PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino has passed away at age 82.
Sanmmartino passed away with his wife, Carol, and sons, Darryl and Dan, by his side. He died peacefully after battling health issues for the last two months.
Sammartino was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.
Pittsburghers are reacting and remembering the legend.
"He was a great man. Not only a great wrestler but a great man. A great ambassador Pittsburgh," one fan remembers.
According to the WWE, Sammartino defeated Buddy Rogers in 1963 to become the second-ever WWE Champion. He held the title for eight years, which is still a record.
He also sold out Madison Square Garden 188 times as a headliner.
Sammartino was born in Italy, but for all of his adult life, has made his home in Pittsburgh.
He grew up in the small town of Pizzoferrato, but life for him, his brother and sister changed dramatically when Nazi SS troops invaded their town during World War II.
Radio personality Larry Richert had a close bond with Sammartino. In recent years, they considered Larry his handler.
"He made sure he never forgot the fans, in particular because without them, he would have never risen to this heroic wrestling champion. A living legend," Richert said.
Richert was so moved by Sammartino's life, that he produced a documentary on the wrestler, traveling with him to the village in the Abuzzi section of Italy where Bruno and his family escaped from the Nazis.
"To so many people around the world, he uplifted them at a time when Italian-Americans were really picked on and looked down upon. That's when his rise as a champion and he always remembered where he came from," Richert said.
Sammartino's father had already moved to Pittsburgh for work, leaving him cut off from the family, and Sammartino's mother, Emilia, to literally save the lives of their children. She moved them into hiding in the mountains above their village.
He would eventually reunite with his father in Pittsburgh in 1950.
Shortly after the news of his passing, tributes started pouring in.
Triple H called Sammartino a "true icon" and said he was devastated by the news.
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man...
A true friend...and one of the toughest people I've ever met.
My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream
— Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
RIP Bruno,thank you for loving and living our business,only love HH
— Hulk Hogan (@HulkHogan) April 18, 2018
Bruno is indirectly responsible for where I am today. Growing up in Pittsburgh, he was my father's hero, and sparked my dad's passion for the business that he passed on to me.
I was lucky enough to spend some time with Bruno, and the man exemplified class. #RIPBruno
— Corey Graves (@WWEGraves) April 18, 2018
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto issued the following statement:
"Bruno Sammartino was one of the greatest ambassadors the city of Pittsburgh ever had. Like so many of us, his immigrant family moved here to build a new life, and through his uncommon strength and surprising grace he embodied the spirit of Pittsburgh on the world stage.
Some of the fondest memories of my childhood are of sitting in the basement with my grandfather on Saturday mornings and watching Bruno wrestle. They both came from the same part of Italy, and when my grandfather – who was five-foot-eight – would watch Bruno wrestle he became six-feet-ten.
I consider it a great personal honor that Bruno and I later became friends.
I join all other Pittsburgh residents in saying 'Thank you, Bruno' and we will miss you."
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called Sammartino a legend and iconic figure. He went on to say that Pittsburgh was lucky to have had him.
"We are saddened by the loss of Bruno Sammartino, a Pittsburgh legend and iconic figure. He came to Pittsburgh as a young man and through hard work and perseverance gained national and international acclaim. He has always made us proud. He embodied Pittsburgh and served as one of the greatest ambassadors for this region," Fitzgerald said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this time. We hope that it provides some comfort to them to know how lucky we feel that Pittsburgh became home to him and his family, and that we had him as a Pittsburgher for as long as we did."
You may not know it, but superstar Bruno Mars was named after Sammartino.
Last year, singer Bruno Mars got to meet Sammartino during a tour stop in Pittsburgh.
The singer took to social media to post a photo of himself with the Living Legend. In the post, Bruno Mars revealed he was nicknamed after the WWE Hall of Famer.
During the meeting, Sammartino presented Mars with a replica of a championship belt.
Sammartino said he was impressed by Mars.
"I didn't know too much about him except that he is a great entertainer…I was so impressed with this guy because he couldn't have been more humble, so respectful, so down to earth. If he's like that all time, that's wonderful," said Sammartino.
The Living Legend said he is surprised he has gone viral 35 years after retiring from wrestling.
"I never thought in a million years that everywhere I've gone that people would [still] come out for autographs…I mean, it's been so many years. It's just a little humbling and mind-boggling to be honest," said Sammartino.
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