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    Wrestling's 'Mr. Perfect' dies

    Curt Hennig is found dead in a Brandon hotel room at age 44. He was to wrestle Monday night at the state fair.

    By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published February 11, 2003


    BRANDON -- Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig lived under the spotlights for more than two decades.

    He performed for crowds at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden and Caesar's Palace. He wrestled Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair and Dennis Rodman. He hoisted bulky, ornate title belts in triumph.

    But hours before he was to wrestle Monday in a mostly empty arena at a state fair, Hennig's career -- and his life -- ended in a Brandon hotel room.

    Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies said a housekeeper found Hennig's body shortly after 1 p.m. at the Homestead Suites, 330 Grand Regency Blvd.

    Deputies said his death was not a suicide, nor do they suspect foul play. His body was turned over to the Hillsborough Medical Examiner's Office, and a sheriff's investigation is continuing.

    Hennig, 44, had been scheduled to perform several miles away at the Florida State Fair at 7 p.m. as part of the Jimmy Hart's All-Star Wrestling show.

    As show time neared, several wrestlers emerged to sign autographs and take pictures with fans. Most seemed somber, even shocked.

    "He was one of the best human beings on this planet," said wrestler Mike Bollea, known in the ring as Horace. "Curt kept the locker room alive. He was one of the boys."

    Brian Knobbs, formerly of the Nasty Boys, said he will take the loss harder than most.

    "I have been best friends with him for 17 years," Knobbs said. "It's almost like Dale Earnhardt when he passed away. You want to cry. You never know when your last day is. You just give thanks (each day)."

    Bollea and Knobbs talked about Hennig's infectious sense of humor, his passion for fishing and hunting, his love for his four children. They said they had no idea what might have caused his death.

    Said Knobbs: "He was Mr. Perfect."

    Hennig had the sport in his blood. He grew up the son of Larry "The Ax" Hennig, a famous wrestler in the 1960s.

    The younger Hennig began his professional career in 1979 and steadily grew in fame. In the 1980s and 1990s, he became a star for both the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling.

    He wrestled alongside some of the sport's legends, such as Bret Hart and Kevin Nash, Ric Flair and Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.

    His career suffered a setback last year when, during a charter flight from England, he got into a fight with fellow wrestler Brock Lesner, allegedly spraying shaving cream in Lesner's hair.

    The incident got Hennig fired from World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly WWF), but it didn't stop him from bragging about the fight.

    On Monday, Jimmy Hart himself grabbed a microphone and stood in the center of the small ring.

    "I'm really sorry to start the show with sad news," he said.

    He told the crowd -- no more than 200 people in an arena that holds thousands -- of Mr. Perfect's death.

    "We loved him," Hart said, "and I'm sure all wrestling fans all over the world ... are hurting as much as we are."

    The lights dimmed. More than 20 wrestlers walked solemnly into the hazy light of the stage and stood with heads bowed.

    A ringside bell clanged 10 times. Then the show went on.

    -- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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