Sylvester Ritter, fondly remembered by fans as Junkyard Dog, was one of the most beloved wrestlers of the 1980s. Known for his canine antics, including but not limited to biting, barking, and crawling on all fours, JYD’s charisma appealed to fans of all ages. Making a habit of wearing a dog collar and chain to the ring, the Dog thumped his way into the hearts of millions.
Ritter’s success began in Mid-South Wrestling, where he first debuted the Junkyard Dog name and character. There, he engaged in famous feuds with Ted DiBiase, King Kong Bundy, and others. He also took part in a controversial angle with the Fabulous Freebirds, during which he was “blinded” by the tag team. As a result, JYD was unable to see his newborn daughter, a storyline device so strongly received that the Freebirds necessitated police escorts in and out of arenas to protect them from irate fans.
In 1984, Junkyard Dog departed Mid-South for the greener grasses of Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation. As part of the growing WWF, JYD was a massive fan favorite and garnered immense popularity with younger audiences. He feuded with the likes of King Harley Race, Adrian Adonis, and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, who he defeated at WrestleMania 1.
When his tenure with the WWF expired in 1988, Junkyard Dog had a short stint in WCW, where he feuded with Ric Flair. He continued to wrestle on the independent circuit for the next decade, performing up until the time of his death. On June 2, 1998, Sylvester Ritter fell asleep behind the wheel of his car while traveling home from his daughter’s high school graduation, resulting in a fatal accident. He was 45 years old. Junkyard Dog was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame as part of the 2004 class.