Cauliflower Alley Club took to Facebook to announce that Willis Kirby, better known as “Roger Kirby” in the ring, passed away at the age of 79. Kirby recently suffered a bad fall that left him with a broken hip and lead doctors to discover that he had stage four pancreatic cancer. He then developed a case of pneumonia that ultimately brought on his passing.
Kirby leaves behind a wife, Lila, their seven children, and several grandchildren. At 79, Willis spent nearly thirty of those years performing in professional wresting after his debut in 1960.
Although he had stints in the United States, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, Kirby spent most of his career wrestling throughout the various territories of the National Wrestling Alliance. In the entirety of his career, Kirby held championship gold over 35 times in NWA, including the coveted NWA World Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Kirby did have a brief experience working with WWE in 1986 but decided to give it up and retire from pro wrestling with the legacy he had created prior to that. He once told SLAM! Sports, “[I] want to be remembered as a top wrestler. I’d done everything that I wanted to do…I didn’t want to go back down the ladder.”
You can read the full Facebook post about Kirby’s passing below:
wRESTle in Peace, Roger (Willis) KirbyI don’t have the words to say just how broken-hearted I am at this moment. I just got a call from Roger Kirby’s wife, Lila. Roger passed away this afternoon at age 79. He fell three weeks ago and broke his hip. In the hospital, they discovered that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer. He contracted pneumonia and died today.
Roger and I traveled together whenever he came to Tennessee. At our reunion here in 2009, he stood up in front of everyone and told them that I had always been his best friend; and that I was the only person who stayed in touch regularly in the years after we got out of the business. We talked regularly, and every time, before he hung up, he always thanked me for being his friend.
Many people come in and out of out lives during our lifetimes, but there are only a select few we can truly say we loved. For me, Roger is one those special few.
I will never forget Roger or the great times we had together on the road. God bless you, Roger. I will never forget you. Thank you for your friendship. wRESTle in Peace.
Photo taken by Scott Teal at the Trevecca Nazarene College yearbook office/studio in 1977.
The full Facebook post and some matches from Kirby’s legendary career are featured below: