Gay wrestling star Pat Patterson dead at 79

Via WWE. Photo by Eric Johnson

Sad news from the wrestling arena: Pat Patterson, the first-ever WWE Intercontinental Champion and creator of the Royal Rumble match, has died. He was 79 years old.

Patterson rose to fame as one of the chief architects of the WWE. Born in Canada, he emigrated to the US in 1962, when he began touring the US as a pro wrestler. At the time, wrestling was still considered something of a niche sport, and didn’t have the popular following it has today.

Related: WWE Wrestling Legend Pat Patterson Comes Out In Emotional Video

That changed in 1979 when Patterson helped organize the World Wrestling Federation (later known as the WWE), along with its co-founder, Vince McMahon. The league helped organize and consolidate smaller wrestling groups around the world and turned up the volume on player rivalries, becoming something of a sports soap opera. Patterson began to transition his career from inside the ring to that of a commentator as well. In 1984 he officially retired from wrestling, taking on a commentator role full-time opposite Vince McMahon, a role he relished until his full retirement in 2004.

Throughout his career, Patterson lived as an openly gay man among friends, family and co-workers. He found a longtime boyfriend in Louie Dondero; the two maintained a relationship for more than 40 years until Dondero’s death in 1998. Though commentators and fellow wrestlers occasionally joked about Patterson’s sexuality, he didn’t come out officially until 2014.

Patterson died in Miami on December 2 after a battle with cancer.