Word spread in the early hours of Dec. 5, 2018 – on Thomas “Dynamite Kid” Billington’s 60th birthday – that the legendary & influential pro wrestler had died.
WWE, where Billington worked during the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling boom of the mid-1980s as half of the British Bulldogs tag team with his cousin Davey Boy Smith, confirmed the news, as have several members of his wrestling family on social media. No specific cause of death has been reported, but Billington was in poor health for years, mostly as a result of his career and the steroids & other drugs he used during the course of it.
That career is considered by many to be among the most influential in wrestling history. Judging wrestlers by terms like “workrate” wasn’t prevalent before Billington (and others) began impressing audiences with mixed of technical moves & aerial assaults delivered at a fast, aggressive pace. His series of matches with Tiger Mask in Japan shortly before joining the then-WWF are still influential to independent wrestlers and workers in divisions with names like “cruiserweight” & “junior heavyweight” to this day.
His relatively short stint in Vince McMahon’s fed was highlighted by feuds with the Hart Foundation and a WrestleMania II tag title win over Brutus Beefcake & Greg Valentine. Before leaving and returning to finish his career in Canada and Japan, Billington also built a reputation as a stiff worker who could both legitimately injure opponents in the ring and would get into shoot fights with them backstage.
The personal demons which fueled that reputation also led to a great deal of behind-the-scenes & real life drama with Bret Hart and others. Some of the issues stemmed from his 1999 autobiography Pure Dynamite, which largely steered clear of his private life but did cover business relationships, especially those formed during his time training in Stu Hart’s Dungeon and working out of Calgary with Stampede Wrestling.
Billington’s health problems were evident even before he retired from wrestling. Reports of his final match in Japan in 1996 mentioned that his lower body was withered and he had issues lifting others for spots. He reportedly was hospitalized for a seizure he suffered after the match. A year later he lost the use of his left leg and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his days. Issues continued and he retreated almost completely from the public eye, although he and his second wife launched a GoFundMe in 2016, asking for assistance with paying his medical bills.
The Dynamite Kid is survived by his wife Dot, and his children from his first marriage – daughters Browyne & Amaris and son Marek.
You can read WWE’s obituary here.