Wrestling has always had a dark side. Whether it is due to the pain, long periods of loneliness on the road or money, some performers have tragically come to the conclusion that the only way out is to end their lives. Although wrestlers are able to compete in front of large and adoring audiences, many have still endured difficult lives away from the bright lights. Some have experienced terrible upbringings, while others have had bizarre circumstances shape their careers.
The list of professional wrestlers who have taken their own lives is a short one, thankfully. However, there are a number of deaths from drug overdoses that could have actually been a wrestler’s way of taking their own life in a more subtle way.
From legendary wrestling families to those barely making ends meet on the indie circuit, this issue has affected all levels of the pro wrestling business. While it is more likely to hear about a performer passing due to health problems caused by in-ring punishment, drugs or alcohol, the act of taking one’s own life has played its part in shaping the business. Hopefully, the list of those performers who have decided to take their own life won’t increase, and those in need will seek help from friends, family and even the WWE. As they say, taking one’s own life is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and those considering going through with it can find help in many places. Unfortunately, these 15 wrestlers were unable to find someone to help them.
15. “The Gladiator” Mike Awesome
Mike Awesome was one of the best big men in wrestling during the late 1990s. A veteran of Japan and the ultra-violent promotion Frontier Martial-Arts Wresting (FMW), Awesome made a name for himself as a monster American heel. In 1998, Awesome finally made waves in the United States when he and Japanese rival Masato Tanaka put on some of the most hard hitting matches the country had ever seen. An ECW World title run in 1999 ended when Awesome left for WCW after ECW owner Paul Heyman failed to pay the wrestler his wages. While he received steady pay down south, Awesome was saddled with ridiculous gimmicks like “The Fat Chick Thrilla” and “That ’70s guy” thanks to Vince Russo. After the company’s closure, Awesome found himself bouncing around the WWE, TNA and Japan until he retired in 2006. One year later, Awesome hanged tragically himself in his Tampa, Florida home.
14. Andre Baker
Although he was unknown to many wrestling fans outside of the United Kingdom, Andre Baker was a performer and promoter for NWA Hammerlock. For more than 15 years, Baker ran Hammerlock from Kent, England, and provided tours of the UK for former WWE stars like Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Tatanka. It wasn’t just a home for ex-big names, as Baker incorporated 1990s ECW-style matches into his shows, revolutionizing wrestling in the UK. Many British wrestling fans credit Baker with taking wrestling in the UK from the World of Sport days into the modern era. The wrestling school connected to Baker’s Hammerlock promotion was also the breeding ground for future stars such as Finn Balor, Doug Williams, Wade Barrett, and more. Nicknamed the Sledgehammer due to his impressive physical build, Baker died at the young age of 45. Baker’s death occurred in 2010, and despite various reports, a concrete reason why he took his own life has never been given.
13. Mark Gedge
In 2016, Mark “Dynamic Domino” Gedge was facing a tough crossroads in life. The well-built wrestler and full-time radio DJ was suffering from heart failure which doctors told him he had acquired from steroids. According to newspaper reports, Gedge was told not to train in the gym by his doctors as it would exacerbate the problem. The inability to train made Gedge even more depressed. Doctors informed Gedge his heart was working only at 36% after years of heavy steroid abuse. The wrestler had been a regular on shows in Europe and had attempted to make it in the United States as well. His desire to be a full-time professional wrestler fuelled his need to take drugs to increase his muscle size and strngth. In June 2016, Gedge was found dead in a tent in the Brecon Beacons mountain range in Wales as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. He was 44.
12. Tony Halme
Tony Halme may have had a cup of coffee in the WWE as Ludvig Borga, but big plans were laid out for the Finnish grappler. Halme’s introduction to wrestling came thanks to the AWA’s Verne Gagne, who trained the big man before he went on to wrestle for the absurd promoter Herb Abrams and his UWF promotion. In the mid-1990s WWE, Halme was given instant main event status as he and Lex Luger were paired together. However, things didn’t work out for the big wrestler. Halme did have some success in both Japan and Europe, but for the most part he succeeded much more outside of the squared circle. Following his days in wrestling, Halme fought in mixed martial arts, and famously appeared at UFC XIII where he was choked out by Randy Couture. Halme would go on to be an author, actor, singer and politician. He was elected to the Finnish parliament in 2003. Halme battled addiction in his private life and it led to him suffering from cirrhosis of the liver and pancreatitis. He also spent time in mental hospitals due to a variety of illnesses brought on by drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, those demons all led Halme to the end of his life. Halme died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in January 2010. He was 47 years old.
11. Marvin Lambert
For years, critics of hardcore wrestling matches proclaimed someone would die in the ring. While that hasn’t exactly happened, it appears some of the wrestlers that appeared in those contests have died prematurely. Marvin Lambert is one such wrestler that died far too early. The death-match brawler was a veteran of wrestling promotions IWA Mid-South and Combat Zone Wrestling (CZW). Known as “Brain Damage”, Lambert worked a very high-risk wrestling style that resulted in numerous injuries. Lambert’s death occurred in October 2012, with few clear reports early on, other than it being determined that he took his own life. Some have wondered if Lambert really had brain damage from his years of death-matches and whether or not it was this damage that led him to take his life. After his death, PWInsider reported Lambert had stepped away from wrestling over a year prior to his passing. The website also indicated there were rumours that Lambert was dealing with a lot of “personal issues” at the time of his death.
10. Chris Kanyon
During his time in WCW, Chris Kanyon was known as an innovator of offensive moves. He began to gain traction in the company after shedding his Mortis gimmick and feuding with Raven under the name Chris Kanyon . While in WCW, Kanyon held the WCW tag team titles on two occasions; once with Diamond Dallas Page and the other time with Bam Bam Bigelow. When the WWE bought WCW, Kanyon joined the company during the WCW invasion angle in 2001. During his stay in the WWE, Kanyon had a rocky relationship with the promotion, and accusations of bullying have been made over the years by Kanyon’s associates. After Kanyon took his own life in 2010 it was made public that he had suffered from bipolar disorder, which shed some light on to some of his actions at the tail end of his WWE career. A gay wrestler in a world of macho, big-ego men and women, Kanyon kept his sexuality a secret. On April 2, 2010, Kanyon ingested a bottle of anti-depressants in his New York apartment, and took his own life. He was just 40-years old.
9. Larry Sweeney
Few wrestling fans knew of performer Larry Sweeney until he took his own life in 2011. Sweeney had been in the business since 2004, when he was trained by Chris Hero, Mike Quakenbush, legend Buddy Rose and Colonel DeBeers. Sweeney would become a veteran of the 2000s indie wrestling scene as he featured on cards for Ring of Honor and Chikara. On the morning of April 11, 2011, Sweeney was found dead at a Louisiana wrestling school near his home. He had hanged himself using the turnbuckle post. Following his death, wrestling news websites reported Sweeney suffered from bipolar disorder, which may have played a part in him taking his own life. Unlike many of the indie wrestlers to come through the early 2000s, there was something about Sweeney that was definitely old-school. His look, mannerisms and wrestling style were pure 1980s wrestling. Unfortunately, “Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney never got to showcase that style on a large stage.
8. Crash Holly
Crash Holly (Michael Lockwood) made his WWE debut in 1999 as the kayfabe cousin of Bob “Hardcore” Holly. Although he was very capable in the ring, Crash was mostly used as a comedy character during the WWE Attitude Era. It may seem Crash was in and out of the WWE quickly, but he was in fact with the company for four years. During that time, he won the WWE tag team titles with “Hardcore” Holly and the WWE Hardcore title a ridiculous 22 times. In 2003, Crash’s WWE career came to an end after his gimmick finally ran out of steam. Wrestling under the name “Mad” Mikey, he competed in the then-newly formed TNA. On November 3, 2003, Lockwood overdosed on pills and alcohol while staying at fellow wrestler Stevie Richards’ house in Florida. Reports indicated Lockwood took more than one bottle of Carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant, along with alcohol. Depressed over his wrestling career, Lockwood’s life had been further compounded by his wife N’keigh Wheeler filing for a divorce. He was just 32 years old.
7. The Renegade
In 1994, the wrestling world was turned on its head when Hulk Hogan signed with WCW. What followed were cheesy storylines, the arrival of ex-WWE wrestlers and the continued burial of Ric Flair. Billed as the “Ultimate Surprise”, The Renegade was a knockoff version of the Ultimate Warrior that Hogan hoped would trick fans into thinking it was the same man upon his debut. From the start, The Renegade, real name Richard Wilson, was panned by fans. He was a terrible worker, and was much worse than the Ultimate Warrior. That in itself was a true accomplishment. Being saddled with the ripoff gimmick did not however help his career. The Renegade would go on to win the World TV title from Arn Anderson, along with the Wrestling Observer’s Worst Wrestler of the Year Award. In 1998, three years after debuting for WCW and being a fixture on WCW Saturday Night, the company parted ways with The Renegade. Suffering from depression due to his wrestling career stagnating, Wilson ended his life with a gunshot wound to the head. He was only 33 years old.
6. Tojo Yamamoto
Speak to fans from the Tennessee region from the 1960s and 1970s, and Tojo Yamamoto’s name is bound to come up. Yamamoto wrestled predominately in the south, during a time tensions were still high after World War II between the American and Japanese population. Naturally, as a Japanese heel (although born in Hawaii) Yamamoto could incite a riot wherever he went. In Jerry Lawler’s autobiography, he described the first wrestling match he ever had, which just happened to be against Yamamoto: “All I did was sell his chops, which was very easy to do, because he hit me real hard.” In 1992, at the age of 65, after years of wrestling and training stars like Tommy Rich and Bobby Eaton, Yamamoto took his own life. The former wrestler, trainer and manager had been suffering from diabetes when he shot himself. It was a tragic end to a legendary wrestling career.
5. Eddie Graham
Many wrestling fans claim that the Von Erich family is cursed. That may be true, but the Graham family hasn’t turned out much better. Eddie Graham gained his wrestling surname from the legendary Dr. Jerry Graham before moving to Florida in 1960 to start one of the greatest wrestling territories ever built. Eddie’s son Mike would follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming a professional wrestler in 1972. Mike was a major player in the promotion and later took it over after Eddie took his own life. According to former NWA World Champion Ron Garvin, Eddie suffered from alcoholism and relationship problems with his girlfriend and he believes that helped lead Eddie to his demise. Despite Eddie being a great mind in the wrestling business, Garvin described the Florida territory owner as being “not a very nice person” away from the ring and having money problems. Graham was just 55 when he took his own life in January 1985.
4. Kerry Von Erich
Kerry Von Erich looked like a Greek God. His charisma and physique thrilled fans around the world, and made Von Erich one of the biggest stars of the early 1980s in his home territory of Dallas. The lifestyle of celebrity was clearly too much to handle, as Von Erich, like his brothers, lived a life of excess. Despite the drug use, Von Erich still managed to have incredible feuds with then-NWA World Champions Ric Flair and The Fabulous Freebirds in the ‘80s. In May 1984, Von Erich defeated Flair for the NWA World title in front of a sold out crowd in Dallas, his hometown. Unfortunately, Von Erich’s victory was short lived as he dropped the belt back to Flair less than 20 days later in Japan. Two years on, Von Erich would lose his right foot following a horrific motorcycle accident that nearly claimed his life. Unbeknownst to fans, he would wrestle with a prosthesis for the rest of his career. The subsequent pain fuelled Von Erich’s addiction to painkillers and alcohol. Those final years would be marred by substance abuse and stories of Von Erich being nowhere near wrestling condition when arriving at shows. Between 1990 and 1992, Von Erich worked for the WWE as the Texas Tornado, but he was still haunted by his demons. In 1992, Von Erich’s wife of nine years left him, and on February 18, 1993, one day after being indicted for cocaine possession, Von Erich shot himself on his father’s ranch. The way he took his life (one gunshot wound to the chest) was similar to his brother Chris’ death just two years prior.
3. Mike Von Erich
Like most of these tragedies, Mike Von Erich’s death could have been prevented. Pushed into wrestling by his father (legendary wrestler and promoter Fritz Von Erich) Mike wanted to work behind the scenes of the business. According to fellow wrestlers, Mike’s dream was to work as a cameraman and producer for his father’s World Class Championship Wrestling company. However, his rough and tough father wouldn’t hear of it and he was pushed into the ring. Mike was a part of the famous Von Erich-Fabulous Freebird feud that engulfed Texas in the early ’80s. In 1985, Mike underwent surgery for a shoulder injury and following the operation developed an infection. Doctors would later say Mike suffered from toxic shock syndrome, but before they could diagnosis it, Mike had come down with a 107 degree Fahrenheit temperature. The illness caused brain damage and he never truly recovered from the episode. In 1987, Mike was arrested for drunk driving and drug possession. Days later, he went to a remote location where he overdosed on sleeping pills and alcohol, taking his own life.
2. Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit’s took his own life in June 2007 as one of the most infamous deaths in the history of the business. His act alone would have been major news as he was at the peak of his WWE career, but the fact that he took the lives of wife Nancy and son Daniel made it all more shocking and terrible. Now 10 years after the crime perpetrated by Benoit, new information about the wrestler’s life has shed light on the type of personality he had. Reports indicate Nancy had attempted to leave Benoit previously, and in shoot interviews, former WWE talent Simon Dean (Mike Bucci) has stated Benoit and others were bullies to fellow WWE talent and staff. Perhaps these were signs that people could have used to help those that Benoit hurt before he acted. However, it is easy to look back in hindsight now, 10 years after Benoit killed his wife, his son and himself.
1. Mike Graham
Like his father, Mike Graham would take his own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Not only had Mike’s father taken his own life, but Mike’s son had as well. This tragedy put the Graham legacy to bed after six decades of the family working in the wrestling business. In the mid-1980s, following Eddie Graham’s death, Mike was unable to continue the once thriving Championship Wrestling promotion from Florida his father had built. In 1987, Mike sold the company to Jim Crockett, just as the North Carolina wrestling promoter’s business was sinking. Mike would go to work for WCW later on, and become a fixture with the company until its end. The outspoken Mike Graham can be seen in the WWE produced The Rise and Fall of WCW, uttering the iconic quote “He [Jeff Jarrett] broke 6,000 guitars and never drew a dime.”
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