American wrestling star Terry Funk, a pioneer of the sport who rose to popularity in the 1980s, has died at the age of 79. Known for his nearly 50-year career, Funk helped popularise a “hardcore” style of wrestling characterised by the use of improvised weapons, such as chairs, ladders, trash cans and bats.
WWE announced his passing on Wednesday. No cause of death was given.
“Revered by fans and peers across the globe for his tenacity, heart and longevity, Funk will be remembered as one of the toughest competitors to ever step inside the squared circle,” WWE said.
“From WWE to All Japan, from WCW to ECW, Funk proved he could go toe-to-toe with the best and pushed the limits of what was possible inside the squared circle.”
Born in 1944, Funk began wrestling in the 1960s as a tag team with his brother Dory Funk Jr, but later gained fame as a solo performer. His first big win was the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship in 1975.
He first competed for WWE, now the world's biggest wrestling promotion, alongside his brother in 1985, and the pair became known as The Funks.
Funk's rivalry with “Nature Boy” Ric Flair was particularly popular. Their World Championship Wrestling feud in 1989, which culminated in an “I Quit” Match, is still regarded as an all-time classic to this day, WWE said.
An “I Quit” Match is a fight into submission where the only way to win is to make the opponent say the words “I quit”.
Funk, who returned from retirement multiple times, was popular around the world, particularly in Japan where he became one of the most beloved legends of the All Japan Pro Wrestling promotion alongside brother Dory.
He was nearly 60 when he won the United States Championship and WCW Hardcore Title in 2000. His last match was at the WWE-produced ECW One Night Stand event in 2006, when he teamed with Tommy Dreamer and Beulah McGillicutty against Mick Foley, Edge and Lita.
Foley was one of the first wrestling stars to pay tribute.
“He was my mentor, my idol, one of my closest friends. He was the greatest wrestler I ever saw,” he posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Funk's wrestling career also led to a few appearances on the big screen, including a role in the 1989 Hollywood action film Road House, starring Patrick Swayze in the lead role. He also starred in two films with Sylvester Stallone: Paradise Alley (1978) and Over the Top (1987).
The Funk brothers were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009 by the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes.