Remembering Bray Wyatt: A Career and Legacy in Professional Wrestling

 Before Bray Wyatt would become a professional wrestler who transformed every match he was a part of into a larger than life spectacle with a blend of Supernatural elements and engaging storytelling. 

Before Bray Wyatt would become a three-time world champion in the WWE. 

Before Bray Wyatt would unexpectedly pass away at the age of just 36 years old following a life-threatening illness. 

At one point in his life, Bray Wyatt held the whole world in his hands as a WWE Superstar. He was the company's best representation of a larger than life character on a roster full of Big Time personalities. Now, whether he was performing as the leader of the Wyatt family or as the fiend, Bray's storytelling abilities and creative impulses were what drove him, so much so that sometimes, it might have gotten in the way of his actual wrestling.


But here's the thing – while no one in the audience cared because, as soon as those lights went down and the arena got quiet, everyone joined the throng of fireflies as Bray slowly made his way towards the ring. And now, that singular experience will never happen again because, in August of 2023, WWE executive Triple H announced that Bray Wyatt had unexpectedly passed away, leaving the entire wrestling community in absolute disbelief. 

Now, what happened to this young man who was still so firmly in the prime of his life? Well, I'll tell you everything I can as we break down the career and celebrate his many accomplishments of the Eater of Worlds, Bray Wyatt. This is an episode of "Gone but Not Forgotten."

Bray Wyatt was born Windom Rotonda on May 23, 1987, in Brooksville, Florida. As a kid, he and his brother Taylor spent a whole bunch of time watching their dad, Mike Rotunda, at work. Now, Mike wasn't a cop or a doctor or even an accountant, although he did play one on TV. He might have dressed up in a shirt and a tie with a briefcase in hand, just like any other dad, but he used that briefcase to beat people up. 

That's because Mike's workplace was a wrestling ring, and he performed under the name of Irwin R. Schyster, otherwise known as former WWE Superstar IRS. While working for the WWE, the '80s, Mike met and married Stephanie Raton, the daughter of WWE Hall of Famer Robert Windham, otherwise known as Blackjack Mulligan, and the sister of pro wrestlers Barry and Kendall Windham. 

Imagine growing up in a family where you were named after your professional wrestler of an uncle, and everywhere you turned, all your role models were grapplers. That was Bray's life, and in a very real sense, joining the industry was his destiny. He once told, "It was surreal growing up with my dad. When I was eight, I really thought that wrestling was all there was in the world. I was living through my father's eyes."

Now, that being said, Bray didn't immediately pursue a career in the sport. As a student at Hernando High School, he won a state wrestling championship as a heavyweight, but it was football he was most passionate about. 

After graduating in 2005, he wound up playing two seasons at the College of Sequoias, a junior college in California, where he earned second-team All-American honors as a sophomore offensive guard. He then moved on to Division I at Troy University in Alabama, but he wound up redshirting in 2007 and spent the following year as a reserve offensive lineman. 

That's when Bray's younger brother, Taylor, entered the wrestling business, so Bray decided to join him. He dropped out of Troy, 27 class hours short of earning his bachelor's degree, and it was a choice he would later call the best he ever made. He told Hernando Today, "Once Taylor decided to go into wrestling, I couldn't resist. It was an extremely tough decision. I wanted to play football, but I really wasn't friendly with the coaching staff. I was tired of playing games with them, so I decided to invest in my future. I couldn't have made a better decision."

With their dad's connections, the two brothers were offered an opportunity to train in Florida Championship Wrestling, which served as WWE's developmental league. Taylor debuted in December of 2008, and Bray debuted the following April of 2009 under the name Alex Rotundo, winning his very first match.

 Eventually, that character would evolve into Duke Rotundo, and he teamed up with his brother to win the FCW Tag Team Championships. But Bray's professional wrestling career was still just getting started. His entire career with the WWE, Bray Wyatt became popular for his unique characters and his theatrical wrestling style, but like most wrestlers, it would take him a little time to catch on with the audience.

Bray's WWE career began properly in 2010 when he joined the cast of the original NXT as Husky Harris, competing in the second season of the series under the mentorship of Cody Rhodes. He showed up on the main roster for the first time as Husky Harris, a member of the NXT-centric stable The Nexus. Somewhat surprisingly, he was quickly taken off TV and sent back to Florida Championship Wrestling in 2011 for more development.

 The Wyatt family would come away victorious in that feud, but ultimately, Bray's career on the roster would experience a number of ups and downs. This might have something to do with the fact that behind the scenes, Bray was fiercely protective of his character and earned a reputation for being difficult to work with. Most creative geniuses are. People have said that about me.

Bray's growth culminated in 2019 when the Wyatt family disbanded, and he reappeared on television in a dual role. First, he debuted the Firefly Fun House, a series of segments that aired on a children's-style program with Bray riffing off a happy and go-lucky Mr. Rogers-like character. But every once in a while, the evil would take over, and the Fiend would appear, complete with a demon-like mask created by horror filmmaker artist Tom Savini and Jason Baker. 

The WWE audience had a love-hate relationship with the Fiend. They adored the theatricality of the character more than ever before, but now, Bray was presented in the ring as an indestructible force of nature that couldn't be defeated, wrestling under obtrusive red lights. That was a bit of a mixed bag from a storytelling perspective, filled with amazing heights and polarizing lows.

 Eventually, Bray went on to win the WWE Universal Championship as the Fiend at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, defeating Seth Rollins. After losing the title in head-scratching fashion to Goldberg a few months later, the Fiend became Universal Champion again at SummerSlam 2020, and he was the last person to hold the title before Roman Reigns claimed the championship in a triple threat match at Payback the following month.

Subtle hints centering around the White Rabbit began popping up on WWE television. Rabid fans quickly deciphered these hints and what they meant. Bray was finally returning to the company. But he didn't come back as the Fiend. Instead, it was the mysterious Uncle Howdy. Whether or not Uncle Howdy was going to be a new persona for Bray or someone he was meant to feud with was never made quite clear. But for those of you who are curious, whenever Howdy would appear next to Bray in

 the ring, while it was his brother Taylor under the mask, Bray slowly revealed more and more about Uncle Howdy. He got caught up in a feud with LA Knight and wound up competing against the up-and-coming megastar in a pitch-black bout at the Royal Rumble in 2023. No one knew it at the time, but this would be Bray's final match. After that feud ended, Bray began a new program with Bobby Lashley but was written off television due to health issues.

Until recently, no one knew what was going on with him, and over the past few months, info slowly leaked out that suggested Bray had been cleared to return to the ring. Even his own father said as recently as a few weeks ago that his son would be back. Barry's doing good. 

Actually, he just did a signing recently, so yeah, he's back up and running and actually doing well. But then came the devastating news, announced by Triple H across social media, that Bray had unexpectedly passed away at only 36 years old. People wanted answers. 

How can an athlete in the prime of his life die so suddenly like this? As it turns out, it all stemmed from health complications that involved COVID-19. Sean Ross Sapp of was the first to report that Bray had been diagnosed with COVID-19 while he was away from television these past few months. 

This battle complicated a pre-existing cardiac condition, and Bray ultimately suffered a heart attack which claimed his life. It's unquestionably a tragic end to what became a magical career, and everyone in the wrestling community, from The Rock to Ric Flair to John Cena, immediately shared their disbelief alongside heartwarming tributes once they learned what had happened.

In his personal life, Bray is survived by his partner, former WWE ring announcer JoJo Offerman, as well as his four children. His 13-year career was filled with everything from praise to confusion, but no one will ever be able to deny the impact Bray Wyatt made on the industry in the relatively short time that he was in it. Few wrestlers will leave a legacy as twisted and as exciting as his from the modern era or even before.