniversary with his wife and he passed away suddenly before midnight.

In addition to his wife, he is also survived by his two retired pro wrestler brothers John Laurinaitis (aka Johnny Ace) and Marcus Laurinaitis (aka The Terminator) and his three children. His son James Laurinaitis played in the NFL for the St. Louis Rams. His tag team partner Road Warrior Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) died of a heart attack in 2003.

Laurinaitis was discovered in the early 1980s by pro wrestling trainer and promoter Eddie Sharkey while working as a bar bouncer in Minnesota. Sharkey thought he had the right size and look to be a professional wrestler. Laurinaitis trained with Hawk, Rick Rude, and Barry Darsow (aka Krusher Kruschev, Demolition Smash, Repo Man, etc.) who would become big stars as pro wrestlers as well.

His pro wrestling debut was in Georgia Championship Wrestling on WTBS in 1982 as a singles wrestler under the name The Road Warrior (after the Mel Gibson movie “Mad Max: The Road Warrior” from the same year) with a subdued biker gimmick. Manager Paul Ellering came up with the idea for a heel stable called “The Legion Of Doom” named after the villains in the classic superhero cartoon “Super Friends”. Laurinaitis was paired together with Hegstrand under the names Hawk and Animal. Their tag team name was now known as “The Road Warriors”. Jake “the snake” Roberts, King Kong Bundy, The Iron Sheik, Matt Bourne and others were also part of the L.O.D. stable at times. The concept was dropped after a while and The Road Warriors were then the only focus of Ellering’s to manage. They were exclusively given “The Legion Of Doom” name as an alternative nickname.

The Road Warriors became an instant phenomenal box office attraction in 1983 with their unique larger than life look and smash mouth stiff wrestling style in the ring. They would come out to the haunting song “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath as their entrance theme music and they quickly destroyed talent enhancement tag teams in seconds to make them look like an unstoppable destructive force.

They were declared the NWA National Tag Team Champions in 1983 to win their first championship in a phantom tournament when the titles were vacated after The Wild Samoans jumped to join the WWF. During their career, Animal and Hawk would capture the AWA Tag Team Titles, the NWA World Tag Titles, the WWF Tag Team Titles, and the NWA International Tag Team Titles (in All Japan Pro Wrestling). They held the NWA 6-man Tag Team Titles with Dusty Rhodes (Rhodes was later replaced by Genichiro Tenryu after a Road Warriors heel turn in 1988). In 1986, they won the first Crockett Cup tag team tournament defeating Magnum T.A. and Ron Garvin. They won the Night of the Iron Men round robin tag team tournament at Starrcade 1989: Future Shock defeating Fatu and The Samoan Savage.

They were part of a memorable moment on July 4th, 1987 in Atlanta, Georgia at The Omni. It was the first ever War Games match, which was a new cage match concept inspired by NWA booker Dusty Rhodes after he saw the movie “Mad Max: Beyond ThunderDome”. It was only fitting that The Road Warriors were part of it teaming with Rhodes, Ellering, and Nikita Koloff vs. Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Lex Luger, and J.J. Dillon.

The WWF was finally able to lure The Road Warriors into the company after years of trying in 1990. They were two of several wrestlers who were unhappy with the way Jim Herd was running WCW and they decided it was time to move on to “The Big Show” (what the WWF was called in those days by wrestlers working elsewhere). When the WWF wasn’t able to get them in the 1980s, Demolition was created as their own version of The Road Warriors.

In typical WWF/Vince McMahon fashion, the duo was watered down from their intense style in other territories and marketed towards children only under The Legion of Doom name. Manager Paul Ellering was oddly stuck doing a ventriloquist gimmick with a puppet named Rocco The Talking Dummy for some reason as a co-manager. Hawk quit the company in 1992 and Animal hurt his back shortly afterwards which kept him out of action for a few years under a Lloyd’s of London insurance policy . Hawk would go on to New Japan Pro Wrestling and form a successful tag team with Kensuke Sasaki as The Hell Raisers.

The Road Warriors reunited in WCW to everyone’s surprise in 1996 for a short run feuding with The Steiner Brothers and Harlem Heat.

In the late 1990s, they made their way back to the WWF during the Attitude Era with Vince Russo booking. They ended up being repackaged with Sunny as their manager under the new name Legion of Doom 2000. This time period saw the infamous storyline of Hawk’s real life drug and alcohol problems being publicly acknowledged with him being forced to do an alcoholic gimmick on WWF’s television. The situation led to Puke (aka Darren Drozdov) being brought in as a third L.O.D. member to team with Animal because Hawk was deemed unreliable as part of the angle. There was an infamous segment on Monday Night Raw that saw a “drunk” Hawk climb on top of the Titan Tron and stumble and fall off to play up that his substance abuse issues were continuing to put his life and his tag partner’s life in jeopardy. Hawk and Animal were legit uncomfortable and offended by the storyline and they eventually left the company over it.

They would wrestle internationally and on the indy scene for a while after WWE. Animal would return to the final months of WCW in 2001 as a manager and Hawk went to rehab to try to straighten out his personal life.

Animal continued to make various guest and/or short appearances for WWE and TNA over the course of several years after Hawk’s death. He was a popular star on the indy scene as well as the pro wrestling and comic book conventions. He was a special guest for the All In event in 2018 promoted by Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks in 2018. He acted as the manager of Jax Dane and Crimson at the NWA’s reboot of The Crockett Cup in 2019.

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Shannon Walsh

Inspired by the late Michigan insider hotline host “Coach” Kurt Schneider and his “just the facts” style of reporting pro wrestling news and results from around the world.

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