WINTERVILLE, NC (WITN) - Family, friends and fans are mourning the loss of 74-year-old Ivan 'The Russian Bear' Koloff,
Koloff passed away Saturday after a decade-long battle with liver disease.
The former professional wrestler, best known for winning the World Wide Wrestling Federation title by beating Bruno Sammartino in 1971, was known to be a big teddy bear amongst his friends and family.
"We didn't lose Ivan to death, we gained a great big russian bear angel that now, is able to watch over us all," said Chris Sutton, a local fan.
A Winterville resident, Koloff was often seen around town at local restaurants and stores. Sutton says he met Koloff while working at Parker's BBQ and that over the years they became friends.
"He was a man of God and he spent a lot of time working with Children's Miracle Network and he used the career that he had as a wrestler and he used that after retiring from wrestling as a way of service, to serve others," he said.
To some, his death came as a surprise.
Wendy Clark got to known Koloff from her time working in the restaurant industry as well, and says that he was known for being kind to everyone around him.
"I never knew he was sick. When you saw him, you never knew he was sick. He was always smiling," she said.
When Clark found out Koloff was also an ordained minister, she asked him if he would perform her son's marriage ceremony.
"He said, I would not turn it down. He said, that would be great. He said, I'd be glad to do it," Clark said.
Koloff did marry her son, WITN Photograher Brandon Hardison and his wife Christina, in October of 2012.
While the Canadian-born wrestler was best known as the villian 'Russian Bear', he was also admired for his faith and willingness to share it.
Since his retirement in 1994, Koloff spent most of his time traveling across the country for appearances and to share his testimony with church groups.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help his family with funeral expenses. The page has raised about $5,000 so far.
Ivan 'The Russian Bear' Koloff has passed away at the age of 74.
Koloff, a resident of Winterville in Pitt County, was a professional wrestler for over 30 years.
He's best known for winning the World Wide Wrestling Federation title by beating Bruno Sammartino in 1971.
According to a GoFundMe page set up by his daughter, Koloff battled liver disease for a decade.
Koloff was also an ordained minister, and spent much of his retirement from wrestling traveling the country for appearances and to give his testimony to church groups.