Ivan Koloff, knowing among wrestling fans as “The Russian Bear,” has died. He was 74.
Koloff had been battling liver cancer and was in need of “urgent medical care,” according to a Go Fund Me page set up by his daughter, Rachel Marley, on Feb. 2.
“My dad was diagnosed with liver disease about 10 years ago and while he has been living with it, he chose not to make this announcement public to his fans and friends,” she wrote. “But doctors are now saying that his liver function is getting worse day by day and it will continue to. There are no other medical options available for my dad for a cure. “
After news of his death surfaced, condolences were spread on social media. Hulk Hogan said he felt “helpless” — with Koloff’s death coming after a string of losses for the wrestling community including George “The Animal” Steele, who died Friday.
One of the World Wide Wrestling Federation’s most notorious entertainers, Koloff was a bearded villain billed from the Ukraine, who became extra popular during the 1980s.
He was born Oreal Perras in Montreal, Canada, in 1942 — and found a passion for wrestling early on, leaving high school at 18 to devote himself full-time to the sport. He first debuted as a character name Red McNulty, according to Brian Solomon’s book WWE Legends, and built up a strong following wrestling in Toronto.
Perras debuted “The Russian Bear” Ivan Koloff in 1967 during an International Wresting Association match, winning the Heavyweight Championship the final year. He joined the WWWF in 1969, under the guidance of “Captain “Lou Albano.
He would go on to win the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship in 1971, defeating defending champ Bruno Sammartino by pinfall in a legendary match at Madison Square Garden. The Italian hero had previously had a seven-and-a-half year run with the belt.
Koloff moved to the National Wrestling Alliance as a leader of a group called “The Russians.” There, he captured the NWA’s tag title four years in a row. He retired in 1989.
Despite his notoriety, Koloff isn’t in the WWE Hall of Fame.