Paul Orndorff, the WWE Hall of Famer known to fans as Mr. Wonderful, who fought against Hulk Hogan in the first-ever WrestleMania, died on Monday in Fayetteville, Ga. He was 71.
Mr. Orndorff’s death was announced by his son Travis Orndorff on Instagram. No cause was given.
“Most of you will remember him for his physique,” his son said in the Instagram post. “Many will remember his intensity. But if I could only get you to understand and see his heart.”
Mr. Orndorff joined the World Wrestling Federation, known today as World Wrestling Entertainment, in 1983, and debuted in 1984, according to WWE.
He participated in the first WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden in March 1985 in a fight with Roddy Piper against Hulk Hogan and Mr. T., according to WWE. Mr. Hogan and Mr. T won the fight. The next year, Mr. Orndorff fought against Mr. Hogan in an event that drew more than 60,000 spectators to Canadian National Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, which Mr. Hogan won by disqualification.
Mr. Orndorff was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005, in the same class as Mr. Hogan.
On Monday, Mr. Hogan paid tribute to Mr. Orndorff on Twitter: “Thank you for always making me fight for everything in our matches, heaven just got even more wonderful.”
Born on Oct. 29, 1949, in Brandon, Fla., Paul Parlette Orndorff Jr. attended the University of Tampa, where he was a running back, and graduated in 1972, according to the university. Mr. Orndorff was selected by the New Orleans Saints in the 12th round of the 1973 N.F.L. draft, but later began a career in professional wrestling.
Mr. Orndorff won his first championship, Memphis territory’s Mid-Southern Heavyweight title, in 1977, according to the University of Tampa Hall of Fame, which he was inducted into in 1986.
In a tweet, WWE said Mr. Orndorff “brought a swagger and style to the WWE Universe that turned his talent into a prototype for the modern-day superstar.”
Gary Cassidy, a freelance writer who covers professional wrestling, said in a tweet that Mr. Orndorff was “an integral part of the strides that made it possible for Hulkamania to run wild and one of the most WrestleMania matches of all time.”
He said that Mr. Orndorff was “without doubt, one of the greatest wrestlers to never hold a major world championship.”
In Instagram posts before Mr. Orndorff’s death, his son alluded to concerns about brain damage from wrestling.
Three days before Mr. Orndorff died, his son posted a picture of one of his father’s notebooks on Instagram with a phone number.
“If you can’t read it, it says ‘son, I think.’ I haven’t had that phone number since 2005,” Mr. Orndorff’s son said in the caption. “I hope the world will start to take notice of the brain damage and the consequences of this lifestyle.”
Mr. Orndorff was involved in several cases filed by a group of former wrestlers against WWE. They claimed that they had suffered neurological damage, such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, “as a result of physical trauma they experienced while performing.”
The cases were dismissed because the claims were filed after a statute of limitations expired or because they were “frivolous,” court documents show.
Complete information on survivors was not immediately available on Monday night.