Known to wrestling fans as “The Patriot,” Del Wilkes passed away Thursday morning at the age of 59 following a massive heart attack. Outside of the ring, Wilkes had a storied career for the University of South Carolina football team, becoming just one of four Gamecocks to earn consensus All-American honors. George Rogers, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney were the others. Social Media tributes have been pouring in from around the South Carolina and wrestling communities.
Very sad to hear the passing of the Patriot Del Wilkes. Nothing but fond memories working with him in WCW. My thoughts are with his family and numerous fans. Thank you for the memories. 😞 pic.twitter.com/zen0GSGQdd
— Marc Mero (@MarcMero) July 1, 2021
I am sad to hear on my birthday that we have lost a friend today.
Del Wilkes, one of the best offensive lineman to ever play at South Carolina and of professional wrestling fame as the Patriot has passed away. I coached his son at BC and was honored to call him friend. RIP🙏 pic.twitter.com/D50jwZXu9A
— Coach Todd Helms (@coachtoddhelms) July 1, 2021
After a failed attempt to make an NFL roster, Wilkes set his sights on becoming a professional wrestler, and he succeeded. He quickly gained a loyal fan base who appreciated the wrestler’s decision to carry an American flag with him to the ring, while decked out in a wardrobe full of stars and stripes.
Wilkes would go on to spend time in the WWF, WCW and Japan before a triceps injury forced him to retire. The WWE acknowledged his passing via Twitter and released an accompanying statement saying in part: “A Superstar quickly on the rise, The Patriot proudly donned the red, white and blue of America in the midst of a rivalry with The Hart Foundation, leading to a memorable match against Bret Hart for the WWE Championship at In Your House: Ground Zero just two months after his WWE debut.”
WWE is saddened to learn that Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has passed away at the age of 59.
WWE extends its condolences to Wilkes’ family and friends. https://t.co/jgdaqB27hd
— WWE (@WWE) July 1, 2021
After leaving the ring, Wilkes spent the last 16 years working at a car dealership in his native Columbia, South Carolina.