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WWE’s Bray Wyatt, who grew up in Brooksville, dies at 36

He had been inactive while dealing with an undisclosed health issue.
 
Bray Wyatt enters the arena to fight in the pitch-black event during the WWE Royal Rumble event at the Alamodome on Jan. 28 in San Antonio, Texas.
Bray Wyatt enters the arena to fight in the pitch-black event during the WWE Royal Rumble event at the Alamodome on Jan. 28 in San Antonio, Texas. [ ALEX BIERENS DE HAAN | Getty Images North America ]
Published Aug. 25, 2023|Updated Aug. 25, 2023

Windham Rotunda, the Brooksville-raised professional wrestler whose persona of Bray Wyatt brought the horror genre to WWE, died Thursday at 36 years old.

WWE chief content officer Paul Levesque, also known as Triple H, posted the news on social media.

The cause of death has not yet been announced.

ESPN.com reports that Rotunda had been “inactive over the past several months in WWE while dealing with an undisclosed health issue.”

Bray Wyatt, above, who played football for Troy University, during a WWE Monday Night Raw show in Birmingham, Ala., on April 14, 2014.
Bray Wyatt, above, who played football for Troy University, during a WWE Monday Night Raw show in Birmingham, Ala., on April 14, 2014. [ TAMIKA MOORE | al.com ]

It’s unclear if he was a full-time Tampa Bay area resident at the time of his death, but the Hernando County Property Appraiser’s website says Rotunda owns two homes in Brooksville.

“Heartbroken is an understatement to my feelings at the moment about this news,” Thaddeus Bullard, who performs as Titus O’Neil in the WWE and resides in Tampa Bay, posted on X, the site formerly known as Twitter. “Windham was the consummate professional, the Ultimate Teammate and a Wonderful Father, Husband, Brother, Friend and son. Always brought smiles.”

The three-time world champion and two-time tag team champion with the WWE came from a family of professional wrestlers.

WWE star Bray Wyatt, left, enters the ring during his match with Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 37 on April 11, 2021, in Tampa.
WWE star Bray Wyatt, left, enters the ring during his match with Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 37 on April 11, 2021, in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

His father, Mike Rotunda, performed most notably as Irwin R. Schyster and under his real name while partnering with brother-in-law Barry Windham as the U.S. Express tag team featured on the first WrestleMania. His grandfather, Robert Windham, performed as Blackjack Mulligan and another uncle, Kendall Windham, under his real name.

According to Tampa Bay Times archives, Rotunda won a state wrestling championship at Hernando High School. He played football at the College of the Sequoias, where he was a second-team All-American for the junior college and then at Troy University.

Rotunda then joined the WWE, learning the trade at the global company’s Florida Championship Wrestling developmental promotion that was in Tampa.

He debuted for the WWE in 2010 as Husky Harris and then returned to the developmental promotion in 2011 to develop the Bray Wyatt character, the leader of a backwoods cult known as the Wyatt Family.

When he reemerged in WWE in 2012, the arena would go dark during the Wyatt Family’s entrance to creepy music. They walked to the ring carrying lanterns while fans, whom Rotunda called his “fireflies,” also lit up the venue with their cellphones. Once in the ring, Rotunda often led fans in an eerie rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”

Rotunda later morphed Bray Wyatt into a character with multiple personalities, a mix of Mr. Rogers and a nightmarish clown known as The Fiend.

“Devastated by the news of the passing of Windham Rotunda,” area resident John Cena and fellow WWE performer posted on X. “My heart goes out to the entire Rotunda family. Windham brought the best out of me in so many ways. I’m forever grateful for the moments we shared. A sad day for all those he reached around the world.”