WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson has died at the age of 79, WWE confirmed on Wednesday.
Born in Montreal in 1941, Patterson entered the wrestling business in 1958 in Canada and eventually made his way to the AWA, where he and Ray Stevens became tag-team champions. Patterson joined WWE — then known as WWF — in 1979 and became the first Intercontinental champion. In WWE lore, Patterson won the title in a tournament in Rio de Janeiro. He would hold the title for 233 days.
While Patterson is most widely known in the wrestling world for being the first Intercontinental champion, and for being one of Vince McMahon’s on-screen “Stooges” during the popular Attitude Era of the late ’90s, perhaps Patterson’s most lasting contribution will be the invention of the Royal Rumble match, which was first televised in 1988 and is still a yearly tentpole match for WWE.
“The more I kept running the idea over in my mind, the more it took shape and I was sure I was on to something,” Patterson would write in his biography, “Accepted: How the First Gay Superstar Changed WWE.”
“I felt it: every instinct in my body told me it would work. So I finally brought the idea to Vince. He laughed at the concept at first, saying that an hour was way too long to keep fans interested. The first Royal Rumble was a success, but until it was over, we didn’t really know if it would work. I knew it was a unique idea, but until a crowd responds, it’s hard to know for sure.”
In 1981, Patterson and fellow WWE Hall of Famer Sgt. Slaughter had a bloody rivalry that culminated in multiple “Boot Camp” matches across live events and an “Alley Fight” at Madison Square Garden, which the Wrestling Observer newsletter appointed match of the year.
After retiring from the ring in 1984, Patterson remained ringside doing commentary, and eventually he moved to a backstage role in WWE, often as McMahon’s right-hand man. Patterson is widely recognized as one of the most creative minds in pro wrestling, particularly with inventive finishes to matches.
Patterson was one of the first openly gay performers in the wrestling industry, but he largely kept that private from the viewing public until well after his in-ring career. He spoke about it publicly in an emotional scene on WWE’s “Legends House” reality series.
Patterson was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996.