Women's professional wrestling pioneer Mae Young, whose career began in 1939 but peaked 60 years later as part of WWE’s Attitude Era, died Tuesday at the age of 90, according to a post on WWE.com.
The Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier reported her death last Thursday, only to later retract the story, citing an incorrect source. The paper previously reported that Young, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, had been receiving hospice care at her home in Columbia, S.C.
Despite performing past her 75th birthday during an Attitude Era that featured such risque fare as bra and panties matches from WWE’s pinup-model Divas, Young and fellow senior citizen the Fabulous Moolah managed to constantly steal the show after returning to the company for select appearances in 1999. Young never wavered in her willingness to tell some of wrestling’s campiest tales, as she feigned pregnancy, was thrown through a wooden table and “flashed” a stunned Madison Square Garden audience during her stay.
“I’ve had many great times in this business, and I love the business,” Young said at a news conference prior to her Hall of Fame induction. She maintained numerous times in her later years that she wanted to wrestle a match at 100 years old.
But in-ring accomplishments notwithstanding, Young’s most enduring contribution to wrestling came behind the scenes. Young served as Moolah’s trainer when she entered the business, and the Fabulous one -- real name Lillian Ellison -- used those lessons well during a 28-year title reign from 1956 to '84. Her championship stint was seven times longer than Hulk Hogan’s lengthiest reign. Ellison died in 2007 at age 84.
According to the WWE Encyclopedia, Young, a native of Sand Springs, Okla., competed on the boys wrestling team in high school before debuting in the squared circle. She trained both men and women for careers in wrestling.
“Mae can kick the --- out of, I’d say, 60 to 70 percent of the men,” late WWE Hall of Famer “Classy” Freddie Blassie, who died in 2003, once said in a video interview with WWE. That footage was used as part of a compilation video for Young’s 2008 Hall of Fame selection.
The accomplishments of Young and her contemporaries were also highlighted in the 2004 documentary "Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss and Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling."
Young -- born Johnnie Mae Young on March 12, 1923 -- was the first NWA United States women’s champion, but never held the WWE women’s title. The company rectified that last March as part of an episode of Monday Night Raw. She was given a cake in front of the fans to celebrate her 90th birthday and backstage was presented with a personally monogrammed championship belt -- now referred to as the Divas title -- by WWE Chairman/CEO Vince McMahon and his son-in-law, company COO Triple H (real name Paul Levesque).
“You’re forever the Divas champion,” Triple H said as he handed her the belt.
In a statement on WWE.com announcing the death, McMahon said, "There will never be another Mae Young. Her longevity in sports entertainment may never be matched, and I will forever be grateful for all of her contributions to the industry."