LUTZ — A blood clot was the cause of death for Rocky Johnson, the WWE Hall of Famer and father of Hollywood actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, according to a longtime friend and fellow grappler.
Johnson died at his home on Wednesday at 75.
“A blood clot traveled from his leg into his lung,” Brian Blair, who wrestled as one of the Killer Bees and served as a Hillsborough County commissioner, told the Tampa Bay Times. “He died of natural causes.”
Blair said Johnson hadn’t felt well for the past two weeks but thought he had the flu.
“Every Sunday we’d go together to church," Blair said. “But he hadn’t been able to make it the past two weeks.”
Johnson initially was reluctant to seek medical help but eventually relented, Blair said. He went to the doctor the day before he died.
Today’s wrestling fans know Johnson for his his famous son, who headlined a number annual WWE WrestleMania events before becoming Hollywood’s most bankable action hero.
“That didn’t bother him,” said Philadelphia’s Barry Rose who, as a kid growing up in South Florida in the 1970s served as president of the Rocky Johnson Fan Club. “He was so proud of Dwayne.”
Still, Rose said, Johnson "was a trailblazer. It is cliché, but he was the guy who broke down a lot barriers.”
Johnson was the first African American heavyweight champion in the history of Texas, Georgia and Florida, winning the Florida title in 1975 at Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa.
Along with Tony Atlas, Johnson also held the WWE Tag Team Championship, the first African American duo to do so.
He recently moved to Lutz and took part in local Rose’s Legends Fan Fests, where wrestling fans meet wrestling icons.
The next legends event will honor Johnson. It’s scheduled April 2-4 at the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, the former Fort Homer Hesterly Armory.
“He had such a close connection with the other guys who will be there and the fans,” Rose said. "We have to do something."
Blair said the funeral service will be private.
“He’d want to be remembered as someone who wrestled around the world, fought segregation, fought through many trials and tribulations," Blair said, "and still won.”