Pat Patterson, WWE Hall of Famer, First Openly Gay Wrestler, Dead At 79

WWE Hall of Famer Pat Patterson, the first openly gay wrestling star and Intercontinental champion, has reportedly died at the age of 79 following a battle with cancer.

WWE confirmed the former wrestler and longtime backstage employee's death on its official website Wednesday (December 2.)

Patterson's professional wrestling career spanned six decades, with his first matches dating back to 1958, reports. The Montreal native became the inaugural Intercontinental champion on September 1, 1979 after claiming to have unified his then-WWF North American Heavyweight Championship with the South American Heavyweight Championship in a tournament in Rio de Janeiro, although both the South American title and tournament were entirely made up as part of the storyline.

Upon formally retiring from in-ring competition in 1984, Patterson held many roles for World Wrestling Entertainment until the time of his death. He began working as a commentator for WWE programming alongside WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, as well as a road agent considered to be McMahon's "right-hand" man.

Patterson is credited for inventing the Royal Rumble match, which has become an annual January match featured on its namesake's pay-per-view event. The legendary wrestler also returned to in-ring action during the 'Attitude Era' in the 1990s as one of McMahon's "Stooges," alongside fellow WWE Hall of Famer Gerald Brisco.

Patterson came out as openly gay in the early 1970s, but his sexuality was not acknowledged publicly on WWE television until June 12, 2014, when he was a cast member on the WWE Network reality show 'Legends House.' During the show, Patterson confirmed he and longtime partner, Louie Dondero, were together for 40 years before Dondero died of a heart attack on June 28, 1998.

MassLive reports Patterson passed away at a Miami hospital on Tuesday (December 1.)

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