Road Warrior Animal dies at the age of 60.
The other half of what many consider to be the greatest tag team in professional wrestling history is gone.
Joe Laurinaitis – better known as Road Warrior Animal – has died at the age of 60, his family announced on Tuesday.
Teaming with Mike “Road Warrior Hawk” Hegstrand, who died in 2003, as the Road Warriors/Legion of Doom, Laurinaitis won championships the world over in a career that spanned over three decades. The popularity of the Road Warriors spawned the creation of several imitator teams in federations all over the world.
The pair were known for their signature face paint and spiked shoulder pads and famously used Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” as their entrance music for much of their careers. They ended matches with their signature Doomsday Device finisher in which Laurinaitis would place an opponent on his shoulders and Hegstrand would knock him off with a flying clothesline from the top rope.
“With their intimidating face paint, outfits covered in metal spikes and impressive array of power moves, the duo captured titles and destroyed opponents wherever they roamed,” World Wrestling Entertainment said in a statement on Tuesday. “Their dominance made them so popular that the phrase “Road Warrior pop” has been used in locker rooms to describe particularly deafening reactions from the crowd ever since.”
Based in Minneapolis, Laurinaitis began training in the early ’80s under legendary wrestling trainer Eddie Sharkey alongside Hegstrand and two others who would go on to storied careers in Barry “Demolition Smash” Darsow and Richard Rood, who found fame as “Ravishing” Rick Rude.”
Originally a singles wrestler, Laurinaitis was paired together with his friend Hegstrand in Georgia Championship Wrestling by Paul Ellering, as the Road Warriors. Initially, the pair worked under a biker gimmick until they added the facepaint, distinctive hairstyles and shoulder pads. Their intense promos, delivered with snarl and peppered with wit, quickly became a calling card.
Even though the Road Warriors were booked as heels, they quickly became fan favourites at the end of the territory days in places like Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association, winning the National Wrestling Alliance Tag Team Championship on four occasions. The team also became a special attraction in Japan, wrestling out of Giant Baba’s All Japan Pro Wrestling.
Joining Jim Crockett Promotions in the late 1980s, the Road Warriors engaged in memorable feuds with the Four Horseman and the Powers of Pain.
In 1990, the duo jumped to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation where they adopted the L.O.D. name and began wearing orange shoulder pads instead of their signature black. Their first feud in the company was against Demolition, a team that was quite obviously Road Warriors-inspired at best and a shameless rip-off at worst. The duo would win the WWF Tag Team Championship at SummerSlam 1991, defeating the Nasty Boys of Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags.
The L.O.D.’s WWF run was hampered by bad booking and a serious back injury to Laurinaitis that kept him out of the ring for several years. The pair finally reunited in World Championship Wrestling towards the end of 1995. They would spend the next year in WCW feuding with teams like the Steiner Brothers and Harlem Heat.
They returned to the WWF in 1997 and won the tag titles for a second time from the Godwinns. Laurinaitis and Hegstrand would undergo a rebrand as Legion of Doom 2000 later that year, adding Tammy “Sunny” Sytch as the team’s manager.
The following year, the duo became part of what is widely considered one of the most tasteless wrestling angles of the modern era. Playing off of Hegstrand’s real-life substance abuse issues, Hawk would show up on TV drunk and very obviously unable to compete. It would later be revealed that Darren Drozdov, the former NFL player who joined the L.O.D. as a third member, was enabling Hawk’s abuse. The angle culminated with Hawk falling off of the massive Titan Tron video screen in what was billed as a suicide attempt. Neither Hegstrand nor Laurinaitis was comfortable with the angle and both men left the company shortly thereafter and effectively ended their run as a team. The pair would make sporadic appearances together with various companies prior to Hegstrand’s death.
Following a brief solo run with WCW in 2001, Laurinaitis returned to the WWE in 2005 an teamed with John Heidenreich, briefly winning the tag team titles. He was released by the WWE in 2006 after another short singles run.
The Road Warriors were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011.
His last televised WWE match came in 2012 when he returned to face Heath Slater as part of an angle in which Slater kept running afoul of Hall of Famers.
Laurinaitis’s brother, John “Johnny Ace” Laurinaitis, was also a longtime wrestler and has served as a WWE official for several years and had an on-camera role in 2011 and 2012. Marcus Laurinaitis, another younger brother, was also a wrestler and had a brief stint in WCW in the mid-1990s.
One of Laurinaitis’s three children, James Laurinaitis, starred at Ohio State as a linebacker before becoming a second-round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2009. Laurinaitis spent eight seasons in the NFL with the Rams and New Orleans Saints.
Tributes to Laurinaitis poured in from all over the wrestling world.