TROY, Mo. — Harley Race, the tough-talking, Missouri-born professional wrestler who rose to national prominence over three-plus decades, died Thursday. He was 76.
His official Twitter account says, “Today at 12:50, we lost the man that fought up until the very last of his existence. More information will be released soon, but just know that he loved pro-wrestling and the fans that loved him. Harley Race, we love you.”
Race was born to sharecropper parents in the small town of Quitman in northwest Missouri in April 1943. As a pro wrestler, he’d be billed from Kansas City.
He began training as a teenager and started his career in the early 1960s. He married his sweetheart Vivian Jones at age 18. Unfortunately, they were involved in a severe car accident one month after the wedding. Jones, who was pregnant at the time, died the crash. Race nearly had his leg amputated as a result and was told he’d likely never walk again.
After several months of physical therapy and recovery, Race returned to the ring, traveling across the country and honing his craft wrestling for the famed Funk family in Texas and Verne Gagne’s AWA promotion. He’d achieve his greatest popularity competing in the National Wrestling Alliance, feuding with fellow wrestling luminaries like the Funk brothers (Terry and Dory Jr.), Dusty Rhodes, and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
Race won his first NWA World Title in May 1973 in Kansas City, Kansas. Race main-evented the inaugural Starrcade event in November 1983, losing the title to Flair in a steel cage match.
Race worked for WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) in the mid-to-late 1980s.
He suffered a shoulder injury during a match in December 1990 that led to him leaving the ring as an active competitor. He transitioned to the role of manager and had success.
In January 1995, Race was involved in a car accident that kept him away from wrestling for years.
With his in-ring career finished, Race founded World League Wrestling in 1999 near his home in Eldon. The promotion also served as a training school for would-be professional wrestlers and other independent performers from across the region. At present, WLW runs shows in Troy, Missouri.
Race was hospitalized in May 2017 after breaking both legs following a fall at his home.
Post-career, Race was inducted into several halls of fame for his achievements: the WCW Hall of Fame (1994), the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame (1996), the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum (2004 as a singles wrestler and 2017 as a tag team with Larry Hennig), the WWE Hall of Fame (2004), the NWA Hall of Fame (2005), the St. Louis Wrestling Hall of Fame (2007), and the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame (2013).