Del ‘The Patriot’ Wilkes Dies, Retired Pro Wrestler Was 59

Del Wilkes, the former professional wrestler best known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has sadly passed away. The wrestler, who spent a year in WWE during the Attitude Era in the late 1990s, reportedly passed away last Thursday after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 59 years old.

“At the request of his family, it’s with a devastated heart that I let you know Heaven gained one of the most special men I’ve ever had the honor to know today,” family friend Allen Wright Adkins said in a statement, per WrestleZone. “Del Wilkes, I’ve loved you for 40 years and always will. Rest in peace, my dear friend…you’ll be missed more than you could ever know.”

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Andy McDaniel, a pastor who hosted a podcast with Wilkes, added in a statement of his own: “Del Wilkes would become a name that those in college football knew quite well. He would make his name familiar in the world of pro wrestling as well. However, regardless of the accolades or fame he may have achieved, to me, he was best known as a friend. Del overcame his struggles in this life and became an inspiration to many. Our loss is Heaven’s gain.”

Wilkes spent about a decade of his life in the pro wrestling business, traveling all over the world as he worked for companies like the AWA, GWF, AJPW, and WCW. He is probably best known for his stint in WWE (then WWF), which saw him debut in 1997 to feud with Canadian wrestler Bret Hart and his group the Hart Foundation in a USA vs. Canada storyline. Wilkes even wrestled Hart for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at the Ground Zero: In Your House pay-per-view that year, though he failed to win the match.

The Patriot continued to feud with the Hart Foundation for the rest of the year, and his final televised match was in a losing effort to Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart in November 1997. He was released early in 1998 and subsequently retired due to suffering a torn triceps. Like many wrestlers, he struggled with painkiller addiction in the following years, though he was eventually able to kick the habit and turn his life around.

After Wilkes retired, former WWE wrestler Tom Brandi, who also competed in WWE as Salvatore Sincere, started appearing at wrestling shows as the Patriot, complete with the patriotic mask and tights. It had been rumored that Brandi paid Wilkes to take over the gimmick, but Wilkes later claimed in a 2015 interview that this wasn’t the case.

“I have not spoken to Tom Brandi in over twenty years,” Wilkes told the Shining Wizards Podcast. “He didn’t buy anything from me, I didn’t sell him anything, I didn’t give him permission, I didn’t give him my blessings… I think several years ago, he did a shoot interview about his career and I was on the cover, it was ME, not him. So he has basically stolen my identity.”

Of using the Patriot character, Brandi had previously said, “I always liked Del and respected him, but he has to realize this is the wrestling business, and unless he plans on going after a dozen different guys (or more), it is what it is. There are a million Doink The Clowns, a dozen Patriots, and 3 Nature Boys, and what a business it is.”

Indie wrestlers may have used the character without permission, but WWE fans will always recognize Wilkes as the real Patriot. May he rest in peace. This news comes to us from The Post and Courier.

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