Del Wilkes, WWE's The Patriot and College Football Star, Dead at 59

Del Wilkes, a former WWE Superstar who was known as The Patriot and standout football player at the University of South Carolina, died on Thursday, according to Mike Mooneyham of The Post and Courier. He was 59 years old. Mooneyham revealed that Wilkes died of a massive heart attack.

"WWE is saddened to learn that Del Wilkes, known to WWE fans as The Patriot, has passed away at the age of 59," WWE said in a statement. "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."

Wilkes made his WWE debut in 1997 and started his feud with Hart. However, he started his pro wrestling career in 1988 and spent time in WCW, AWA and promotions in Japan. His time in WWE didn't last long as he was released from the company in 1998. Shortly after that, Wilkes retired from pro wrestling due to a triceps injury. For the last 16 years, Wilkes worked as a car salesman in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Del Wilkes would become a name that those in college football knew quite well. He would make his name familiar in the world of pro wrestling as well. However, regardless of the accolades or fame he may have achieved, to me, he was best known as a friend. Del overcame his struggles in this life and became an inspiration to many. Our loss is Heaven’s gain,” Andy McDaniel said who is a pastor and hosted a podcast with Wilkes.

Wilkes was an offensive lineman at South Carolina. He was only one of four consensus All-Americans at the school, with the others being George Rogers, Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney. Mooneyham says Wilkes is not in the University South Carolina athletics Hall of Fame because of the run-ins he had with the law. Wilkes was arrested 20 times in and around Columbia from 1998 to 2007 and spent nine months in prison in 2002-2003 due to charges of fraudulently obtaining prescription painkillers.