May 18 (UPI) -- Former WWE star Billy Graham has died at age 79
The WWE confirmed his passing on its Twitter feed Wednesday, saying, "We are saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Billy 'Superstar' Graham has passed away."
Nicknamed "Superstar," Graham was born Eldridge Wayne Coleman in Arizona, becoming a bodybuilder before he started his wrestling career. He named himself after the famous evangelist, the Rev. Billy Graham.
He started out in the American Wrestling Association before joining the World Wrestling Federation, the precursor to the WWE, in 1975. Considered a wrestling pioneer, he was a brash ambassador for the league in its early years, modeling himself after boxer Muhammad Ali.
"I'm the man of the hour, the man with the power, too sweet to be sour!" became his popular catchphrase. Graham dyed his hair and goatee various colors and wore distinctive outfits with a particular passion for tie-dye.
His vivid personality helped set the tone for WWE stars of the future and he's viewed as the inspiration for contemporary stars like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Jesse Ventura.
Flair paid homage to Graham on social media, saying "Thank you for all your influence on my career."
In 1977, Graham won the WWE title over Bruno Sammartino, holding the championship belt for just about a year. He retired in 1987 becoming a manager and wrestling commentator and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
Graham started to experience significant health challenges, including congestive heart failure and diabetes, in his late 50s, which required hospitalizations.
He struggled with drug addiction at one point and had a liver transplant in 2002. As of April 26, he'd lost 80 pounds and was seeking some financial help via GoFundMe. Earlier this week, his wife shared on Facebook that doctors sought to take him off life support, but that she was hoping he would rebound.
Graham is survived by his wife and daughter.