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Former champion wrestler Buddy Rogers dies

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Buddy Rogers, one of the great headline acts in professional wrestling, has died after suffering two strokes. He was 71.

Rogers, who lived in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, died Friday at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale.

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He suffered two strokes Monday. At his request, he was not placed on life support, said his brother-in-law, Dave Ludwigsen. Rogers recently underwent bypass surgery and took a fall in a supermarket.

Dubbed 'Nature Boy, Rogers spent 24 years in the ring. With a shock of blond hair and a barrel chest, Rogers assumed the role of the swaggering, boastful champion.

Fans loved to taunt Rogers, a villainous figure whenever he climbed through the ropes with a theatrical sweep. But they also came to respect him and his aresenal of forearm smashes and figure-four leg holds.

Rogers held the World Wrestling Associaton championship belt from 1961 to 1963. He last wrestled in an exhibition tag-team match in 1983, and won.

'I could probably hold my own today with mediocre wrestlers,' Rogers said after the match.

He was not the only one who believed that. He was recently scheduled to wrestle in Philadelphia in February, but arrangements with the promoter fell through.

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Three years ago, Rogers, 6-foot and 200 pounds, won a decisive victory in a tussle with a 230-pound man who was using abusive language to two women employees at a sandwich shop. Rogers asked the man to quiet down so he could eat his turkey sandwich in peace. The man called Rogers and old man and challenged him.

'I pushed him against the wall and he picked up a chair and threw it at me,' Rogers said. 'Then I unloaded. I gave him a shot and he must have flown five feet into a refigerator. Then I nailed him in the stomach and he flew into the kitchen ... then he held onto my hair and said, 'Stop it, stop it.''

Rogers released his grip and the man fled the shop. Rogers, who received 14 stitches after the fray, said being called an old man was just too much.

'Hell, I'm only 68,' he said. 'That's not so old.'

Rogers was raised in Camden, N.J., where he was known as 'Dutch' Rhode. He worked as a Camden police officer and served in the Navy during World War II, then worked in a Camden shipyard. He began wrestling as a youngster and turned pro at 18, Ludwigsen said.

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'He held the Tri-State title, the West Coast championship, the Texas heavyweight championship and the National Wrestling Alliance crown and the World Wrestling Federation championship,' Ludwigsen said.

'Frankly, if you saw him on the beach two weeks ago, he looked like a man of 50. He was full of life.'

Rogers lived in Haddonfield, N.J., until moving to Lauderdale-by-the- Sea in 1987.

He is survived by his wife Debbie, a son, David, of Lauderdale-by- the-Sea, and a brother, John Rhode of Tampa.

Services are scheduled for noon EDT Tuesday at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, with viewing from 10 a.m. Tuesday until the service. Burial will be at Forest Lawn North in Pompano Beach.

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