Randy 'Macho Man' Savage: Wrestler who vied with Hulk Hogan as leading performer in the rise of the World Wrestling Federation

In the mid-1980s, Hulk Hogan was the main man as the World Wrestling Federation soared into mainstream popularity. But after Hogan, the Worldwide Wrestling Federation's most valuable performer was probably Randy "Macho Man" Savage.

Wrestling is part athleticism, part salesmanship and part charisma, and Savage was the company's wrestler most adept at all three.

He learned his style from the legendary Gorgeous George: dressed in sparkling robes with dangling fringes, outrageous goggle sunglasses Elton John might envy and a bandana beneath a sequinned cowboy hat, Savage marched into arenas to the strains of Pomp and Circumstance, his manager, "the lovely Miss Elizabeth," dressed in an evening gown, holding the ring ropes apart. His interviews were unpredictable, dotted with bizarre non-sequiturs, delivered in a raspy baritone which seemed constantly running out of air, accompanied by gestures like a conductor leading his orchestra.

And he delivered in the ring. His unusual willingness to "sell" for opponents and his ability to be convincing as face (good guy) or heel (bad guy) made him particularly valuable. Wrestlemania is the WWF's annual showcase, and in 1987 at Wrestlemania III, Savage's loss to Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat stole the show and remains legendary. But he was also able to carry wrestlers less talented than Steamboat, like Hogan or The Ultimate Warrior, to some of their best performances, letting them emerge winners.

Though he was a second-generation wrestler, Savage's boyhood dream was to play baseball. Born Randall Mario Poffo in 1952 in Columbus, Ohio, he was raised in Chicago, the hometown of his father Angelo, a successful professional wrestler.

When Angelo moved the family to Hawaii for a year, wrestling there and in Japan, Randy played baseball semi-professionally. He returned to Chicago to star in his last two years of high school, but when he was passed over in the amateur draft, his father drove him to St Louis, where the Cardinals were holding an open try-out. There were 300 players there, but Randy was the only one signed. He played four years in the low minor leagues before giving up, but by then he had already entered the family business in the off-season. His younger brother wrestled as Leaping Lanny Poffo (and later as "The Genius"), but Randy took the name Savage when one booker called Poffo unsuitable for someone who wrestled "like a savage".

Angelo Poffo started International Championship Wrestling to help push his sons; it was as a tag-team with his brother in the Memphis territory that Savage made his mark, and in 1985 he signed with the WWF then lost a "loser leaves town" match to Memphis's biggest star, Jerry "The King" Lawler. Within a year, Savage had won the WWF Intercontinental title from Tito Santana and introduced his wife, Elizabeth Hulette, as his manager.

Wrestlemania II saw the culmination of a feud with George "the Animal" Steele, who had a crush on Miss Elizabeth; Savage won when she distracted Steele as he was about to win the match. After losing to Steamboat, in a match the two wrestlers unusually choreographed from start to finish, rehearsing at Savage's house, Savage turned face and formed the Mega-Powers with Hogan. When Hulk lost the WWF title to Andre the Giant, Savage won it back by beating the Million Dollar Man at Wrestlemania IV. Savage turned heel again, feuding with Hogan over Elizabeth and losing the title to him at Wrestlemania V.

In the carny world of wrestling, reality shadows the scripts. After winning the King of the Ring tournament and rebranding himself the Macho King, Savage "reunited" with Elizabeth after losing to the Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania VII; the two met again at SummerSlam 1992, which drew more than 80,000 fans to Wembley Stadium. Meanwhile, although their actual marriage was under strain, Savage and Elizabeth "married" on WWF television, in a ceremony interrupted when Jake "The Snake" Roberts hid a cobra in the wedding cake. Feuding with Roberts, Savage allowed the de-fanged cobra to bite him, but the snake refused to release its grip on his arm.

They divorced within a year. Even so, Savage and Elizabeth remained together in the ring, leading to another classic Wrestlemania match where he defended her "honour" against "The Nature Boy", Ric Flair.

Although his popularity was boosted by his role as national pitchman for Slim Jims, a spiced meat snack, his role in WWF declined and in 1994 he jumped to WCW, reuniting with Hogan and Flair as the competition briefly eclipsed WWF. He won a 60-man battle royal to become WCW champion, then traded the belt in a year-long feud with Flair, bringing back Elizabeth as his manager, only to have her turn on him in the end.

He would win the title back and lose it to Hogan, by now billing himself as "Macho Madness", and accompanied by three women he called Team Madness. He left WCW in 2000, appearing in Sam Raimi's Spider Man (2002) as Bonesaw McGraw. He did a few other films and TV programmes, appearing in animated shows like King of the Hill. In 2003 he released a rap album, one of whose tracks slated Hogan. He returned to the ring in 2004 with Total Nonstop Action, but quit before the year ended.

Most wrestlers find retirement a gimmick that fuels comebacks, usually motivated by financial need, but Savage avoided a profligate lifestyle and managed his money well. A chance meeting with Barbara Lynn Payne, whom he had dated as a baseball player and called his first love, led to marriage in 2009. He died in Seminole, Florida, after an apparent heart attack caused him to drive into a tree. Payne survived with minor injuries.

Randall Mario Poffo (Randy Savage), wrestler: born Columbus, Ohio 15 November 1952; married firstly Elizabeth Hulette (marriage dissolved; died 2003), 2009 Barbara Lynn Payne (two stepdaughters); died Seminole, Florida 20 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea