“There will never be another Mae Young,” said WWE chairman and CEO Vince McMahon about the storied athlete. “Her longevity in sports entertainment may never be matched, and I will forever be grateful for all of her contributions to the industry. On behalf of WWE, I extend our sincerest condolences to her family and friends.” Vince McMahon
Mae Young passes at 90 WWE is greatly saddened by the news that WWE Hall of Famer Mae Young, beloved member of the WWE family and oldest living squared circle personality, has passed at the age of 90.
This is Mae Young in 1939 — the year “The Wizard of Oz” was first released and a gallon of gas cost a dime — on the day she came stomping into the Tulsa Coliseum with a challenge for the top female wrestler in the country.
Young may have been cupcake cute, but she was a tomboy — a rough one at that who kicked field goals for the boys’ football team and was not afraid to get into fistfights with grown men. Born in Sand Springs, Okla., on March 12, 1923, she was named Johnnie after a father she barely knew and raised, along with eight siblings, by a single mother during dire economic times.
One could imagine her childhood looking like a sepia-toned photograph of The Great Depression — all cropless fields and dust caked shanty towns — but her memories don’t allow for that.
Instead, she enjoyed her youth as both a brilliant athlete and a tenacious fighter. At school, she led Sand Springs High to a national title in softball. At home, she stood back and grinned as her brother lured unassuming neighborhood boys to their front yard, daring them to tangle with his kid sister. Young was 5-foot-7 and adult strong, and she had no trouble making hapless twerps cry uncle.
“I wrestled dirty and I was a tough son of a gun,” Young said in “Lipstick & Dynamite,” a 2004 documentary about the first ladies of wrestling.
When the famous women’s wrestling champion, Mildred Burke, came to the Tulsa Coliseum in 1939, Young had the confidence to go to the event and issue a challenge to the “Queen of the Mat.” Burke wasn’t just a national star — she was a powerhouse with bowling ball biceps and legs like a T-Rex. But Billy Wolfe, Burke’s husband, manager and the all-powerful impresario of female wrestling at the time, was unwilling to put his star up against this cocksure unknown. So he sent the top baddie in his stable after her — Gladys “Kill ’Em” Gillem.
“Kill ’Em” earned her nickname the hard way, but, as Mae tells it, Gillem went down within seconds.
With that, Young was immediately welcomed into Wolfe’s dysfunctional family of lady wrestlers. Leaving behind Sand Springs, Mae set about traversing the country by car, driving endless miles across faulty local roads in the days before GPS and interstate highways. Although she was only a teenager at the time, Young quickly became the troupe's big villain — easily surpassing “Kill ’Em” Gillem — and began battling Burke over the Women’s World Championship in front of thousands of fans across the country.
Young never won that title — not once in her career did she hold a major championship — but she didn’t need it. Ten pounds of title gold wouldn’t have enhanced Mae’s reputation as a woman who, as Freddie Blassie once put it, “could whip 60 percent of the men in the wrestling business in her prime.” Instead of allowing a title to define her, Young defined herself in the saloons where she swore and played poker and in the ring where she had taken to calling herself “The Great” Mae Young.
Sometimes sporting an audacious crown on her way down the aisle, the Okie embraced her role as a villain and savored making life very difficult for goody two shoes opponents like Ann LaVerne and June Byers. Years later, she would say how much she enjoyed it when audiences chucked eggs and rotten vegetables at her, how she loved to hear them boo.
Mae was wrestling in Memphis, Tenn., on Dec. 7, 1941, the day Pearl Harbor was bombed and the United States entered World War II. With many of the top male wrestlers now enlisted, women — along with, believe it or not, bears and midgets — became the top sports-entertainment attractions in the country and Young was at the forefront of the movement.
Alongside Mildred Burke, Young became the first female to wrestle professionally in Canada when she went up to Calgary, Alberta, to compete for WWE Hall of Famer Stu Hart. She also blazed into major cities like New York and Chicago where women’s wrestling had formerly been banned in the name of public decency.
The story of Young and company barnstorming wartime America with their traveling women’s wrestling show is an appealing one. You can almost picture Jennifer Lawrence playing cute in the lead role as a scrappy, but determined woman intent on proving that the gals could do it just as well as the fellas. But there was an underlying ugliness to all this manifest destiny.
For one, female wrestling was still viewed as more of a sideshow attraction than a legitimate display of athleticism by the general public. And Billy Wolfe, the mastermind behind the whole roadside circus, was fiendishly manipulative. The slick-haired huckster played the women against one another while keeping the bulk of the earnings for himself. When his oily behavior finally severed his relationship with Burke, the two began to vie for dominance over women’s wrestling behind the scenes. Through it all, Young just kept on swinging.
Mae Young found her partner in crime in the late 1940s when she began training a naïve hopeful from Tookiedoo, S.C., named Lillian Ellison. Mae gave the Southern belle an impolite introduction to the tough world of women’s wrestling, but Ellison caught on to the game better than anyone else. Soon, Lillian would change her name to The Fabulous Moolah and become the undefeated Women’s Champion for 29 years, the top promoter of female wrestlers and Young’s lifelong friend.
In the years before Moolah's 2007 passing, the pair lived on separate floors of Moolah’s estate in Columbia, S.C., along with a midget wrestler named Diamond Lil in a setup that would have made for history's most watchable reality show had anyone had the foresight to film it.
As women’s wrestling faded into kitsch during those postwar decades, Young seemed poised to carry out her days in this domestic obscurity. Sure, she trained a few decent wrestlers alongside Moolah, but who knew about her pivotal role in bringing female grappling to Japan less than a decade after the U.S. dropped the bomb? Who wrote about the unique revolution she spurred alongside Gladys “Kill ‘’Em” Gillem and Mildred Burke in America? How many sports-entertainment fans even knew the name Mae Young?
That changed in 1999 when Mae and Moolah reemerged in WWE as septuagenarians in smart slacks and lovely sweaters and raised hell. While most folks their age were lining up for an early dinner at the Golden Corral, the old friends were getting powerbombed through tables and shellacked by guitars.
It’s natural to think a mockery was being made of the great ladies wrestlers, but reinvention is the key to survival in sports-entertainment. As relics of a black-and-white era, the pair would have been politely applauded by raucous “Attitude Era” fans. But when they embraced the age as lewd, aggressive seniors, they became two of the most unexpected heroes of WWE’s biggest boom period, WWE Hall of Famers and the subjects of a wonderful 2004 documentary, “Lipstick and Dynamite,” that finally brought their careers to light.
Anyway, whoever mistook Young for a matronly grandmother should watch her 2005 appearance on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” During the course of a brief, eight-minute interview, the incorrigible Mae continually taunts the host by saying, “You wanna wrestle dirty with me?” before finally slapping him in the face with her bra pad. Yes, the Mae Young who mothered a dismembered hand and played tonsil hockey with Eric Bischoff is the Mae Young you know. But she may also very well be Mae Young.
“When it comes to who was the toughest woman, there are no debates,” WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross wrote in a 2008 column. “Johnnie Mae Young is universally considered to be the baddest of the bad when it comes to women's wrestling.”
Young passed away on Jan. 14, 2014, at the age of 90. The sports-entertainment world mourned the loss of the last of an old guard, but took comfort in the knowledge that Mae left when she was ready. No one on Heaven or Earth would have had the guts to make her do otherwise.
Credited to WWE.com
Twitter from many wrestlers about Mae Young
Vince McMahon @VinceMcMahon
Thanks for the memories Mae. We loved you. 11:43 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- Stephanie McMahon @StephMcMahon
#RIPTheOneandOnlyGreatMaeYoung A true pioneer and legend has passed tonight. Long live the memory of my friend and @WWE Hall of Famer. 10:36 PM - 14 Jan 2014 ---- Triple H @TripleH
#RIPTheOneandOnlyGreatMaeYoung Thank you for your example to my girls on how to get all you want out of life! #pioneer #legend #whatarun 11:55 PM - 14 Jan 2014 ---- Howard Finkel @howardfinkel
RIP Mae Young. She was an absolute pleasure to have known, and truly was one of a kind. My sincere condolences go out to her family/friends. 8:01 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- Dwayne Johnson @TheRock
She's a wrestling pioneer. I truly had deep affection & respect for "Aunty Mae" Young. RIP. #IMissUMae 12:38 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- Nattie @NatbyNature
“@TysonsKidd: @NatbyNature Love this picture of you and Mae! She will be missed! #RIPMaeYoung" couldn't agree more 11:53 PM - 14 Jan 2014 ---- Nattie @NatbyNature
I'll always remember Mae Young. We shared wonderful memories of my grandfather. She made me want to fight. There was no one like her. 11:25 PM - 14 Jan 2014 ---- Tyson Kidd @KiddWWE
Damn. What a life and what a career. Never forgotten and touched every generation #RIPMaeYoung 12:59 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- William Regal @RealKingRegal
Very sorry to hear of the passing of Mae Young.A truly tough and lovely lady. 7:53 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- Titus O'Neil @TitusONeilWWE
Very sad 2Hear of the passing of @WWE Hall of Fame Diva Mae Young. One of the Greatest Women I've ever met. Funny,Sassy&Witty #RIPMaeYoung ---- Lilian Garcia @LilianGarcia
I am heartbroken by the news of Mae Young's passing. She was always such a joy. My thoughts are with her family and friends. #ThankYouMae ---- Jim Ross @JRsBBQ
The legendary Johnnie Mae Young has passed. The Oklahoman lead an amazing life. Her mental/physical toughness is an inspiration to all. RIP ---- Zack Ryder @ZackRyder
RIP Mae Young. You will be missed. 12:46 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- Curt Hawkins @TheCurtHawkins
RIP Mae Young 12:50 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- John Layfield @JCLayfield
RIP Mae Young! What a tough incredible woman. Enjoyed being her friend and knowing one of original divas. She's now reunited with Moolah. 8:14 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- TheMarkHenry @TheMarkHenry
Lots of people are calling Mae a diva. She was a WRESTLER an a damn good one. Wow I'm still in shock, what a kick in the stones. 11:20 AM - 15 Jan 2014 from Travis Southwest, TX, United States ---- Ricardo Rodriguez @RRWWE
#ThankYouMae you made mine and Tai's Miami Hall of Fame evening a fun one! Thank you for the laughs and the company. 11:11 PM - 14 Jan 2014 ---- Dusty Rhodes @WWEDustyRhodes
I love you Mae , my you now be with God . 8:28 AM - 15 Jan 2014 ---- Ezekiel Jackson @zekewwe #Rip #MaeYoung
if I was as tough as #Maeyoung, I'd be a monster...
my condolences to her family...
---- Road Warrior Animal @TherealRWAnimal 6h Sad day today with Mae Young's passing. She was a revolutionary and extraordinary woman and no one will ever replace her.
---- Rowdy Roddy Piper @R_Roddy_Piper 7h May Young was a wonderful lady! When I started in the business May teased me a lot. Love you May! rip
---- Chavo Guerrero jr. @mexwarrior 7h Very sad to hear of Mae Young's passing. She was a pioneer of wrestling & I was told by my family, she could beat most men. #godspeed
---- Jeff Jarrett @RealJeffJarrett 7h RIP Mae Young ...
---- Joey Styles @JoeyStyles 8h @WWE Hall Of Famer Mae Young passes away at 90
---- Howard Finkel @howardfinkel 9h In memory of Johnnie Mae Young
---- Armando Estrada @RealArmandoHaHa 9h 5 yrs ago, fondest #MaeYoung memory was during rehearsals @Raw. As Vince entered the ring, she kicked ropes & got him in grapefruits. #haha
---- Tommy Dreamer @THETOMMYDREAMER 9h Pretty crazy reading everyone's tweets about fog as far down South Carolina to Maine wonder if it is Mae Young toughness taking over Heaven
---- Bruce Prichard @bruceprichard 10h RIP Johnnie Mae Young. Incredible woman. Incredible life. There will never be another like her. She will be missed.
---- Chris Jericho @IAmJericho 11h #RIPMaeYoung Great lady, up for anything-like gettin powerbombd or catchin me spying on her in the shower! #longstory
---- Marc Harris WWE @WWE_Ref_MarcH 12h To the great & amazing Mae Young, you left a legacy for, both male & female, that will use your ethics & hard work for years to come. RIP
---- Good Brother Mercury @WWEMercury 11h Mae Young was a sweetheart & pioneer......... & could STILL whip your ass.
---- Eugene Nick Dinsmore @UGeneDinsmore 11h I met Mae Young in 2004 and had the honor of working with her @Wrestlemania 23 in Detroit. Eugene misses you
---- Brandi Runnels @TheBrandiRhodes 11h #RIPMaeYoung You left us all inspired!
---- WWE Universe @WWEUniverse 16h More #MaeMoments: Mae & @TheRock share a moment at Rock's Birthday bash in 2011: #ThankYouMae
---- WWE Universe @WWEUniverse 16h More #MaeMoments: Mae Young 90th Birthday on #OldSchoolRAW in 2013 ... until @CMPunk & @HeymanHustle crash the party
---- WWE Universe @WWEUniverse 17h See Mae Young's last victory in @WWE, from #OldSchoolRAW in 2010 vs. #LayCool.
---- Smith Hart @SmithHart1 17h God Bless you Mae. I love you and I will miss you. You were the real Queen of Wrestling. RIP
---- KALISTO @KalistoWWE 17h R.I.P Mae young....
---- WWE Universe @WWEUniverse 17h For more #MaeMoments, check out @WWE's Tribute to Johnnie Mae Young
---- WWE Universe @WWEUniverse 17h Our favorite #MaeMoment: #RAW1000, her "son" all grown up! Share your favorites w/ tag #MaeMoment! #ThankYouMae
---- Hacksaw! @HacksawJDuggan 17h Mae Young. One of the greats.
---- TheMarkHenry @TheMarkHenry 17h Johnnie Mae as I knew her was part of my wrestling family. She will be missed as much a anyone I've ever known!
---- Lilian Garcia @LilianGarcia 17h I am heartbroken by the news of Mae Young's passing. She was always such a joy. My thoughts are with her family and friends. #ThankYouMae
---- Zack Ryder @ZackRyder 17h RIP Mae Young. You will be missed.
---- Brian Hebner @babyhebner 17h See Mae Young? You were trending when trending was cool!! And didn't need promoted! #alwayship RIP #123
---- Tommy Dreamer @THETOMMYDREAMER 17h Heaven just got tougher @WWE There's been only one Mae Young, and there will be only one ever!" - Pat Patterson
---- Melina @RealMelina 17h It kills me to hear news of people passing. I am thankful to have been a fan, witnessed their talents and worked... http://fb.me/3AasPkoWC
---- Brian Hebner @babyhebner 17h I just hope that one day,I'm not only living my dream, but dreaming BIGGER just like Mae Young did! Mad respect and love for this women #123
---- Brian Hebner @babyhebner 17h I'll have to say, what many of us leave on the table. Mae Young never did! Such a inventor and a example of wrestling! #whataride RIP! #123
---- Lisa Marie Varon @REALLiSAMARiE 18h Mae Young will be remembered as a trailblazer who lived life to the fullest, on her own terms. Rest In Peace...
---- WWE @WWE 18h "There's been only one Mae Young, and there will be only one ever!" - Pat Patterson
---- MVP @The305MVP 18h Every time I saw Mae Young, EVERY TIME, she would greet me with a BIG smile & hug & then say "Now what was your name again?" & laugh! RIP
---- WWE @WWE 18h Forever Young: The Life and Times of @WWE Hall of Famer Johnnie Mae Young
---- SGT SLAUGHTER @_SgtSlaughter 18h RIP Mae Young. I will miss you. I guess heaven needed another angel.
---- WWE Universe @WWEUniverse 18h Forever a champion ... #ThankYouMae!
---- Thea Trinidad @TheaTrinidadTMT 18h Very sad to hear about Mae Young's passing. I had the honor of meeting her last year..she was so sweet & such a beautiful spirit. #RIP
---- Gail Kim @gailkimITSME 18h RIP Mae Young. Thanks for all the memories and paving the way
---- Tommy Dreamer @THETOMMYDREAMER 18h Only Mae Young could fight off the Grim Reaper & give us all so many false finishes like she did this week. Thanks for being you RIP
---- Nattie @NatbyNature 18h Forever Young #RIPMaeYoung
---- Missy Hyatt @missyhyatt 18h RIP Mae Young. Glad she never kicked my butt. You got 2 love Mae 4 taking bumps in her 80's that most people would never take.Total Legend
---- WWE @WWE 18h WWE is saddened to learn of the passing of @WWE Hall of Famer Johnnie Mae Young.
---- Brian Heffron @TheeBlueMeanie 18h Rest in Peace Mae Young!!!
---- Byron Saxton @ByronSaxton 18h Met Mae Young several years ago and it will always be a moment I cherish. Rest in Peace Mae...Thank You for all you've done.
---- Lance Storm @LanceStorm 18h RIP Mae Young, an honour and privilege to have known you.
---- Todd Grisham @GrishamESPN 18h Rest in Peace Mae Young. One of the greatest female wrestlers ever. She was always very nice to me and was forever smiling.
---- Mickie James @MickieJames 18h A fighter until the very end! Forever in our hearts,memories, & fighting spirit! A true HOF legend!💋💖💋 #RIPMaeYoung
---- Stro @thestro 19h RIP Mae Young. Legend and Inspiration. Love and respect always.
---- WWE NXT @WWENXT 19h #ThankyouMae
---- Gbrisco @Fgbrisco 19h RIP Mae Young a true hero to so many may you rest in peace my friend
---- Elijah Burke @DaBlackPope 19h Just heard the sad news about Mae Young. My first meeting w/her & Fabulous Moolah was a True Experience. Now Theyre together again.~PHS #RIP
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