Hey Scott —
I thought this might be an interesting topic, especially for younger fans who may be aware of certain wrestling characters but unaware of the original inspiration for them. Obviously wrestling has lots of characters based on general archetypes or occupations (garbage men, plumbers, tax men, etc.) but a fair amount have been inspired by real people and events or characters in popular fiction.
A few obvious ones that I can think of:
Cactus Jack: Once known as Cactus Jack Manson, a gimmick that was chosen due to Foley's passing resemblance to cult leader Charles Manson. I suppose the gimmick had some aping of Manson characteristics early on as well.
Sgt. Slaughter: As an Iraqi sympathizer in response the the incredibly high ratings for CNNs coverage of the 1990-1991 Gulf War / military conflict.
Magnum T.A.: Based upon the look and namesake of Tom Selleck's character Magnum P.I.
The Bolsheviks: In reference to the Russian Revolution, but mostly just used to exploit ongoing tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States.
"Perstroika" Nikolai Volkoff: Vince's way of reflecting the change in the relationship with the Soviet Union as well as its dissolution (via a face turn and teaming with Jim Duggan) and the falling of the Berlin Wall.
Vince McMahon: Well, he must be based on a Roman Emperor like Caligula — with all the family in-fighting, potential for incest and insatiable appetite for power.
Two I have wondered about are Nikita Koloff and Berlyn.
I assume Berlyn was supposed to be some sort of Holocaust denier, but was there anything specific in the news at the time that may have prompted that character? Nikita Koloff I always assumed was just a generic Cold War villain, but was he actually based on a specific person?
Berlyn came out of nowhere as far as inspiration that I can remember. Koloff was just your standard evil Russian.
A few more I can add off the top of my head: "Simon Dean" was a rib on Dean Malenko (real name Dean Simon), and obviously Steven Richards as the leader of the RTC was a subtle comment on L. Brent Bozell. There's tons of others because wrestling isn't known for its creativity and originality, generally speaking.