It’s a sad day in the wrestling world, as news broke this morning that Road Warrior Animal has died. Animal, whose real name was Joseph Laurinaitis, was half of one of the most legendary tag teams of all time, alongside Road Warrior Hawk, who died in 2003. The pair were known primarily as the Road Warriors in NWA/WCW, and as the Legion of Doom in WWE, but they used both names throughout their career.
Animal actually debuted on his own as the Road Warrior in 1982, but it was only when manager Paul Ellering paired him with Animal’s old friend and training partner Hawk for a run in Georgia Championship Wrestling that they became stars. What started as a biker gimmick took on apocalyptic overtones borrowed from The Road Warrior, the 1981 Mel Gibson film (originally titled Mad Max 2 in Australia). That’s when Hawk and Animal started painting their faces and coming out to the ring in spiked shoulder pads. At Hawk’s suggestion, they also shaved their hair into interlocking patterns—a mohawk for Animal and a double mohawk for Hawk.
The two of them revolutionized tag team wrestling in the 1980s, with a hard-hitting smashmouth style that favored power moves and aggressive brawling over technical wrestling. As enthusiastic power-lifters, Animal and Hawk didn’t just have bodies that looked impressive (although that was certainly a factor in their success as well), they had the brute strength to throw their opponents around the ring with so little apparent effort that they looked like superheroes… or monsters. Whichever they were, fans fell in love and refused to boo them even when they were presented as bad guys.
They were so popular during their time with the NWA and WCW that they spawned many imitators, most notable WWF’s Demolition, who the Legion of Doom feuded with upon their arrival in that company in 1990. They worked in several companies throughout the ’90s, but returned to WWF just in time for the attitude era, at which point they were placed in a questionable storyline about Hawk’s real-life substance abuse problems. Both that storyline and the real problems it was based on led to their departure in 1999.
After Hawk died of a heart attack in 2003, Animal soldiered on, even returning to WWE in 2005 for a run that he dedicated to Hawk’s memory. In 2011, the Road Warriors and their manager Paul Ellering were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and Animal was there to accept the honor along with Ellering.
Although he had his last WWE match in 2006, Animal has been a fixture in the wrestling world in the years since, appearing at many conventions and events. He even showed up at 2018’s All In, the independent PPV that led to the creation of All Elite Wrestling.
Road Warrior Animal died yesterday, reportedly of natural causes. He was 60 years old. Few other details have been released at this time, although WWE has released a statement acknowledging his death. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.