In a statement announcing his death, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) said it “extends its condolences to Johnson’s family, friends and fans”. No cause of death was given.
Rocky, who was known as “Soul Man”, became the first African-American WWE tag team champion in 1983, a title he earned with his partner Tony Atlas.
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After he retired in 1991, his son Dwayne continued his wrestling legacy – which is where he got his nickname ‘The Rock’ – before becoming an actor.
In 2008, Dwayne helped induct his father into the WWE Hall of Fame, where the company said “he will be forever enshrined as one of sports-entertainment’s most influential performers”.
Rocky was known for battling racism in wrestling. “I was headstrong,” he said in 2017. “I kept myself in shape and the stuff they were doing in the south, I wouldn’t go for. They wanted to whip me on TV, like they used to do with the slaves and all that. I said, ‘No. I came in as an athlete, and I’ll leave as an athlete.’ And they respected me for that.”
Figures from the wrestling world have been paying tribute to Rocky.
Actor and retired wrestler Mick Foley tweeted: “I am so sorry to hear of the passing of the great Rocky Johnson. Always a gentleman, I always enjoyed talking with him.
“My deepest condolences to his family, friends, and the fans who loved him. A very sad day for wrestling.”
Wrestler Matt Hardy wrote: “Saddened to hear about the passing of Rocky Johnson.
“Rocky was always extremely friendly and kind to me every time I interacted with him over the years. My condolences and thoughts go out to his family.”