Bruno Sammartino, one of the most iconic stars in professional wrestling history, has died at age 82, the WWE announced Wednesday morning.
WWE is saddened to learn that WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino has passed away at age 82. https://t.co/B8nUabP0oh— WWE (@WWE) April 18, 2018
Sammartino was the then-World Wide Wrestling Federation's longest-reigning world champion, holding the title for nearly eight consecutive years. He began his record title reign after beating Buddy Rogers at Madison Square Garden on May 17, 1963.
He would not relinquish the belt until a loss to Ivan Koloff on Jan. 18, 1971.
After regaining the title in December 1973, Sammartino went on to have a run of more than three years; that's also one of the five-longest world title reigns in the company's history.
Those title reigns are indicative of Sammartino's place as the centerpiece of Vincent J. McMahon's WWWF, which later became the WWF and then the WWE.
"The Italian Superman" headlined more than 180 sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, and he had memorable rivalries against the likes of Superstar Billy Graham, Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon and George "The Animal" Steele, among many others.
After a falling-out with the company that lasted more than two decades, Sammartino returned to the fold in 2013, when he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Arnold Schwarzenegger at Madison Square Garden.
"Being inducted into the Hall of Fame at Madison Square Gardens is the biggest thing in my life," Sammartino said in an interview with ESPN ahead of his 2013 WWE Hall of Fame induction. "Anytime that people feel that you accomplished enough to enter into a Hall of Fame, of course this is a tremendous, tremendous thrill for me. I had a lot of my success due to appearing at the Garden."
Sammartino, an Italian immigrant who moved to Pittsburgh in his teens, became a cultural icon throughout the Northeast U.S. during his 30-plus-year wrestling career.
"Nobody deserves to be recognized for being a big star and paving the way for the stars of today more than Bruno," said WWE executive Paul "Triple H" Levesque, at the time of Sammartino's induction. "Everything that we have today in the business, Bruno was a cornerstone of that foundation."
Devastated to hear the passing of a true icon, legend, great, honest and wonderful man...— Triple H (@TripleH) April 18, 2018
A true friend...and one of the toughest people I've ever met.
My thoughts are with his entire family. #RIPBrunoSammartino #AmericanDream
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto says Sammartino was one of the city's greatest ambassadors.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.