Wrestler Pat Patterson became better known for his creative ideas in retirement than he was for inflicting bumps and bruises in his heyday.
The Canadian grappler spent decades in the ring before the pseudo sport exploded in recognition during the 1980s with the emergence of larger-than-life stars like Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant as household names.
By that time, Patterson worked behind the scenes at the World Wrestling Federation as impresario Vince McMahon’s right hand man – and helped mastermind some of its most popular storylines as it became a global phenomenon.
As well as being famed as wrestling’s first openly gay star, he is hailed for coming up with one of the league’s most popular creations – the annual Royal Rumble match where 30 wrestlers vie to hurl one another over the top rope.
The first match of its kind was a smash hit on TV in 1988, and is now a highlight of the promotion’s calendar of events every January.
Many of his peers took to social media to pay tribute following news of the 79-year-old’s death.
Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, who is a higher-up in the organisation now known as WWE, said: “I’m deeply grateful to have grown up with WWE Hall of Famer, the first ever Intercontinental Champion, the father of the Royal Rumble and the first openly gay wrestler of his generation. Thank you for teaching me how to not take it all so seriously.”
Patterson was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996, and became a regular character on its television shows in the late 90s when the unique art form experienced another boom in popularity.
He took on a comedic role as sidekick to boss McMahon’s character as the villainous owner of the promotion.
The company paid tribute in a statement describing the Montreal native as a “true trailblazer”.
It said: “Patterson was linked to many ‘firsts’ in sports entertainment throughout his storied career.
“In a career spanning six decades, the renaissance man left an indelible mark on the industry in the ring, on the microphone and behind the scenes.”
Patterson began wrestling in the 1950s — and finally joined up with WWE in the late ’70s, where he famously engaged in a series of matches with Sgt. Slaughter.
He became the company’s first Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion in 1979.
Fellow pro wrestling legend Ric Flair said: “A great wrestler, a fabulous mind, caring and thoughtful, always had a smile on his face.”