Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, the high-flying Fijian-born professional wrestler who rose to fame alongside icons Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Andre the Giant in Vince McMahon’s WWE (then the WWF), is dead at the age of 73.
His death comes less than a month after murder charges were dropped in the 1983 death of his then-girlfriend Nancy Argentino. WWE superstar and Snuka’s daughter Tamina Snuka announced her father’s death on Instagram.
Snuka, born James Wiley Smith, started out like many wrestlers of his generation did, making his name through the amateur bodybuilding circuit throughout the 1960s, but saw wrestling as a more viable career choice. Starting out in Hawaii, he made his way to Pacific Northwest Wrestling in the early-1970s, winning his first of six Heavyweight Champion belts in 1973. Snuka would spend the decade wrestling in other NWA (National Wrestling Alliance) territories, squaring off against future greats and WWE Hall of Famers Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, and Jack and Jerry Brisco.
Snuka made the move to McMahon’s promotion in 1982 as a heel, kicking off a memorable rivalry with champion Bob Backlund, best remembered for Snuka attempting his “Superfly Splash” off the top of the steel cage, with Backlund rolling out of the way just in time.
Snuka was one of the WWE’s biggest stars in the pre-Hulk Hogan days before what is now known as the “Golden Era” of the company. His most memorable moment not only in his career, but possibly in the history of wrestling came after he turned into a fan favorite, and was assaulted by “Rowdy” Roddy Piper on an episode of “Piper’s Pit.”
One of the most infamous segments in all of wrestling history, Piper smashed a coconut open on Snuka’s head, then began to whip and yell at the dazed superstar.
Snuka would leave the WWE in 1985 to go compete in Japan and return to McMahon’s company in 1989. His most memorable moment during his second stint was becoming the first wrestler to lose to The Undertaker at WrestleMania VII, kicking off the Dead Man’s famous winning streak at WrestleMania.
“Superfly” would then leave again in 1992 to go on to become the first champion in the newly formed Eastern Championship Wrestling, which would later go on to be renamed Extreme Championship Wrestling. He would have another brief return to the WWE in 1993 before going into semi-retirement in the 1990s, wrestling periodically at smaller shows and on the indie circuit, but never at the level he competed in during the Seventies and Eighties.
In 2015, it was revealed that Snuka had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. In 2016, he was part of a class action lawsuit filed by a group of wrestlers including King Kong Bundy, Sabu and Shane Douglas that claimed the wrestlers suffered from “long term neurological injuries,” and that the company failed to provide proper care.
Upon the announcement of his death, WWE superstars past and present, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, have taken to Twitter to offer condolences.
— Dwayne Johnson (@TheRock) January 15, 2017
Snuka, whose daughter Tamina and son James both wrestle, is considered linked through marriage to Johnson through the Anoa’i family, the famed “Samoan Dynasty” of wrestlers.
Snuka was entered into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996. However, his Hall of Fame page was removed from the wrestling company’s website following the murder accusations.