The former pro wrestler known for entertaining audiences by playing beloved villain Nikolai Volkoff has died. Josip Peruzovic was 70, Fox News reports.
His wife Lynn Peruzovic confirmed his death Sunday.
She said he had heart problems, and that when she went to give him medicine he was not responsive.
World Wrestling Entertainment said in a statement that Peruzovic was “one of the greatest villains sports-entertainment had ever seen.”
He was known for singing the onetime Soviet Union’s national anthem before matches, and for his tag team alliance with another wrestler known as The Iron Sheik.
WWE said his career spanned the better part of 40 years, and featured showdowns with wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan.
Peruzovic, who was Croatian, but portrayed a Russian, was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2005, TMZ reported.
His onetime ring partner, The Iron Sheik — with whom he won WrestleMania I’s World Tag Team Championship in ’85 — confirmed in a tweet Sunday that Volkoff had passed away.
MY BEST FRIEND. MY PARTNER. MY BROTHER. WE GET MORE HEAT THAN ANYONE ON EARTH. I TRUST HIM WITH MY LIFE. HE TAKE CARE OF ME WHEN I WAS DOWN. I MISS YOU FOREVER ???? pic.twitter.com/pp7ZgQRDnb
— The Iron Sheik (@the_ironsheik) July 29, 2018
Volkoff, who’s real name was Josip Nikolai Peruzović, wrestled in the WWWF from 1968 to 1971 where he won a tag team title in 1970. After that, he went on to wrestle singles … and later returned to the WWWF between ’74 and ’80 and then again for a second time in ’84.
Volkoff had a successful run teaming up with Sheik in multiple wrestling events between ’84 and ’87 as well as other wrestlers in the years after. He went back and forth between foreign heel and hero through the ’90s and eventually scaled back wrestling through the 2000s … although he did make appearances in WWE.
WWE released a statement on Volkoff’s passing, saying in part … “As one of the greatest villains sports-entertainment had ever seen, Volkoff’s infamous rendition of the Soviet National Anthem before his matches made him an instant icon in the eyes of the WWE Universe as a Superstar they truly loved to hate … WWE extends its condolences to Peruzović’s family, friends and fans.”
Volkoff was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2005.