The Iron Sheik, WWE wrestling legend, dead at 81

FILE - Professional legend The Iron Sheik has died at the age of 81. Bobby Bank/WireImage

The Iron Sheik, an American-Iranian professional wrestling legend, has died. He was 81.

A representative for The Iron Sheik, whose real name is Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, shared the news to the wrestler’s Twitter account on Wednesday.

“Today, we gather with heavy hearts to bid farewell to a true legend, a force of nature, and an iconic figure who left an incredible mark on the world of professional wrestling,” the statement reads.

“It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of The Iron Sheik, but we also take solace in knowing that he departed this world peacefully, leaving behind a legacy that will endure for generations to come.”

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The cause of Vaziri’s death is not yet known publicly.

The statement said beyond Vaziri’s wrestling accomplishments, he was also a “devoted family man.”

He leaves behind his wife of 47 years, Caryl, and his children, Tanya, Nikki, Marissa and son-in-law Eddie. Vaziri also had five grandchildren, Marissa, Zahra, Alexis, Chloe and Niko, who “brought immeasurable joy into his life,” according to the statement.

Vaziri was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1942 where he trained as a wrestler until moving to the U.S. in the 1960s. He was an Olympic wrestler for Iran before making his World Wrestling Federation (WWF) debut in 1979. Throughout his career, he faced the likes of Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan.

During his pro wrestling career, Vaziri donned curled boots and used the “Camel Clutch” as his finishing move during individual and tag team clashes in which he played the role of an anti-American heel for the WWF, which later became the WWE.

The mustachioed, barrel-chested brawler often riled up crowds with his anti-American persona and rhetoric, often alongside tag team partner Nikolai Volkoff, who played the part of a Soviet villain. Together, they won the WWF World Tag Team Championship in 1985 at the first WrestleMania, according to the biography posted on the WWE’s internet page.

He later teamed with Sgt. Slaughter as Colonal Mustafa. The Iron Sheik’s last appearance in the ring was at WrestleMania 17, the Connecticut-based WWE said.

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Infamously, Vaziri and fellow wrestler “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan were both arrested for possession of cocaine at a New Jersey traffic stop in 1987. The arrest — and the TV feud between Vaziri and Duggan — caused scandal in the wrestling world. Vaziri ended up serving one year of probation.

The Iron Sheik’s influence extended to the sport’s biggest stars. Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who used the term “jabroni” to insult his ring opponents, has credited The Iron Sheik with making it famous in wrestling circles. The TV show “Young Rock” also has featured The Iron Sheik as a recurring character.

The Iron Sheik used his humor and wisdom to build a large Twitter following. He also made appearances on “The Howard Stern Show,” “The Eric Andre Show,” and others, the WWE biography said.

Tributes to the iconic 1980s wrestling “villain” are already pouring in online.

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— With files from The Associated Press

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