Former professional wrestler and University of South Carolina All-American football player Del Wilkes, best known to WWE fans as "The Patriot," has reportedly died at the age of 59.
The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina confirmed Wilkes passed away on Thursday following a massive heart attack.
Wilkes is one of four consensus All-American football players in Gamecocks football history, alongside 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, Melvin Ingram, and Jadeveon Clowney.
Wilkes was an offensive lineman on a South Carolina team that recorded school records for touchdowns (49), points (371), and total offense (5,095 yards) in 1984.
The Columbia, South Carolina native began his wrestling career in 1988 and is best remembered for his second stint in the then-World Wrestling Federation, now WWE, as 'The Patriot,' in 1997.
Wilkes was featured in the main event feud with WWE Hall of Famer and then-WWF Champion Bret Hart, which culminated in a WWF Championship match at In Your House: Ground Zero.
"WWE is saddened to learn that Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has passed away at the age of 59," the company wrote on its official website."
"Before making a name for himself in the squared circle, Wilkes was a standout on the football field for the University of South Carolina, where he earned the distinction of being voted a consensus All-American. After making the switch to sports-entertainment, Wilkes competed all over the world before arriving in WWE in 1997 as The Patriot.
"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 extends its condolences to Wilkes’ family and friends."
Wilkes spent the last 16 years of his life working as a car salesman in his hometown, according to the Post and Courier.
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