Hundreds of wrestling fans paid their final respects to WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino in a Pittsburgh funeral home Saturday.
Family and friends joined to mourn Sammartino, known as pro-wrestling’s ultimate good guy.
“Bruno was the best,” family friend Roland Lazzaro said, according to KDKA-TV. “It was the greatest Italian immigration story ever told. No. 2 would be Christopher Columbus coming over here and meeting with the Indians and pilgrims.”
“It was the greatest Italian immigration story ever told. No. 2 would be Christopher Columbus coming over here and meeting with the Indians and pilgrims.”
Sammartino, professional wrestling’s “Living Legend” and one of its longest-reigning champions, died Wednesday at age 82.
“It was always great to have someone represent Pittsburgh the way he did,” fan Jeff Walker said. “He was a standup guy.”
Family friend Dominic Dorfeo, whose clan lived next door to the Sammartino family in Italy, remembered him as a gentle giant, KDKA-TV reported.
“I think he is a measuring stick of what sports stars should be today,” he said.
The son of Italian immigrants, Sammartino fled the Nazis as a child and built a career beating a string of wrestling’s “bad guys” that thrilled fans and made him champ for more than a decade.
“One of the finest men I knew, in life and in business,” WWE chairman Vince McMahon said . “Bruno Sammartino proved that hard work can overcome even the most difficult of circumstances. He will be missed.”
Paul Levesque, a top WWE executive known in the ring as Triple H, tweeted his condolences.
“Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man,” he tweeted. “A true friend…and one of the toughest people I’ve ever met.”
The John A. Freyvogel Sons Funeral Home guestbook was filled with comments honoring Sammartino.
“I grew up watching Bruno on tv every Saturday morning as a child. I got into powerlifting because of what I saw in Bruno,” Mark A. Porter, aka “Bruno,” wrote. “I became a Police Officer but always wanted to do what Bruno did. I never met the man but he was an is an idol to me. Bruno you will be missed.”
“The most ethical man, not just in our industry of wrestling; but in life and important on so many levels. Bruno was loved and beloved because he was so completely genuine, caring and giving,” Michael Lano wrote. “He spoke to everyone the same way, whether it was a global leader or world celebrity to his fans around the world, giving the same amount of attention.”
Sammartino held the World Wide Wrestling Federation championship for more than 11 years (4,040 days) over two title runs. In 2013, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
The WWWF was the forerunner of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
Visitation will also take place in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Sammartino is survied by three sons and four grandchildren.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.