It seemed like another Monday until the news broke yesterday that “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff passed away. Orndorff, who was 71 years old, will always be remembered for headlining the inaugural WrestleMania and his legendary feud with Hulk Hogan.
Orndorff’s son, Travis Orndorff, confirmed the news of his passing on Instagram this morning.
“It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Paul Parlette Orndorff Jr.,” Travis wrote. “He is better known as “Mr. #1derful” Paul Orndorff. Most of you will remember him for his physique. Many will remember his intensity. But if I could only get you to understand and see his heart. He will always be Pop, Paw Paw, and Daddy at home. And as much as many of you hated him as a wrestler, he absolutely loved you for it. He was an amazing father that showed me more love than I ever deserved. I love you Daddy.”
In May, Travis confirmed his father had been suffering from dementia and believed it was brought on by CTE.
Paul Orndorff began his pro wrestling career in 1976, won numerous titles, and took part in several memorable moments. Orndorff’s betrayal of Hulk Hogan cemented him as one of the greatest heels of the 1980s.
Christened “Mr. Wonderful” by Roddy Piper, the duo teamed up in a losing effort to Hulk Hogan and Mr. T at the first WrestleMania, held in Madison Square Garden.
Orndorff and Hogan headlined WWF’s The Big Event on August 28th, 1986, in Toronto, drawing 61,000 fans.
An oddity of his career revolves around his absence from WrestleMania III. Legend has it that Orndorff was the backup if Andre, who was in bad health at the time, couldn’t make the match.
I started watch watching wrestling a few months before Paul Orndorff left the WWF. I didn’t have cable at the time. So, I rented the only two wrestling tapes at my local video store, many, many times. WrestleMania and the first annual Survivor Series.
Orndorff was a vital part of both show’s main event matches. I watched those events on repeat while hoping Orndorff would show up on Saturday morning wrestling. There was something about his look, physique, and intensity that stood out to me at a young age.
One thing that never gets mentioned is how Orndorff stood out in the land of the giants despite being six feet tall. While he was not a short person, he was not the ideal height for the era. Yet, Orndorff’s gravitas as a performer never made the audience question his stature in the ring.
Paul Orndorff received several Hall of Fame honors in wrestling and football, including the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2005.
It was cool to see him wrestle in WCW later on. Of course, you can’t talk about Orndorff’s career without talking about the greatest fight we never saw. Orndorff beat up the mammoth Vader in the locker room wearing a pink polo and flip-flops…Only in wrestling!
Travis Orndorff has set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for funeral expenses, which can be found here.