Once known for his spectacular shades, bulging biceps and blustering bloviation, former professional wrestler "Macho Man" Randy Savage was killed in a car wreck Friday when he crashed head-on into a tree on Park Boulevard. He was 58 years old.
During a ring career that spanned more than two decades, the six-time World Wrestling Federation heavyweight champion strutted his stuff in gaudy costumes cut to show off his muscles and frame his championship belt. Savage had a high-volume swaggering delivery, daring opponents to get in his way.
"Only one man can be the champion," he once said. "Everyone else is potential challengers."
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Savage, whose real name was Randy Poffo, was driving a 2009 Jeep Wrangler west on Park Boulevard when, just west of 113th Street, he lost control of the vehicle.
The Wrangler went over the median, across the eastbound lanes and hopped the curb before crashing head-on into the tree at about 9:25 a.m. Savage was taken to Largo Medical Center, where he died, according to the FHP report.
Savage "may have suffered a medical event; however, this cannot be confirmed until an autopsy is performed," according to a prepared statement by the patrol. The website TMZ said Savage's brother, Lanny Poffo, who also is a former pro wrestler, said Savage had a heart attack while driving.
Barbara Poffo, 56, his wife, was a passenger and was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with minor injuries.
"Randy was one of the biggest names in the business," said former wrestler Jimmy Hart. "This is so sad."
Savage, who also starred in a series of explosive commercials for Slim Jim snacks, retired in 1999 and lived in Seminole.
"I am the greatest intercontinental champion that ever lived," he once said, "and I am the greatest professional wrestler that ever lived."
In 2002, Savage portrayed Bone Saw McGraw, the wrestler Peter Parker beats, in the movie "Spider-Man."
But in spite of his high-volume wrestling personality, some who knew him said Savage was different – anti-social, even -- behind the scenes.
"Randy was always a quiet guy," said Mike Graham, who co-hosted a wrestling show with Savage on Channel 44 called "The Best of Championship Wrestling from Florida" in 2000 and 2001.
"He always thought everyone was out to get him," Graham said. "If he was paid $100, he thought he should have been paid $200. He was just a different cat. He was a nice guy, but always thought everyone was cut out to take advantage of him. … He didn't trust people."
Former Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair said Savage "was known to be the most frugal guy in the wrestling business." And Blair said Savage became reclusive after splitting with his former wife.
But Blair, also a former wrestler who tangled in the ring with "Macho Man," remembers Savage as a caring person with "a great heart."
"He was a wonderful guy," Blair said. "The good thing about Randy is that he had two lives. He was fond of children, even though he had none. Every time I asked him to do a children's event, there was no problem, he was always there."
Graham said his father – wrestling promoter Eddie Graham -- knew Savage's father and that Savage got into wrestling while playing minor league baseball in Sarasota.
Born in 1952, Savage was drafted out of high school by the St. Louis Cardinals baseball club in 1971. He played for the Chicago White Sox and Cincinnati Reds' respective farm clubs.
"Randy's father, Angelo Poffo, and my dad were buddies," Mike Graham said. "Angelo called Dad and said 'Randy is starving in Sarasota, could he wrestle for you a couple of times a week?' "
Eventually, Graham said, Savage quit baseball and started wrestling full time.
Fidel Sierra, who wrestled with Savage, said his death is a big loss to the world of professional wrestling.
"He was always a great character in the dressing room," Sierra said. "He would make you laugh. There were some guys didn't like him, but he never treated me bad."
Longtime Savage nemesis Hulk Hogan expressed condolences on his Twitter account.
"I just pray that Randy's happy and in a better place and we miss him," Hogan wrote. "We miss him a lot. I feel horrible about the ten years of having no communication. This is a tough one."
"He had so much life in his eyes & in his spirit," Hogan said.
Tribune reporter Elaine Silvestrini contributed to this report.