Tributes have been flooding in from industry insiders and fans alike since the legendary Bruno Sammartino passed away aged 82 on Wednesday afternoon.
Growing up in the humble town of Pizzoferrato, Abruzzo, Italy, Sammartino was a war survivor who almost died as a child from rheumatic fever when hiding with his family in the mountains from German forces. Years later, he'd become one of the most cherished athletes on the planet and the longest reigning WWE Champion in history.
Bruno's story is one like no other, and it's been well-told in interviews by the man himself and when he was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame in 2013. That honour was one Sammartino resisted for years; feeling the industry he once loved had lost any shred of decency, he distanced himself from wrestling and regularly bashed the McMahon family/WWE in interviews.
A fascinating subject, Bruno mended fences with the company after close to 20 years in the wilderness (thanks to Triple H) and looked happy in his remaining years. He's someone who lived a full life, one that's almost impossible to know everything about...
10. His Mother's Herculean Efforts Kept Him Alive
The powerful Bruno Sammartino who ruled the wrestling world would not have existed without his mother's constant care. As aforementioned, Bruno fell sick with rheumatic fever when hiding from Nazi forces that had invaded his small Pizzoferrato home during World War II.
With no doctors or professional medical care in sight, Bruno's mother nursed him back to health by using leeches. At night, she'd also sneak back into the town in search of food and supplies to keep her family alive.
Doctors later told Emilia Sammartino that they couldn't believe she'd managed to keep her son lucid through the fever, and the lengths she went to would never be forgotten. Once Bruno's family emigrated to America, he promised to make both his mother and father proud.
That life-threatening illness changed Bruno's outlook on life and made him more determined than ever to become a role model.