Capt. Lou Albano

Captain Lou Albano, the legendary wrestling icon who bridged World Wrestling Entertainment and rock music after starring in Cyndi Lauper's music videos, has died. He was 76.

Albano was "one of the company's most popular and charismatic legends," read a statement on the WWE website. "WWE extends its deepest condolences to the Albano family."

"Today I found out that Capt. Lou had passed away at home with his family beside him. I am sad for his family and I'm just sad. But I know he's at peace now, he had been ill for a while. My heart goes out to his family," Lauper said in a statement. "I love ya Lou and I can picture you up there somewhere explaining that PEG principle to someone. Or maybe you're having a good laugh with Freddie Blassie. But wherever you are, I am sure you are causing a hilarious rucuss. And I will be sad to miss out on that."

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A cause of death has not been disclosed. Earlier Wednesday, the Miami Herald reported that Albano was at home with his family under hospice care and was not suffering from cancer.

Known for his animated personality, Hawaiian shirts, untamed beard usually bound by rubber bands and his motto, "Often imitated, never duplicated," Albano was a staple in the ring for nearly half a century. The Mount Vernon, N.Y., native made his professional wrestling debut in 1953 after a brief stint in the Army. He then paired with Tony Altimore to become the tag team "The Sicilians," winning the World Wide Wrestling Federation — the WWE precursor — United States Tag Team Championship in 1967.

By the 1970s, Albano became a manager — and a villainous one at that when he made it his goal to end Bruno Sammartino's seven-year reign as WWE champion. His protégé, Ivan Koloff, accomplished the mission in 1971. Albano would go on to guide 15 tag teams to WWE championship glory.

Albano achieved new celebrity status and transformed his bad-guy persona in the 1980s when he starred in Lauper's music videos, including "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," in which he played her father. The two also made WWE appearances together. The "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection" catapulted wrestling into mainstream pop culture.

"Capt. Lou and I became famous together. He always made me laugh. He made all of that promotion we did so much fun. He graced me with a lot of video performances that I will always treasure," Lauper added. "He was a great, gregarious, hilarious fellow who had this lovable presence. I was lucky to work by his side. I will always look back on the absolutely hilarious times and the magical world of wrestling he introduced me to and shared for that brief time."

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Albano and Lauper remained close over the years, and the singer wrote the foreword in his 2008 autobiography, Often Imitated, Never Duplicated.

As his fame grew, Albano left the WWE in 1986 and segued into acting. He guest-starred on 227 and Miami Vice, and appeared in Wiseguys and the wrestling film Body Slam. In 1989, he became the voice of Mario on The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!

Albano retired from wrestling in 1995 and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame a year later.