Grappling with Tragedy is a series of articles that deal with unfortunate, tragic incidents that have occurred throughout the history of professional wrestling. It is unlike the ‘Wrestling with Sin’ series that deals more with the seedier side of wrestling like arrests, murders and suicides. Grappling looks more at particular tragic incidents that have in some instances altered pro wrestling in some way.
The Junkyard Dog
Sylvester Ritter aka ‘The Junkyard Dog’ is probably remembered by most fans for his stint with the World Wrestling Federation during the entire Rock N Wrestling era. The truth is, while his time in the WWF perhaps gave him the most national exposure…it was his time in the Mid South territory where JYD was the bigger star. The Junkyard Dog was in fact a superstar in the territory, putting thousands upon thousands of fans into the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Before Hulkamania took off to national prominence, JYD was arguably pro wrestling’s hottest star. His career in Mid South was covered here. The Dog had an above average career in the WWF that included doing commercials, singing on records and co starring on a Saturday morning cartoon show. All of that was great, but JYD battled some drug issues during that period of time and was eventually fired for it.
The Junkyard Dog would join WCW and after an unmemorable run there, wrestled for ECW and various indie groups. By the mid 1990’s, Sylvester Ritter found it impossible to find a promotion willing to take him on full time. Ritter focused on working for his family’s Repo business where he repossessed people’s vehicles.
In June of 1998, Ritter wanted to surprise his daughter LaToya by driving to witness her high school graduation. Unfortunately, he arrived late and missed the ceremony. His daughter had already left and went to the beach with her friends. On June 1st, Ritter began his journey home to North Carolina…when he was involved in a single car crash in Mississippi. Ritter’s vehicle flipped three times, killing him instantly. Sylvester ‘Junkyard Dog’ Ritter was just 45 years old at the time of his death.
Sylvester Ritter ended up dying penniless and was reportedly buried in a T shirt. Dave Meltzer reported that only one wrestler showed up to JYD’s funeral….his good friend Buddy Landel. The Funk family sent flowers.
Unfortunately, the Ritter family was not through with sudden tragedy. On October 19, 2011, JYD’s daughter Latoya was on the phone with a friend when she suddenly collapsed and died. The cause of her death was never disclosed. Latoya Akisha Ritter was just 31 years old.