Former WWE star ‘The Patriot ‘ Del Wilkes — most famous for his 1997 feud with Bret Hart — has tragically passed away at the age of 59.
Former WWE Superstar ‘The Patriot’ Del Wilkes has tragically passed away a the age of 59 according to a report from Mike Mooneyham in the Charleston Post & Courier.
Wilkes was born and raised in South Carolina and has a successful college football career in his home state as one of USC’s Gamecocks. When his football career came to an end, he pursued professional wrestling and went on to work for WCW and WWE, and All Japan Pro Wrestling.
To wrestling fans, Wilkes is best known for his two stints in WWE. Wilkes first began working with WWE in 1991 but parted ways with the company the following year. He rejoined WWE in 1997 but left again in 1998.
Wilkes often performed as his patriotic alter ego ‘The Patriot’ who wore a mask emblazoned with the stars and stripes and carried the American flag. Wilkes also used a rousing entrance theme that would later be repurposed for another American hero, Kurt Angle.
In 1997 while performing as his patriotic alter ego, Wilkes challenged the anti-American Bret Hart for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at Ground Zero: In Your House where Hart forced him to submit with the Sharpshooter.
In a 2019 episode of his Something To Wrestle With podcast, WWE executive Bruce Prichard spoke about how Wilkes’ relationship with WWE came about.
“I called Del,” Prichard revealed. “His deal in Japan was coming to an end, and he was getting ready to renegotiate. I said, ‘Before you do that, come up and talk to us.’ So, Del came up, and Vince really liked him and thought, ‘With this Patriot gimmick, with everything we have going, this may be one of those situations where we can bring a guy in, slide him right in on top,” he added. “He had the look. He could work. And let’s try it out. And that’s how Del came in at the time, and Jim Cornette was a big proponent for Del. Jim also was a Del Wilkes fan and thought The Patriot coming in would also be a good opponent for Bret. So, that’s how all that happened.”
Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, passes away
WWE is saddened to learn that Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has passed away at the age of 59.
Before making a name for himself in the squared circle, Wilkes was a standout on the football field for the University of South Carolina, where he earned the distinction of being voted a consensus All-American. After making the switch to sports-entertainment, Wilkes competed all over the world before arriving in WWE in 1997 as The Patriot.
A Superstar quickly on the rise, The Patriot proudly donned the red, white and blue of America in the midst of a rivalry with The Hart Foundation, leading to a memorable match against Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at In Your House: Ground Zero just two months after his WWE debut.
WWE extends its condolences to Wilkes’ family and friends.
Wilkes began wrestling in 1988, and had runs with WWE, WCW, AWA, promotions in Japan, and more. He is a former two-time WCW World Tag Team Champion, and a former AWA World Tag Team Champion. Wilkes last wrestled for WWE in October 1997, losing to WWE Hall of Famer Jim Neidhart on Shotgun Saturday Night. He was released in early 1998.
Wilkes leaves behind a wife of more than 40 years, named Cathy. He retired from pro wrestling due to a triceps injury, shortly after leaving WWE. Wilkes had worked for the past 16 years as a car salesman in Columbia, South Carolina, but still made the occasional wrestling-related signing or appearance.
Sources: The Sportster and Wrestling Inc.