TROY, Mo. — Harley Race, the wrestling legend and eight-time world heavyweight champion from Maryville, passed away Thursday at the age of 76.
“Today at 12:50, we lost the man that fought up until the very last day of his existence,” his official Twitter account posted Thursday afternoon. Nadine Clark, Race's sister, confirmed to The Forum that he died of cancer. His family announced in March that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.
“He was just an all around good guy who tried to help people,” Clark said over the phone. “He was just my brother and we were close.”
According to the Twitter account, Race was on his way in mid-July to the Fanboy Expo's Comic Con in Knoxville, Tennessee, when he was admitted to a hospital with health complications. He was reportedly released on July 23 and on his way back home “to continue care and treatment.”
He was born in Maryville in 1943, grew up in Quitman, and maintained his Missouri roots throughout his career and his later life.
Widely admired in the wrestling community and as a mentor to many younger wrestlers like Ric Flair, Race started his career in 1959, working his way up regional and territorial competitions until landing squarely in the national spotlight in 1973, when he won the National Wrestling Alliance's World Heavyweight Championship for the first time solo.
It was in Japan where he first got the nickname “Handsome” Harley Race.
“He did a lot of traveling, even to Japan,” Clark said. “They loved him over there.”
In 1986, after his record-setting eighth time taking the NWA's World Heavyweight Championship belt, Race moved to the World Wrestling Federation and winning the King of the Ring title. He continued wrestling professionally until 1991.
After his career in the ring, Race continued promoting the sport around the world, and in 2000, started the Harley Race Wrestling Academy, now located near his home in Troy, Missouri, to help train aspiring pro wrestlers.