Former WWF champion Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, better known by his wrestling persona “The Iron Sheik,” has died at age 81. The news of Khosrow’s passing was announced on his official Twitter page on Wednesday.
Born in Iran, Khosrow was a solid amateur wrestler who competed for a spot on Iran’s 1968 Olympic Greco-Roman team. After failing to secure a spot, he moved to the United States where he continued his involvement in amateur wrestling, helping to coach the U.S. Olympic team while continuing to compete.
Khosrow eventually transitioned to a career in professional wrestling after being trained by AWA promoter and accomplished wrestler Verne Gagne. He would go on to wrestle for many of the biggest territories in the United States, adopting a persona as an Iranian heel with signature curled-toe boots.
In 1983, Khosrow returned to the WWF for a second time, entering a program with Bob Backlund, who was at the tail end of a reign as WWF champion that lasted 1,470 days. Khosrow won the championship on Dec. 26, 1983 when Backlund’s corner threw in the towel as Khosrow had his finishing move, the camel clutch, locked in.
Khosrow’s title reign served as a transitional one to move the title to Hulk Hogan, who defeated him to become champion 28 days after Khosrow defeated Backlund. This allowed WWF to avoid a match between popular babyfaces Backlund and Hogan with the use of a brief reign by a heel champion.
Khosrow continued to find success in WWF after his stint as champion, teaming with Nikolai Volkoff and eventually winning the WWF tag team championships.
A drug-related arrest while traveling with storyline rival “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan in 1987 preceded Khosrow’s departure from WWF, though he returned to the promotion briefly in 1988 and then again in 1991. The 1991 return saw Khosrow in the new character of Colonel Mustafa, aligning with Sgt. Slaughter, the former all-American wrestler turned Iraqui sympathizer in a controversial angle at the height of the Gulf War.
Khosrow struggled with drug addiction for many years and often made media appearances where he would swear and often use homophobic and racist language.
Khosrow eventually found sobriety and became a popular Twitter personality though the tweets were almost entirely written by a management team.