Wrestling legend Larry “The Axe” Hennig has passed away at the age of 82.
The news of his passing was first reported by journalist Mike Mooneyham and was later confirmed by PWInsider.
Larry Hennig, the former AWA World Tag Team Champion and patriarch to the Hennig wrestling family, passed away today at the age of 82.
Best known to fans today as the father of the late “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and grandfather to current WWE star Curtis Axel (Joe Hennig), became the Minnesota State High School Heavyweight Champion from Robbinsdale, Minnesota in 1954. He was awarded a scholarship from the University of Minnesota to wrestle and play football, but eventually withdrew from the school due to family responsibilities.
Trained by Verne Gage, Hennig entered professional wrestling in the early 1960s, seeing it as a conduit to making money for his family. He held the AWA World Tag Team Championship most famously with Harley Race, who would go on to become one of the definitive NWA World Heavyweight Champions. At the time, the pair were pushed as the youngest Tag Team Champions ever. Hennig would also hold the belts, much earlier, with Duke Hoffman.
The team with Race, with the two billed as Handsome Harley and Pretty Boy Larry, presented them as young, cocky heels who could work. The two famously feuded with the Crusher and The Bruiser for the belts, winning them three times over the course of the program. Race and Hennig, at the time, were often opponents for Verne Gagne, who was, obviously, the top babyface for the promotion. Alongside Ray Stevens and Nick Bockwinkel, Race and Hennig were in the top of the mix as heels for the promotion.
“We were very different, especially when it came to the styles we used,” Hennig told The Orlando Sentinel in 2000. “But we clicked. We had good chemistry, and we got better with every match. At the beginning, some people questioned our teaming up, but it worked very, very well.”
The team with Race also took off internationally as well with the pair working overseas in Japan and Australia regularly. The pair became WCW World Tag Team Champions for the 1960s Australian promotion as well.
Hennig was renowned for his personal toughness. In 1967, he suffered a knee injury when he was picking up Johnny Powers for a bodyslam when in an accident, another wrestler knocked into his legs. Hennig dropped Powers and as it turned out, had severe tendon and cartilage tears. He finished the bout and refused to go to the hospital despite realizing something was truly wrong with his knee. Instead, he and Race drove hundreds of miles back to Minneapolis instead before he would go see a doctor. The knee injury would plague him for a long, long time.
Outside of the AWA, Hennig had a run in the WWWF, challenging then-champions Pedro Morales and Bruno Sammartino. He also challenged Jack Brisco for the NWA World title while working in Florida. He toured New Japan in 1976, teaming with Pat Patterson.
After the team with Race ran its course and Race went on to singles acclaim elsewhere, Hennig teamed with Lars Anderson in the AWA before hitting the road and working other territories. In Championship Wrestling from Florida, he teamed with a heel Dusty Rhodes, who was just starting out in his career.
Hennig would later return to the AWA, this time as a babyface, billed as “The Axe” (the name coming from his clothesline) doing an angle where he rescued Jim Brunzell and Greg Gagne during a TV taping from Bobby Heenan’s team of Bockwinkel and Stevens.
Now entrenched as a babyface, Hennig would also team quite a bit with his son Curt, the future AWA World Champion now immortalized as “Mr. Perfect” for his run in WWE. The pair worked for Don Owen in the Pacific Northwest, winning that territory’s tag team title and even have a short feud with The Road Warriors in the AWA.
After officially retiring in 1985, Hennig owned a real estate company in Minnesota as he had been working in that world since the late 1950s and for years, for well known locally in Minneapolis as an auctioneer.
Hennig had been honored by every professional wrestling Hall of Fame imaginable, given the Cauliflower Alley Club’s Iron Mike Mazurki Award in 2015, having been inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 and given its Lou Thesz Award in 2013, and having been inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2017 for his tag team with Race. The Robbinsdale Historical Society inducted Hennig into their first annual Minnesota Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2015:
As noted, Henning’s grandson Joe has worked for WWE for years as Curtis Axel. His granddaughter Amy and grandson Joseph also performed on the independent scene in the Mid-West for a time.
Hennig had still been making appearances at conventions and events in recent years. He was signing last year at Wrestlecon in New Orleans and was on my first flight back, sitting in the first row, a row ahead of me, with his wife. As every wrestling fan got on the plane, they all said hello to Hennig and with Hennig needing a wheelchair to exit the plane, he was one of the last off, so every fan on the place said goodbye to him as they exited.
On behalf of everyone associated with PWInsider.com, we extend our deepest condolences to the Hennig family as well as the many friends and fans of Larry Hennig.
Curtis and WWE have released statements on the passing of The Axe. WWE’s statement noted that Hennig passed following a long illness and kidney failure.
Axel noted that his grandfather was his biggest supporter since day one. He wrote, “No one has had a bigger impact on my wrestling career than my Papa Axe.”
Below are the full statements from Axel and WWE, along with a few Twitter tributes from around the wrestling world:
Larry “The Axe” Hennig passes awayWWE is saddened to learn that legendary Superstar and Hennig family patriarch Larry “The Axe” Hennig passed away today at 82 years old following a long illness and kidney failure.
A five-time tag team champion in the AWA, Hennig entered the sports-entertainment world under the tutelage of Verne Gagne and crossed paths with some of the most illustrious performers of all time. Most famously, Hennig was among Bruno Sammartino’s challengers for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden.
Though his own career was cut short due to injury, Hennig’s legacy spanned another two generations thanks to his son, the late WWE Hall of Famer Mr. Perfect, and grandson, former Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel.
WWE extends its condolences to Hennig’s family, friends and fans.
“82 years old. 5 kids. 28 grandkids. No one has had a bigger impact on my wrestling career than my Papa Axe. He’s been my biggest supporter since day one! Another father when I lost mine. We lost our King of the Jungle today… Never thought I’d see this day. But he’s with my Dad now so everything will be ok. Love you Papa Axe! The Hennig’s have always held our heads up high! We will continue to do so… You rest assured, The Hennig name will live on FOREVER!!!”