WWE star Bray Wyatt, known for being one of the most creative minds in professional wrestling who pushed the boundaries with innovative characters, died Thursday at the age of 36, WWE chief content officer Paul "Triple H" Levesque announced on social media.
Wyatt, whose real name was Windham Rotunda, had been inactive over the past several months in WWE while dealing with an undisclosed health issue. He had been with WWE since 2009, save for just over a year in 2021 and 2022 when he was surprisingly released. Rotunda returned to WWE last September with much fanfare and a mysterious storyline, including cryptic vignettes, which helped boost television ratings.
"Just received a call from WWE Hall of Famer Mike Rotunda who informed us of the tragic news that our WWE family member for life Windham Rotunda -- also known as Bray Wyatt -- unexpectedly passed earlier today," Levesque wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. "Our thoughts are with his family and we ask that everyone respect their privacy at this time."
Rotunda came from a wrestling family. His father Mike gained fame in WWE as Irwin R. Schyster, as well as in other promotions under his real name or Michael Wallstreet. Rotunda's uncle Barry Windham was one of the most highly regarded wrestlers of the 1980s and early 1990s and a former member of the prestigious Four Horsemen stable. Rotunda's brother, Taylor, also wrestles for WWE and in the past used the moniker Bo Dallas.
Windham Rotunda was married to former WWE ring announcer JoJo Offerman. They had two children and Rotunda had two other children from a previous marriage. He was a two-time former WWE Universal champion and former WWE champion.
After starting in WWE's developmental program as the character Husky Harris, Rotunda found himself with Bray Wyatt, a maniacal swampland cult leader who recruited followers with a devilish charm. He and his Wyatt Family (Erick Rowan and the late Luke Harper, whose real name was Jonathan Huber) got popular in NXT, WWE's developmental brand, and came to the WWE main roster with much fanfare in 2014.
Rotunda was known at that point as one of the most gifted performers on the roster, especially when it came to telling a story on the microphone. He started using the catchphrase "follow the buzzards" and the song lyrics "he's got the whole world in his hands." During his entrances, with the arena shrouded in darkness before he appeared holding a lantern, fans would hold up their cellphone lights as his eerie music played.
In 2019, Rotunda reinvented himself as the supernatural character The Fiend, wearing a horror movie mask that was a terrifying facsimile of a clown. Bray Wyatt still existed in kid-friendly skits called Firefly Funhouse, but The Fiend, a dark alter ego, wrestled in his place. These were intricate, creative ideas that Rotunda for the most part came up with himself. The Fiend was polarizing as a character due to its near invulnerability in the ring, but it was an inventive leap and one of the most interesting things on WWE television at the time.
Rotunda returned to WWE last year after being released in 2021 as the former Bray Wyatt, a good-guy character who was apparently haunted by past demons like The Fiend and Uncle Howdy. The storyline was still developing in February when Rotunda disappeared from television due to health issues.
"Always had tremendous respect and love for him and the Rotunda family," Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson wrote Thursday on X. "Loved his presence, promos, in ring work and connection with the WWE universe. Very unique, cool and rare character, which is hard to create in our crazy world of pro wrestling."