After 17 years in the business, Jon Huber had just recently become an honest-to-goodness top guy. The wrestler best known for portraying Luke Harper in WWE and Brodie Lee in AEW, a character that seemed poised to give him billing finally equal to his talent, died on Sunday from what his wife said was a “non Covid related lung issue.” He was 41.
Unlike most secrets in professional wrestling, the news of Huber’s hospitalization and worsening condition wasn’t leaked to the public. It came as abruptly as a death at that age could be.
Huber’s run to the top wasn’t straightforward. After years of starring on the indies—most notably in Chikara and Dragon Gate USA—he made the move to WWE in 2012, where he was thrown into the Wyatt Family stable. Then known as Luke Harper, he always had a little bit more in his toolkit than what you’d expect from a henchman to a more important character. At 6-foot-5, Huber was almost always the biggest dude in the ring, but to use a wrestling cliche, he really did move with the quickness of a man half his size. He was a master at facial and physical expressions: Though he didn’t get much promo time on the mic, Huber as Harper always conveyed his character’s cult-driven insanity, which made him an interesting curiosity while trapped in Bray Wyatt’s swampy gimmick.
Once the Wyatt Family broke apart, Huber won one Intercontinental title in late 2014. His reign only lasted 27 days, though the bout in which he lost the belt, a ladder match against Dolph Ziggler at that year’s Tables, Ladders & Chairs pay-per-view, showed that he was a singles star just waiting for a push.
That push never really materialized in the last half-decade of his WWE career. Huber said on the Talk Is Jericho podcast that he kept coming up with gimmick ideas for his character in order to ascend to the next level, but the WWE creative team always shut them down. When AEW came around, Huber was one of the guys that fans most wanted to see jump ship to the new promotion, with the hope that he would be able to finally capitalize on all his potential, even at the advanced age (for a wrestler) of 40.
That’s exactly what happened. AEW allowed Huber to go back to his indie name, Brodie Lee, and debuted him just after the pandemic took hold in the U.S. He was The Exalted One, the long-teased leader of the Dark Order, a stable that resembled a Scientology cult. The reveal of The Exalted One had been one of AEW’s biggest early mysteries, and slotting in Huber as the answer was a sign that AEW would not repeat the same mistakes as WWE in squandering his talent. After his debut, Brodie Lee—also referred to as Mr. Brodie Lee—would stick to vignettes, in which he seemed to be a Vince McMahon parody squashing lesser wrestlers. Eventually he earned a world title shot against Jon Moxley, another former WWE star who finally got a mega push in AEW. Huber would go on to lose that match in May’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view, but it cemented his status as a main-eventer.
It then wasn’t a surprise that Huber squashed Cody Rhodes in August to win the AEW TNT Championship, the company’s secondary belt and rough equivalent to the Intercontinental title he had won with WWE. Finally, after 17 years in wrestling, Huber had a singles belt in a company that appeared to appreciate his skills, both in the ring and on the mic. Though he lost the belt back to Rhodes in what ended up being his last match, Huber was going to be at the top of the card for the foreseeable future. The Dark Order is one of the more popular things about AEW, and there was excitement for Huber to recover from what was at first an undisclosed injury, one that commentators hinted he could return from “soon.” That never happened, as reports came out that he had been in the ICU since October before dying the day after Christmas.
In the tributes after Huber’s death, wrestlers from both WWE and AEW, as well as those who worked with him on the indies, all said he loved his family so much more than he loved the sport that he starred in.
The last appearance in an AEW ring by any member of Huber’s family was from his 8-year-old son: Brodie Jr. featured in a special segment at the end of a taping and pinned AEW world champion Kenny Omega for the title. That segment probably wasn’t meant to be aired in any capacity, left as a nice gesture for a kid, but it takes on a more poignant thread with Huber’s death. The big man with all the talent in the world was beloved by everyone he worked with to the end.