Josip Nikolai Peruzovic, a Police Athletic League worker, starred in the WWF as Nikolai Volkoff.
Josip Nikolai Peruzovic, a Police Athletic League worker, starred in the WWF as Nikolai Volkoff. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Nikolai Volkoff, a WWE Hall of Famer and Maryland resident, died at the age of 70 on Sunday morning, the WWE announced.

His wife Lynn Peruzovic confirmed his death to the Associated Press. She said he has had heart problems, and that when she went to give him medicine, he was not responsive.


Born Josip Nikolai Peruzović in 1947 in then-Yugoslavia, Volkoff was one of the most notorious heels during the rise of the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s. He portrayed a Soviet heel, drawing the ire of the fans during the Cold War, and his trademark was demanding the fans' attention and respect and then singing the Soviet anthem before matches.

Retired professional wrestler Nikolai Volkoff turns his energy to helping children

Nikolai Volkoff is 66 now, and his real name is Josip Nikolai Peruzovic. He still casts an imposing shadow and still climbs into the ring from time to time. But he spends many of his days at the Police Athletic League center in Cockeysville, where he has worked as help leader for three years.

Volkoff was most famous for his time teaming with the Iron Shiek in the mid-80s. Both portraying anti-American heels, they would taunt the crowd as they rose through the ranks. Eventually, they would win the WWF tag titles at the first Wrestlemania in 1985.

While his WWF career would continue into the 90s, including a face turn after the fall of the Soviet Union, he would never reach the heights he did in the mid-80s. He left the company in 1995, though would continue to turn up at big events and “Old School” shows, often to encounter a current wrestler and sing the Soviet anthem. He then was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

A Glen Arm resident, Peruzović would become a mainstay in the local wrestling community. He regularly appeared at wrestling and wrestling-related events, and was inducted into the Maryland Championship Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2009. He worked at the Baltimore County Police Athletic League in Cockeysville. After entering semiretirement, Peruzović worked for Baltimore County as a code enforcement inspector and made an unsuccessful run for the House of Delegates in 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.