How did Del Wilkes die? WWE icon 'The Patriot' was working as car salesman before death at 59

Before making a name for himself in wrestling, Del Wilkes played college football for the South Carolina Gamecocks

                            How did Del Wilkes die? WWE icon 'The Patriot' was working as car salesman before death at 59
Del Wilkes was known by his ring names The Patriot and The Trooper (WWE, Twitter/Del Wilkes)

Legendary wrestler Del Wilkes, better known by his ring names 'The Patriot' and 'The Trooper', has died at the age of 59. He was recognized by his iconic golden red and blue star-spangled mask that he donned while wrestling with his opponents. The WWE and AWA icon had fascinated fans with his wrestling prowess over the course of his nine-year-long career, before being compelled to retire due to a triceps injury. Wilkes is survived by five children and his wife Cathy Wilkes whom he married on April 29, 2013. 

Known for his trademark moves 'The Uncle Slam' and 'The Patriot Missle', Wilkes has wrestled for Global Wrestling Federation, All Japan Pro Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling, other than AWA and WWE. The 6' 5" wrestler was also a football player in college, being among the only four consensus All-American football players in the team's history. He had played for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Wilkes' tragic demise comes soon after the deaths of Donald Rumsfeld, Delia Fiallo, Stuart Damon, Ric Romo, and others. 


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How did Del Wilkes die?

According to The Charleston Post & Courier, Wilkes died from a massive heart attack. Before his death, the iconic wrestler was working as a car salesman for Dick Smith Nissan in Columbia, South Carolina, for the past 16 years. 

Born on December 21, 1961, in Columbia, Wilkes first emerged as a football player. After playing as an offensive lineman at Irmo High School, Wilkes proceeded to be recruited for the South Carolina Gamecocks. In 1984, he set records for touchdowns (49), points (371), and total offense (5,095 yards). He was chosen as an All-American starter by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), Walter Camp Football Foundation (WC) and the Associated Press (AP). 

Following a commendable career in football, Wilkes turned to professional wrestling and debuted in the ring in 1988. Two years later, he won the AWA World Tag Team Championship with DJ Peterson. Incidentally, the duo became the last AWA World Tag Team champions. He was also a two-time WCW World Tag Team Champion.

Wilkes became known as 'The Patriot' during his stint with the Global Wrestling Federation. In 1991, he was crowned the first GWF Television Champion. For WWE (then WWF), Wilkes last wrestled in 1997, when he lost to Hall of Famer Jim Neidhart by disqualification. He was released by WWE in 1998. Wilkes retired from wrestling soon afterward due to a tricep injury. He later admitted to using steroids and cocaine during his career. He even spent nine months in prison in 2002 for forging a prescription, due to his addiction to painkillers. After being released from prison, Wilkes quit drugs and started working as a car salesman. 

WWE mourned the death of Wilkes by issuing an elaborate statement which read as follows: "WWE is saddened to learn that Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has passed away at the age of 59. Before making a name for himself in the squared circle, Wilkes was a standout on the football field for the University of South Carolina, where he earned the distinction of being voted a consensus All-American. After making the switch to sports-entertainment, Wilkes competed all over the world before arriving in WWE in 1997 as The Patriot. A Superstar quickly on the rise, The Patriot proudly donned the red, white and blue of America in the midst of a rivalry with The Hart Foundation, leading to a memorable match against Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at In Your House: Ground Zero just two months after his WWE debut. WWE extends its condolences to Wilkes’ family and friends."