Terry Funk, the Hall of Fame professional wrestler whose hardcore fighting style in the ring inspired decades of bloody brawls and entertaining matches, has died. He was 79.
His death was confirmed on Wednesday by World Wrestling Entertainment, the company for which Mr. Funk’s career exploded. No cause of death was given, and relatives could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday evening.
Mr. Funk’s wrestling career, which began in the mid-1960s and lasted four decades, took him around the country and world, from playing in front of sold-out crowds for W.W.E. to entertaining fans in a growing Japanese wrestling market with All Japan. He quickly became known as a fierce wrestler who would wield many kinds of improvised weapons against opponents: chairs and ladders, barbed wire and bats, trash cans and fire.
That extreme quality to his matches made Mr. Funk among the most celebrated wrestlers of his generation in a sport built on performer-athletes playing exaggerated or downright invented versions of themselves.
Much of his highlight reels shows Mr. Funk in a bloodied mess, his long wet hair slicked back and his face bleeding from some kind of punch, kick or chair shot. He did not have the chiseled, six-pack build typically expected of a professional wrestler. But his frame was wide, his grappling of opponents was precise and he displayed a barbaric creativity inside the ring that earned him respect among his peers.
Ric Flair, a retired professional wrestler known for his flashy outfits and extravagant lifestyle, said on Wednesday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he had “never met a guy who worked harder” than Mr. Funk. Mick Foley, the professional wrestler who also had matches with Mr. Funk, said on Facebook that Mr. Funk was “the greatest wrestler” he ever worked with.
Terry Funk was born on June 30, 1944, in Hammond, Ind. His father, Dory Funk Sr., was also a wrestler, according to the book “Pro Wrestling FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Most Entertaining Spectacle.”
After Mr. Funk’s father finished his tour of duty in the South Pacific during World War II, his family relocated to Texas, where the elder Mr. Funk became a well-known wrestler and promoter.
It was in Texas where Terry Funk’s love and familiarity with the sport deepened, and in 1965, he made his debut for his father’s wrestling company.
By 1985, he reached the World Wrestling Federation, and at WrestleMania 2 in 1986, he and his brother Dory Funk Jr., who is also a Hall of Fame wrestler, defeated Tito Santana & the Junkyard Dog.
In 1989, he went to World Championship Wrestling, where he would have one of the most acclaimed matches of his career against Mr. Flair.
The 20-minute contest was an “I Quit” match, in which both men would scuffle and fight until one man surrendered. The match, considered a classic, was a showcase of the brutal realism that drew fans to pro wrestling, which determines the winner in advance.
There were chest slaps from Mr. Flair, headlocks by Mr. Funk, tosses out of the ring, wrangling along the sidelines, hair yanks and repeated shrieks from both wrestlers: “Want to quit?”
Finally, when Mr. Flair wound Mr. Funk into a figure-four leg lock, Mr. Funk, his face contorted in pain, said the words that prompted the match bell to ring: “I quit.”
In 2000, in his mid-50s, Mr. Funk returned to W.C.W., winning the United States Championship and W.C.W. Hardcore Title belts. His final W.W.E. match was in 2006.
In 2009, Mr. Funk was inducted into the W.W.E. Hall of Fame.
Mr. Funk also took his menacing image to Hollywood. In 1989, he played a bouncer in the film “Road House,” which starred Patrick Swayze. He played the intimidating character Frankie the Thumper in the 1978 wrestling drama film, “Paradise Alley,” alongside Sylvester Stallone.
A full list of survivors was not immediately available on Wednesday.
In Mr. Funk’s autobiography, “Terry Funk: More Than Just Hardcore,” he wrote about his fond memories of listening to his father talk about wrestling, how his “eyes would sparkle with pride when they talked about the tough guys in the profession and the crazy ones.”
“When I grew up, I was fortunate enough to live the wrestler’s life, a life that gave me stories to tell, just like the ones I had heard as a boy,” he said. “Pirates, millionaires, kings and adventurers have nothing on me! I would trade my life with no one.”