Hossein Vaziri, an Iranian-born grappler who played the America-hating Iron Sheik in televised wrestling matches of the 1970s and 1980s, emerging as one of the most popular villains in the show business sport, died June 7 at his home in Fayetteville, Ga.

He was 80, according to biographer Keith Elliot Greenberg. Page Magen, a close family friend, confirmed his death. The cause was not immediately available.

A onetime bodyguard for the shah of Iran, Mr. Vaziri became an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team, accompanying the American athletes to the 1972 Games in Munich and the 1976 Games in Montreal. As a young man, he had won gold and silver medals in the Association of American Universities’ Greco-Roman National Championships.

But he found his niche in entertainment-style wrestling as the ultimate heel, with his pointy mustache, shaved head, kaffiyeh and curled-toe boots. The “Great Hossein Arab” (pronounced AY-rab) — his character name in the late 1970s — took off at a moment when Middle Eastern strife was increasingly affecting U.S. affairs, with the Arab oil embargo, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis.

Eventually settling on the name the Iron Sheik, Mr. Vaziri barked insults in broken English, swung Persian clubs and played to Middle Eastern stereotypes. At the peak of his fame, he partnered with Nikolai Volkoff (the Russified ring name of Croatian-born Josip Peruzovic). Mr. Vaziri, playing off Volkoff’s Soviet-nationalist shtick, riled wrestling fans, especially when they won the tag-team title at WrestleMania I in 1985.

“Russia number one! Iran number one!” the Sheik would scream after Volkoff sang the Soviet national anthem as the crowd booed and threw garbage. The Sheik would spit at the mention of “USA.”

“He embraced being a heel,” wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson said in “The Sheik,” a 2014 documentary film about Mr. Vaziri. “It takes a certain kind of DNA and a certain kind of guy to embrace being a bad guy, to embrace the fact that you’re gonna go out there, you’re gonna get hated, you’re gonna get booed.”

Mr. Vaziri’s Iron Sheik was a central character in the growth of Vince McMahon Jr.’s World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) empire. His battles with Bob Backlund, a future WWE Hall of Famer, culminated in the sheik’s heavyweight championship in 1983. Shortly after, Mr. Vaziri faced McMahon’s handpicked star, who was to be the all-American face of the what then was the World Wrestling Federation: Hulk Hogan.

On Jan. 23, 1984, at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, Hogan, wearing a shirt that boasted “American Made,” escaped the sheik’s signature back-bending chin-hold — the “camel clutch.” Hogan pinned him, and the “Hulkamania” era began.

“The Iron Sheik graciously passed the torch to me,” Hogan said in “The Sheik.” “Because once the Iron Sheik put me over, the Hulkamania thing was unstoppable.”

Mr. Vaziri indulged many other in-the-ring feuds, most notably with Sgt. Slaughter (the nom de grapple of Army-fatigue-wearing wrestler Robert Remus). McMahon briefly kicked Mr. Vaziri out for drug use and for breaking character: In 1987, New Jersey state troopers arrested him and a wrestling rival, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, after stopping them on the Garden State Parkway and finding cocaine and marijuana in the car.

The wrestlers, who were en route to a match, were soon released and made it to the event on time. The incident helped lift the veil on what was still, at that time, wrestling’s secret — that ring feuds were largely invented for entertainment purposes. McMahon was reportedly furious about the arrest and the damage it did to his business model.

After bouncing around independent circuits, Mr. Vaziri returned to the ring. He adopted the name Colonel Mustafa during the 1991 Persian Gulf War and teamed with Sgt. Slaughter, who portrayed an American turncoat. The gimmick didn’t last beyond the war, and Mr. Vaziri soon went back to the independent circuit while continuing to appear at special events into the 2010s.

Hossein Khosrow Vaziri, whose father was a pistachio farmer and part-time wrestler, was born near Tehran on Sept. 9, 1942.

He became obsessed with wrestling after watching the success of Iranian-born Olympic gold medalist Gholamreza Takhti. After army service, Mr. Vaziri became a technician for state television and served as a bodyguard for Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Takhti’s mysterious death in 1968 — officially ruled a suicide but rumored to have happened at the hands of the shah’s secret police because of the wrestler’s anti-regime activism — spurred Mr. Vaziri to settle in the United States.

“He was so popular in Iran,” Mr. Vaziri told Yahoo Sports. “He was like the Michael Jordan. Everyone loved him. And I was No. 2. I thought, if they got him, they’re probably going to get me, too. I knew I had to leave.”

He eventually joined up with promoter Verne Gagne’s Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association. Mr. Vaziri’s early duties included assembling and packing up the ring, driving the truck to the next venue and refereeing the matches.

Mr. Vaziri married Caryl Peterson in 1976 and had three daughters, all of whom he trained in Greco-Roman wrestling. In 2003, his eldest daughter, Marissa, was strangled, and her boyfriend, Charles Warren Reynolds, went to prison for her murder.

Survivors include his wife, his daughters Tanya and Nikki, and five grandchildren.

Mr. Vaziri suffered from health issues related to his years of wrestling. He signed autographs and borrowed money to subsidize his continuing drug habit, according to interviews he gave in “The Sheik.”

A popular guest on Howard Stern’s radio show, Mr. Vaziri’s Iron Sheik was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

“I born in Iran, but I be in Madison Square Garden,” he told the Middle East-focused arts and culture publication Bidoun. “For me, America was good.”

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