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“I have so many memories of Dickie,” said former pro wrestler Gerald Brisco, who wrestled with and against Slater and is currently a WWE talent scout. “I loved him and we laughed about the many stories we shared through the years.”
One of seven children, Richard Van Slater was born in Albany, New York, on May 19, 1951. He lived in Ravena, New York, before moving to Tampa, Florida, with his mother and stepfather when he was 9.
Slater began wrestling as an amateur with his Robinson High School classmate and future pro wrestling friend -- and foe -- Mike Graham. He attended the University of Tampa, where he was a teammate of another future wrestling star, Paul Orndorff.
Slater wrestled in the National Wrestling Alliance during the 1970s and was a familiar face on the Florida promotion’s weekly television show, “Championship Wrestling From Florida.”
Slater was known for his rough-and-tumble tactics and was involved in several wrestling feuds when he performed in Florida. The match results could be unpredictable, too. After interfering in a 1974 match at Miami Marine Stadium, Slater was tossed into Biscayne Bay by Dusty Rhodes, according to The Miami News.
Slater’s career accelerated when he became a fixture in the Georgia Championship Wrestling promotion. Wrestling mostly as a “heel,” or villain, Slater’s unorthodox, brawling style made him a box office star.
Slater also wrestled for World Championship Wrestling and traveled to Japan. He wrestled for WWE in 1986-87.
"Slater was a prolific competitor during the 1970s and 1980s in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Mid-South Wrestling and Mid-Atlantic Wrestling, where he teamed with WWE Hall of Famer Bob Orton and had a memorable rivalry with WWE Hall of Famer Jake 'The Snake' Roberts," WWE said in its statement. "WWE extends its condolences to Slater's family, friends and fans."
Despite his gruff exterior, Slater could be a prankster in the locker room, Brisco said.
One incident in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the mid-1980s was typical.
“On our way to the arena, Dick saw a fireworks stand where you could buy big cherry bombs,” Brisco said. “Jack (Brisco’s brother) and I were heels at the time so we were in the same dressing room.
“Dick got his fireworks out and one was a whirlybird bomb. He lights it and it goes up and I’m next to Dick. When it comes down it went right into my right cheek and sets my new jeans on fire,” Brisco said. “I’m on fire, my pants are on fire. And I still have the burn mark.
“We all laugh but I have no pants and my cheek is burned. But Dick went out and bought me some new Levi’s. He thought it was great. I didn’t.”
Slater's life outside the ring could also be volatile, as he had several brushes with the law. His most serious offense occurred on Dec. 27, 2003, when he was charged with attempted murder for stabbing his ex-girlfriend, Theresa Marie Halbert, three times with an 8-inch butcher knife, the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2003.
After pleading no contest, Slater was sentenced in June 2004 to a year of house arrest followed by two years of probation, the newspaper reported.
In a 1987 lawsuit, Slater was accused of aggravated battery for allegedly body-slamming Bruce Siira and breaking his knee outside a bar in Lantana, Florida.
In 2012, Slater collaborated with Linton Herbert on his autobiography, "1,000 Lives: Autobiography of Richard Van 'Dirty Dick' Slater."
“I’ve lived a thousand lives,” Slater wrote. “Most men can’t say that, but I can because I have lived a thousand lives.”