Sometimes he was Hogan's friend (Mega Powers)
And more entertainingly, he was his adversary:
Savage was always the alternative to Hogan: the good guy. To a kid who, consciously or not, never liked the coolest or best thing (I liked GoBots, Hey Vern! It's Ernest, the band Skid Row), Macho Man was the first time I can remember embracing the alternative choice: the bad guy.
After hearing about his death, I (like others I imagine) am thinking about myself as a kid today. There's really no other sane way to contextualize the death of celebrities you didn't know personally other than to remember their first effects on you. Before Macho Man, Darth Vader and Clubber Lang were the bad guys, and therefore, I hated them. I didn't want to understand them. Pro wrestling taught my single-digit self how to be interested in the villain, and that first villain, was Randy Macho Man Savage.
Savage provided a counterpoint to Hulkamania that wasn't draped in a foreign flag like Nikolai Volkov or the Iron Sheik (intricate political concepts like xenophobia were likely lost on me at 8 years of age). Savage was like Hogan, only, he was nothing like Hogan. And that was all a kid needed if he wanted to avoid the clutches and restrictions of Hulkamania.
Somehow, Macho Man dying reminds me of how glad I am to have never embraced Hulkamania for fear of the effect that might have on my current adult life. Hulkamania indoctrination might have inspired me to say my prayers and eat my vitamins, both rather mundane things. Maybe, being a Hulkamaniac would've led to a love for Nickelback or pleated khaki pants or conservative politics? I don't know. I really don't. But with Hulkamania, there was little room for human nuance. Savage was every shade of grey.
I'm positive the Macho Man taught me something when my brain was still soft. Learning to embrace the bad guy, hopefully, hasn't resulted in my becoming a bad guy, but I believe it has somehow expanded my tolerance, my defense of "unpopular" choices (yes, I realize I'm giving a lot of weight to pro wrestling now). Savage was neither wholly good nor wholly bad. He was as human a superstar the WWF ever dared present.
And for that, his death is not just another wrestler death. It really is, as people will say, a piece of childhood. The piece that didn't yet know, the good guy is not always so good and the bad guy, not always so bad.