Though the actual cause of Road Warrior Hawk’s death on Sunday is still unknown, the fact is that his friends and colleagues are feeling a deep sense of loss.

A wire service reported that during a tour of Australia in 2001, Hawk (Mike Hegstrand) found out the ventricle wall of his heart was so stretched out that it had half its normal thickness. The condition, doctors told him at the time, was life-threatening.

The Road Warriors: Hawk and Animal.

Perhaps his heart was stretched from giving of himself so much.

“Hawk and I always got along real good. He was a sweetheart, just like Animal, his partner,” said long-time opponent Ivan Koloff.

“I never had a better friend. I did a lot of tours with him both domestically and overseas,” said Fred Ottman, a.k.a. Tugboat and Typhoon. “He always had a great sense of humor and a lot of love in his heart. He took care of the people around him and was a genuine person.”

Tom Pritchard echoed their sentiments on “Hawk and I laughed and shared stories on many occasions. He was wild, crazy and, at times, completely outrageous. And he had a heart of gold and was one of the nicest guys in this business.”

On the official Road Warriors web site at a statement on the home page read: “Hawk of the infamous “Road Warriors/LOD” passed away over the weekend at age 46. He was one half of the greatest tag teams ever and one of the most charismatic and outrageous wrestlers to ever step in the squared circle. Road Warriors Inc would like to send out our sincere condolences to his family, friends and his wrestling partner ‘Animal’ of 21 years. You will be missed but not forgotten!”

Back in 1983, ‘Moondog’ Ed Moretti was the first man to step into the ring against Hegstrand in a match in Abbotsford, British Columbia for the All-Star Wrestling promotion. Hegstrand and fellow Eddie Sharkey trainee Rick Rood (later Rick Rude) drove from Minneapolis to B.C. for their debuts. Hegstrand worked as Crusher von Haig

“After our match in Abbotsford, every time I was lucky enough to run into Hawk he was always very humble and remembered our match,” Moretti told SLAM! Wrestling. “He remembers blowing up real bad and me calming him down and getting him through it. He did puke afterwards, and I told him the nervousness would go away soon enough. Years later, when I saw him again after he had much success as one-half of the Road Warriors, I told him ‘Jeez Mike, look where I still am and where you are, now. Why I remember this Crusher Haig guy blowing up and throwing up…’ We’d always have a good laugh about it.”

After his first match, promoter Al Tomko had Hegstrand shave his head to be a more menacing German heel. He and Rood lasted three matches in B.C. before heading home.

The big break for the Road Warriors team came in the AWA, which had a great television deal. “They came out of nowhere,” Verne Gagne told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. “They weren’t polished wrestlers. They pounded on guys more than they did any scientific wrestling.”

Ivan Koloff was one of those who took the pounding, often night after night around the ever-growing Mid-Atlantic / NWA territory run by Jim Crockett Jr. “I felt like I was a football. They’d pick me up and powerslam me, and just throw me because they were so strong,” said Koloff. “It was all types of matches, from chain matches to regular matches, to cage matches, and not just in one city back then…”

Koloff recognizes that the Road Warriors were certainly about more than just playing football with opponents. “As wrestlers, they were always aggressive, always business-oriented as far as drawing money and doing the right thing as far as in the ring. You had to respect them. They were in great shape, and looked the part. Hawk was more the spokesperson as far as interviews, because he did such a great interview. Both of them were a compliment to each other and the business. That was proven by their record, all the titles they held, main events that they were in. Me and Nikita and Krusher Krushchev had many, many matches against them. Nothing but fond memories.”

Ottman agreed that the Road Warriors had a huge impact on pro wrestling. “[Hawk] was a tremendous guy. A good friend, an awesome wrestler and an asset to this business. He and Animal opened doors for other big guys. They did things and had a look that changed wrestling.”

Over the past few months, Hawk and Animal had been a part of Ted DiBiase’s Power Wrestling Alliance, which mixed wrestling and religion. The Warriors were a part of an October 3 show in Oshawa, Ontario.

Ivan Koloff was pleased that his old friend had gotten involved with DiBiase and had turned his life around. They last saw each other at one of the crusade events. “It was good to see him again. He shared with me that he had been through a lot, with the drugs and alcohol, accidents and all that stuff,” said Koloff. “I’m just real blessed each day that I don’t end up in the same situation because of all the junk we did in our lives. I’m just glad to know that Hawk had had his interdiction with God… man, that’s a relief to know that.”

The funeral for Road Warrior Hawk will be Tuesday, October 28th at 2 p.m. at Seminole United Methodist Church, 5400 Seminole Boulevard, in Seminole, Florida. The service will be open to the public. Another service will follow in Minnesota.

— with files from Jason Clevett, wire services