Paul Orndorff Death – Undisclosed Causes
1949-2021 (Age 71)
Paul Orndorff was many things—a man’s man, a fierce competitor, and a performer who understood the dynamics of the wrestling trade, including how to work a crowd.
However, his nickname “Mr. Wonderful” was all fans needed to hear to know that they were watching one of the Rock-n-Wrestling Era’s greatest performers.
Paul Orndorff’s dedication to the wrestling world was remarkable, but sadly, it would shorten his career and arguably his life as well.
From the Gridiron to Squared Circle
Florida native Paul Orndorff was born on October 29, 1949. After a standout career as a college football player, he played a season in the World Football League before training to become a professional wrestler.
Orndorff debuted in 1976, working in southern promotions including Memphis’ Continental Wrestling Association where he battled Jerry “The King” Lawler, Tri-State Wrestling (the future Mid-South Wrestling), and Southeastern Championship Wrestling.
It would be in Mid-South Wrestling where Orndorff began to attract attention, feuding with a number of wrestlers including a young Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Junkyard Dog, and Ted DiBiase.
Orndorff also competed in Georgia Championship Wrestling where he feuded with “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer and chased “Nature Boy” Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.
Although Orndorff came up short in his bids for the world title, he held a number of regional titles including the Southern Heavyweight Championship, the NWA Southeast Tag Team Championship, the NWA World Tag Team Championship (Mid-Atlantic version) and the North American Heavyweight Championship on several occasions.
Orndorff joins the WWF
Paul Orndorff’s ability to play a confident babyface or hotheaded heel, his talent in the ring (including one of the most devastating-looking piledrivers in the ring), and his fantastic physique made him an easy choice when Vince McMahon began cherry-picking the top stars of rival promotions for his WWF.
Orndorff entered the WWF in 1983, with manager “Rowdy” Roddy Piper working alongside him. Dubbed “Mr. Wonderful,” Orndorff quickly became a top heel and ally of Piper.
“Mr. Wonderful” was involved in the epic showdown between Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan dubbed “The War to Settle the Score” and the subsequent main event at the inaugural WrestleMania where he teamed with Piper in a losing battle against Hulk Hogan and A-Team star Mr. T.
Orndorff turned babyface after Piper blamed him for the loss, with “Mr. Orndorff” forming an alliance with Hulk Hogan. However, jealousy at Hogan’s success coupled with wrestler Adrian Adonis manipulating Orndorff’s giant ego eventually led to Orndorff turning on Hogan and becoming a heel again.
Orndorff and Hogan feuded in one of the WWF’s hottest programs ever, with their main event at The Big Event (held at Toronto’s Canadian National Exposition) breaking an outdoor attendance record in 1986.
Their cage match on Saturday Night’s Main Event is still remembered as one of the WWF’s greatest cage matches ever.
Orndorff was making money hand-over-fist against Hogan, but unfortunately, he hurt his arm and rather than take time off to heal, he continued wrestling. The injury would not heal properly and eagle-eyed fans later noted the apparent difference in Orndorff’s two arms.
Like many wrestlers of his time, Orndorff worked hurt and reportedly suffered a number of concussions that later impacted his career.
Although “Mr. Wonderful” never held a championship in the WWF, he was a main eventer between 1984 and 1987.
Orndorff’s career in the WWF began to wind down and he left the promotion in 1988, retiring to open a bowling alley. His aforementioned arm injury seemed to have marked the end of his career, but his wrestling days weren’t over yet.
Paul Orndorff heads to WCW
After rehabilitating his arm, Orndorff would wrestle in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) briefly as well as a number of small promotions including Herb Abrams’ Universal Wrestling Federation and Smokey Mountain Wrestling before heading to WCW in 1992.
In WCW, Orndorff teamed with “Pretty” Paul Roma to win the WCW World Tag Team Championship two times (as well as a singles run as WCW Television Champion).
In late 1995, WCW had the Four Horsemen end Orndorff’s career in order to write him off TV after “Mr. Wonderful’s” various injuries forced him to retire.
In addition to wrestling in WCW, Orndorff also worked backstage as an agent. One infamous incident saw Orndorff get into a backstage fight with Vader. Wrestling legend has it that Orndorff nearly beat Vader to death (wearing flip-flops no less) and might have killed him had his arm not been atrophied from his previous injury.
Life After Wrestling
In 2005, “Mr. Wonderful” was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Although he made occasional returns to wrestling (including competing in a six-man tag match in 2017), he stayed retired.
Orndorff’s later years saw him successfully battle cancer.
He took part in the class-action lawsuit filed against the WWE alleging the company knew of the dangers of concussions to wrestlers and hid the nature of their injuries. The lawsuit was later dismissed.
Paul Orndorff Death
In May 2021, Orndorff’s son Travis announced his father was suffering from dementia, believed to have been caused by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative disease believed to be caused by concussions.
On July 12, 2021, Paul Orndorff died in Fayetteville, Georgia. He was 71.