"A true trailblazer of the industry, Patterson was linked to many 'firsts' in sports-entertainment throughout his storied career, including the first-ever Intercontinental Title reign and the creation of the Royal Rumble Match. In a career spanning six decades, the renaissance man left an indelible mark on the industry in the ring, on the microphone and behind the scenes," the statement read, in part.
Although WWE made no mention of the cause of Patterson's death, Montreal sports radio personality Tony Marinaro tweeted that the legendary grappler had been battling cancer before he passed away in a Miami hospital on Wednesday morning.
Born Pierre Clermont in Quebec in 1941, Patterson started using his familiar ring name in 1958 when he made his pro-wrestling debut, as reported by Newsweek. By the time he joined WWE — then known as the World Wrestling Federation — in 1979, he was already a grizzled veteran and the company's choice to become its first-ever Intercontinental Champion.
In the years that followed, Patterson had feuds with performers such as Sgt. Slaughter and would also be given Match of the Year honors by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 1981. He retired from in-ring competition in 1984 but would remain connected with WWE in the decades that followed, initially working as a French-language commentator before taking on a role as a backstage producer.
In the late 1990s, Patterson became a household name for a new generation of fans, who had seen Vince McMahon reveal himself as WWE's real-life chairman and take on a villainous on-screen role as the Attitude Era kicked into full gear. Together with fellow Hall of Famer Gerald Brisco, Patterson was one-half of the duo commonly known as the "stooges," frequently coming to the aid of the evil Mr. McMahon character as they battled "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and other top babyface performers.
Patterson's last appearance on WWE television took place at the "Raw Reunion" special episode of Monday Night Raw on July 23, 2019, where he and Brisco briefly took turns holding the 24/7 Championship.
At the time Patterson became the then-WWF's inaugural Intercontinental champ, it was stated that he won the title at a tournament in Rio de Janeiro — one that was actually fictitious. Newsweek explained that this was an in-joke of sorts that pertained to Patterson's real-life identity as an openly gay man at a time when the pro-wrestling scene was far more conservative.
However, it was only in 2014 when WWE publicly recognized his status as a pioneering gay wrestler, doing so on that year's season finale of the reality show Legends' House. As quoted by Business Insider, the wrestler-turned-producer admitted to his co-stars that he had been with a secret partner for 40 years before he died of a heart attack, also stressing that working for McMahon in WWE was the "biggest achievement" of his life.
"I survived the business. I did, I'm so proud of me. It's tough guys, it was tough," he continued. "I gave my life to the business and I don't regret nothing. For the rest of my life, I want to be happy."