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Professional wrestler Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka died Sunday, shortly after the murder case over the 1983 killing of his mistress was dismissed. He was 73 and had been battling cancer.
Dwayne Johnson, the actor and former wrestler known as “The Rock,” shared the news on behalf of Snuka’s family on Twitter.
Once a legendary villain of the World Wrestling Federation who transformed into a hero character, Snuka used jeering audiences, acrobatic leaps and his famed “Superfly Splash” to rise to stardom during the wrestling craze of the 1980s.
Born James Reiher, Snuka grew up in Hawaii and became a professional wrestler in the 1970s. He made his first WWF appearance in 1982, when the organization was just hitting its stride as a ratings juggernaut.
"Snuka is regarded by many as the pioneer of high-flying offense because of his Superfly Splash from the top turnbuckle," WWE, formerly known as the WWF, said in a statment. "His dive off the top of the steel cage onto Don Muraco at Madison Square Garden as hundreds of flash bulbs went off will forever live as one of the most memorable moments in WWE history."
Only a year after entering the WWF, while taping at the Allentown Fairgrounds, Snuka was embroiled in controversy. A married man, Snuka reported to investigators that he’d found his 23-year-old girlfriend, Nancy Argentino, unconscious in his hotel bed. The official investigation concluded that the death was accidental, but the murder would haunt the rest of Snuka’s wrestling career and life.
Though his popularity did not immediately plummet after the murder, he did develop a drug problem and lost a wrongful death case brought forward by Argentino’s family. He reportedly said he did not have the money to pay the $500,000 civil judgment.
Snuka then bounced around various independent wrestling organizations before returning to the WWF in 1989. He would remain there as a headliner until the mid-1990s.
Snuka was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1996.
In 2013, the Argentino case returned. A local Allentown newspaper investigated the death and found that the death should have been prosecuted as a homicide. The case was reopened and Snuka found his name in the headlines again, but for the wrong reasons.
He was charged with third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Snuka’s second wife said that he was receiving treatment for cancer and had portions of his stomach and lymph nodes removed prior to standing trial. The murder case against him was dropped only two weeks ago, in early January, after the judge learned that Snuka suffered from dementia and terminal cancer and would soon die.