One of the big stars of the WWF’s national expansion era has died with the news of Paul “Mr. Wonderful” Orndorff’s death at the age of 71.
The news of his passing was revealed by his son Travis on Instagram:
It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my father, Paul Parlette Orndorff Jr. . He is better known as “Mr. #1derful” Paul Orndorff. Most of you will remember him for his physique. Many will remember his intensity. But if I could only get you to understand and see his heart. He will always be Pop, Paw Paw, and Daddy at home. And as much as many of you hated him as a wrestler, he absolutely loved you for it. He was an amazing father that showed me more love than I ever deserved. I love you Daddy.
A donation page is available in my bio for funeral expenses. Any close friends whom would like to speak at his funeral, please message me on Instagram Travis_Orndorff.
Orndorff was a very accomplished football player that made the transition to professional wrestling after he was drafted and waived by the New Orleans Saints. Orndorff was raised in Brandon, Florida, and trained in his home state by the likes of Jack Brisco, Hiro Matsuda, Bob Backlund, and Eddie Graham.
He went to several territories including Memphis, Mid-South, Alabama, Mid-Atlantic, and Georgia Championship Wrestling prior to joining the World Wrestling Federation in 1983.
He formed a team with Ted DiBiase in Mid-South where they won the Mid-South tag titles from Michael Hayes & Terry Gordy in March 1980 but dropped them right back in less than two weeks. Orndorff won the tag titles a second time in September that year teaming with the Junkyard Dog before losing them to Ernie Ladd and Leroy Brown in October.
As a singles star with Mid-South, Orndorff was a five-time North American Heavyweight Champion beginning in May 1978, defeating Ernie Ladd for the title. In 1981, he traded the title with former partner DiBiase, ending with DiBiase as champion after a series of matches where the title could change hands on a disqualification.
Orndorff formed a team with Jimmy Snuka in Mid-Atlantic in 1978 where they won the tag titles from Greg Valentine & Baron Von Rashke the day after Christmas that year at a show in Richmond, Virginia. The tandem, who would be on opposite sides in the main event of the first WrestleMania, held the belts until April 29, 1979, losing them to Von Rashke and Paul Jones.
In Southeast Championship Wrestling, he formed teams with Dick Slater and Norvell Austin between 1979 and 1981.
In Georgia, he won the National Heavyweight Championship several times. He defeated Buzz Sawyer in June 1982. His final reign ended in March 1983 where he lost to Killer Tim Brooks in Atlanta. He would travel to Kansas City and wrestle in Central States as his last stop before joining the WWF as it was preparing for its national expansion under Vince McMahon Jr.
Orndorff was one of the key people involved in the promotion of the first WrestleMania that was heavily promoted through the WWF’s involvement with MTV for several television specials.
Orndorff teamed with Roddy Piper against Hulk Hogan & Mr. T on the inaugural WrestleMania from Madison Square Garden on March 31, 1985, that aired on closed-circuit throughout the country.
After being blamed for the loss at WrestleMania, Orndorff was turned babyface that year and aligned with Hogan. The allegiance climaxed with a famous angle where Orndorff attacked Hogan and linked up with Bobby Heenan as his manager.
Hogan and Orndorff drew tremendously well together including a famous show from August 28, 1986, in Toronto at Exhibition Stadium. The event drew over 61,000 paid and a gate of approximately $800,000 (CAD). Orndorff ended up injuring his right arm during this period and it began to atrophy, with the arm noticeably smaller throughout the rest of his career as he continued to work with the injury.
He left the WWF in early 1988 and would wrestle for various groups over the next several years including Herb Abrams’ UWF and Smoky Mountain Wrestling.
His last major run was with WCW in late 1992. Orndorff formed the ‘Pretty Wonderful’ team with Paul Roma and they won the WCW tag titles twice in 1994, feuding with Cactus Jack & Kevin Sullivan and Marcus Alexander Bagwell & The Patriot. Orndorff also held the WCW Television Championship from March 1993 until August when he lost it to Ricky Steamboat.
Orndorff transitioned out of the ring by the end of 1995, working for WCW as a road agent and trainer. He had a famous backstage fight with Big Van Vader when he was directing him.
The altercation ended up with Vader ultimately leaving WCW and going to the WWF several months later. Vader told Hannibal TV in 2016 that he was fired over the incident and said he left for the WWF because of a combination of a six-month suspension and fine that WCW wanted to hand down over the incident. When discussing the story on his podcast, Eric Bischoff stated he fired Vader and there was no negotiation regarding a fine or suspension.
Orndorff worked at the WCW Power Plant and was brought back for a ten-man elimination tag at the Fall Brawl event in September 2000. While teaming with Big Vito, Rey Mysterio, Disco Inferno & Juventud Guerrera against The Natural Born Thrillers, Orndorff suffered a neck injury while trying to execute a piledriver and the match was stopped.
In 2005, Orndorff was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and made a cameo appearance with the other WrestleMania 1 headliners at WrestleMania 30 in April 2014. Later that year, he appeared during a segment on Raw for Hulk Hogan’s birthday celebration.
Orndorff is also a member of the George Tragos & Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, The NWA Hall of Fame, the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame & Museum, and received the Men’s Wrestling Award at the Cauliflower Alley Club in 2016.
Orndorff had been part of the class-action concussion lawsuit against WWE that was dismissed in 2018.
Ten years ago, Orndorff revealed he was battling throat cancer but was able to fight it. However, he would go through other health problems in the following years.
A few years ago, Brian Blair spoke about the memory issues Orndorff was dealing with:
He’s having problems with his memory; a lot of problems with that.
He’s on medication that is helping. He only recognizes a couple people other than his family members. Luckily, I can pick up the phone and he can remember so many things. He’s always so happy when I call him. It’s part of my weekly routine to call him.
He’s healthy. He beat Stage 4 lymph node cancer. I thought we were going to lose him but he beat all that. But with all that, it puts more pressure on his brain and he’s suffered multiple concussions.
We send out condolences to the family and friends of Paul Orndorff.
–Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff dies (Greg Oliver, SLAM Wrestling)