WWE superstar Windham Rotunda, better known by his ring name of Bray Wyatt, died Thursday, the company announced. He was 36.
WWE is saddened to learn that Windham Rotunda, also known as Bray Wyatt, passed away on Thursday, Aug. 24, at age 36.
WWE extends its condolences to Rotunda’s family, friends and fans. pic.twitter.com/pabVuaKlnP
— WWE (@WWE) August 24, 2023
Rotunda played college football at Troy, but pro wrestling was in his blood. His father, Mike, is best known as former WWE superstar IRS. Rotunda’s grandfather, Blackjack Mulligan, and uncle, Barry Windham, are members of the WWE Hall of Fame, while his brother has also wrestled for WWE under the ring name Bo Dallas.
Rotunda began his pro wrestling career in WWE’s developmental system in 2009 before making his debut on the company’s main roster in 2010 under the ring name Husky Harris. He was later repackaged as Bray Wyatt, the intimidating bayou cult leader character with whom he found his biggest success.
Known by wrestling fans for his speaking ability and character work outside of the ring, as Wyatt, Rotunda faced off over the years against mainstays such as John Cena and the Undertaker at WrestleMania, WWE’s flagship event. Overall, he was a three-time world champion and main event several premium live events for the company.
Rotunda, a father of four, was released by WWE in July 2021 before rejoining the company a little more than a year later. His final televised match was a victory against LA Knight at the Royal Rumble in January.
Rotunda’s impact on wrestling
Rotunda pushed WWE’s character development and storytelling in a way it rarely had before. There had been spooky mystical characters in the past, but you believed everything Wyatt believed. The depth of his promos were captivating.
His Firefly Fun House match against John Cena at WrestleMania 36 during COVID lockdowns was one of the most creative things we’d ever seen in wrestling, a pre-taped mix of a kids puppet show, an old-school wrestling show and a horror movie. He had a hardcore fanbase who already dreamed up new stories for him, because his character opened up imagination.
He was also an elite athlete. Along with being part of a pro wrestling family, he was an All-American offensive lineman at College of the Sequoias at the junior college level and later played at Troy before leaving football. His former coaches told me of a big man who had quick feet like a defensive back and a great explosiveness. It was easy to see that in the ring, how quick such a big guy could be on his feet.
His old football teammates also described him as a guy who loved his drums in the dorm and would always play-wrestle with everyone.
The Wyatt Family in WWE was one of the most interesting groups of wrestlers we’d seen in a while. Now two of them are gone: Wyatt and Luke Harper (also known as Brodie Lee), who died in 2020. The two were extremely close. Their impact on pro wrestling will be felt for a long time.
What made Bray Wyatt so innovative
Wyatt’s character was the most innovative and intriguing in WWE since the Undertaker. It’s all about the storyline in WWE and Wyatt told a story every step of the way. It takes a special talent to simultaneously be fun loving while also dark and mysterious.
He came from a wrestling family as the son of the legendary Mike Rotunda, but carved his own niche and connected with the audience like few can. In a world full of over-the-top characters with personas that are recycled, Wyatt was unique. The Firefly Fun House was a twisted but entertaining reminder of Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
It takes someone special to come up with that idea and pull it off, going from giddy host to evil alter ego in the same segment.
He had only one major feud after returning to WWE last year – with L.A. Knight. As was often the case, someone who worked with Wyatt ended up being a bigger star. Knight is one of the hottest names in WWE.
Wyatt wasn’t only a star, he made stars. A rare talent indeed.
(Photo: Joe Camporeale/ USA Today)