Mick McManus, one of the most iconic figures in the history of British wrestling, has died at the age of 93.
McManus' death was announced by his friend and fellow former wrestler Frank Rimer, who said McManus passed away in the early hours of Wednesday morning at his home in Kent.
Rimer described McManus as "a true legend" of his sport, adding: "Mick was a national icon and the biggest wrestling name that the UK has ever had or will ever have again."
Clad in trademark tight black trunks and revelling in his reputation as 'The Man They Love To Hate', the no-nonsense McManus led British wrestling to a period of unprecedented popularity in the 1970s and 1980s.
At the sport's height, millions would tune in to his Saturday lunchtime bouts on ITV's World Of Sport, and McManus claimed to number the likes of Margaret Thatcher, the Beatles and the Duke of Edinburgh as his fans.
McManus's stature did not not dim in retirement, where he played an active role in the annual British Wrestlers' Reunion, a meeting for former wrestlers at a pub run by another former professional, Wayne Bridges in Kent.
Bridges, a heavyweight who once fought the lighter McManus in a handicap match, said: "There was no wrestler bigger than Mick in this country and he put more backsides on seats than anybody else.
"He did a lot of work for charity and the list of celebrities with whom he was friends just goes on and on. He was a one-off. One thing is for sure - there will never be another Mick McManus."
Rimer revealed Lord Richard Attenborough was among McManus's final visitors to his bedside as he struggled to recover from the recent loss of his wife Barbara.
Rimer added: "The mark of his enduring fame is that 30 years after his retirement, Mick McManus remains a household name, and ironically his catchphrase, 'The Man They Love To Hate' became 'The Man They Loved'.
Fellow wrestlers paid tribute via social media, with 'Superstar' Mal Sanders, the first man to beat McManus in a televised match, writing on Facebook: "I have just heard the sad news.
"I wrestled Mick a hundred times or more when I first came into the business and he looked after me every time. The wrestling game never has or never will see his like again. God bless Mick."
During retirement, McManus continued to take every opportunity to rail against those who made the decision to remove wrestling from the ITV schedules in the mid-1980s, hastening the sport's demise.
In an interview for the book 'The Wrestling' by Simon Garfield, McManus recalled: "I was a big star in the sixties and seventies, when it was on the television.
"We used to get regular audiences of six million, and then the idiots who decided what was what on TV said it was too downmarket for them. I find that a bit laughable really."Suggest a correction