A very sad story heading into WrestleMania weekend as one of the men who appeared on the very first WrestleMania, legendary WWE Hall of Famer Johnny Valiant, has died. According to a report from WXPI, the 71-year old Valiant — real name Thomas M. Sullivan — died on Wednesday after he was hit by a truck while crossing at a crosswalk in Ross Township, Pennsylvania.
Ross Township Det. Brian Kohlepp said the following: “We do have witnesses. There was other traffic on McKnight at the time, so we were able to speak with people who actually witnessed the accident … The driver of the truck stayed here on the scene. There’s no indication that this was anything other than a terrible accident at this point, but we’re still investigating.”
As one half of the Valiant Brothers in the then-WWWF, Johnny Valiant held the Tag Team Championship twice — once with Jimmy, once with Jerry — and held versions of the NWA Tag Team Championship across the country. He also had a very successful managerial career, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the class of 1996.
WWE released the following statement:
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer “Luscious” Johnny Valiant reportedly passed away this morning at the age of 71.
Valiant began his sports-entertainment career in 1969 in the Detroit territory owned by WWE Hall of Famer The Sheik, setting up rings, refereeing and competing. After learning the basics in the Motor City, he spent years competing in more than 20 territories across North America, including WWE.
In 1974, The Valiant Brothers “Luscious” Johnny and “Handsome” Jimmy captured the World Tag Team Championships and held them for more than one year. In 1979, Johnny teamed up with “Gentleman” Jerry Valiant to capture the tandem titles again, this time managed by WWE Hall of Famer Captain Lou Albano.
Soon after, “The Luscious One” followed in Albano’s footprints and became a manager of tag team champions himself. After guiding some of the biggest names in the AWA, Valiant returned to WWE in 1985. “Luscious” Johnny led the Dream Team of Greg “The Hammer” Valentine & Brutus Beefcake to the World Tag Team Championship with a win over Barry Windham and Mike Rotundo. Canadian strongman Dino Bravo and Demolition were also managed by Valiant for a portion of their WWE tenures.
Valiant proved he was multi-faceted by also doing color commentary for WWE before returning to the AWA in 1989 as a manager. In 1996, “Luscious” Johnny and “Handsome” Jimmy were immortalized when they were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
WWE extends its condolences to Valiant’s family, friends and fans.
Our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Johnny Valiant. Rest in power.