Windham Rotunda, known to professional wrestling fans around the world as Bray Wyatt at World Wrestling Entertainment, died Thursday at the age of 36, WWE chief content officer Paul “Triple H” Levesque said on social media .

Levesque wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he received a call from Mr Rotunda’s father Mike on Thursday to tell him the WWE Superstar had “passed away unexpectedly”.

“Our thoughts are with his family and we ask everyone to respect their privacy at this time,” Levesque said.

As of Thursday night, no cause of death had been given and a WWE spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Wrestling journalists had reported earlier this month that Mr Rotunda was suffering from a so-called “life-threatening” illness.

Mr. Rotunda followed his father and uncle into the world of professional wrestling. After wrestling under various ring names, he became A mainstay of WWE between 2012 and 2021 as Bray Wyatt, a villainous cult leader. After winning the WWE Championship in 2017, Mr. Rotunda returned as “The Fiend,” a demon clown who captivated audiences.

His signature moves were the Mandible Claw (sticking middle and ring fingers in an opponent’s mouth and poking the soft tissue under the tongue) and Sister Abigail (a kiss on the opponent’s head before twisting them on the neck).

During his theatrical performances, the arena was plunged into darkness. Crowds lit their phones like torches as he walked slowly with a lit lantern to the tune of Pittsburgh metal band Code Orange’s “Shatter.”

He was released from WWE in 2021 but returned in 2022. Mr Rotunda attended the Royal Rumble in January but had been sidelined for most of the year.

In one of his final press conferences this year, Mr. Rotunda expressed his love for the millions of fans, whether they were booing or cheering him on.

“I’ve always prided myself on being willing to take risks and do things no one has ever done before. Because in my opinion, if you’re not ready for that, then what are you doing here?” he said. “It’s about leaving a legacy for me and I would do just about anything, especially if nobody has ever done it. Because I know people will notice and I enjoy it.”

Mr Rotunda is survived by his fiancée, Joseann Offerman, and their two children, as well as two children from a previous marriage.

His unexpected death caused grief and shock among fans and former and current wrestling stars, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who said he was “heartbroken” at the news.

“I always had great respect and love for him and the Rotunda family. “I loved his presence, his promos, his work in the ring and his connection to the @wwe universe,” he said wrote on X. “Very unique, cool and rare character that’s hard to create in our crazy world of pro wrestling.”

Fans flooded his social pages, reminiscing about their favorite moments from his performances and expressing their shock at the news. “I’m feeling bad right now and I don’t want to believe this,” wrote one user.

Another said: “Calm down man thanks for the reminders.”

Mr. Rotunda’s death is the latest blow to pro wrestling fans after Terry Funk died on Wednesday at the age of 79.

On his Instagram account, Mr Rotunda often showed a part of himself that contrasted with his villainous character, posting photos of himself lifting his child onto his shoulder and combing his daughter’s hair.

In December 2022, a somber Mr. Rotunda issued a public appeal and shared a GoFundMe page for his uncle and WWE Hall of Famer Barry Windham, who needed funds for medical treatment.

“Be good to those you love, remind them how much they mean to you,” he said in an Instagram post. “Because nothing is forever.”

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