An estimated 34,000 people a year take their own lives. While there are some patterns that tie these people together - mental health being the most obvious - the truth of the matter is that nobody that people from all walks of life take their own lives. It doesn’t matter how rich, attractive, successful, or even beloved they are. Yet, there’s something about it amongst professional athletes that seems to capture the attention of people unlike any other instances. Maybe it has something to do with athletes’ combination of physical fitness, wealth, and fame. They seemingly have it all. Why would they give it all away?
Yet, time and time again, it feels like we are hearing about athletes who either tried to or actually did. Some of these individuals are people who suffered through great physical trauma during their years and seemingly lost their ability to reason. Others were forced to step away from the spotlight and found themselves unable to cope.
Many of the most frightening cases involve these superhero performers finding themselves unable to cope with the terrors that people face every day. They all had their reasons, but these are the 10 athletes who decided to end it and 10 who almost did.
22 Ended It - Junior Seau
This is certainly the most devastating, confusing, and notable athlete suicide in sports history. Junior Seau was an incredible college football player who took to the NFL like few “can’t miss” prospects ever really do. He was dominant at times, but what truly set Seau apart was his consistency. That and the fact that it never seemed like anyone had a bad word to say about the guy. There was darkness in Seau’s life, but he was a generally beloved player and a surefire Hall of Famer. That’s why the world was stunned to learn that Seau’s girlfriend discovered that Seau had shot himself dead in 2012.
He didn’t leave a suicide note, but he had been writing down the lyrics to a country song prior to his death. Seau was another player whose suicide is regularly attributed to the effects of concussions.
20 Survived - Terrell Owens
There’s a bit of debate about this one, but the evidence from everybody except Terrell Owens seems to support it. As many of you know, Terrell Owens is one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game. As many of you also know, he’s one of the most controversial figures to ever play the game. At some point, it Owens controversial career appeared to become too much even before him. In 2006, Owens reportedly took a large number of painkillers (some reports state that the exact number may have been 20-30) and confessed to the police that he was trying to harm himself. Owens has refuted the claims, but numerous reports place him in a hospital the evening of the incident receiving treatment for the overdose.
18 Ended It - Jovan Belcher
This is certainly one of the most tragic and bizarre stories on this list. Jovan Belcher’s stellar career at the University of Maine put him on the radar of NFL scouts everywhere. Granted, people recognized that he was a small-school prospect, but some felt he had the potential to be a great next-level guy. Belcher went undrafted, but ended up playing for the Chiefs for three seasons. He was a low-key guy on the field, but Belcher was in a heated relationship off the field with a woman named Kasandra Perkins.
In 2012, Belcher shot Perkins following a dispute. He then drove to the Chiefs’ practice facility, put a firearm to his head, asked the Chiefs’ owner and general manager to look after his daughter, and then took his own life. The incident rocked the NFL and left many feeling devastated.
Brady Quinn had some strong words in the aftermath, saying: "Hopefully people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis."
17 Survived - Vince Young
There’s some debate regarding whether this was a “genuine” attempt, but the details of this situation seem to suggest it was. In 2008 - when Young was still a member of the Titans - Vince Young began displaying signs of depression. He’d reportedly mentioned suicide to some close friends as well as his therapist. It was actually his therapist that alerted coach Jeff Fisher that Young had been talking about suicide. Fisher alerted police when he discovered that nobody could contact Young. They found young at a restaurant with a teammate. A police negotiator spoke with Young in order to make sure that he was feeling fine. A gun was later found in the trunk of Young’s car, but it was not loaded. Young himself denies that he planned on committing suicide on that day.
16 Ended It - Ryan Freel
Ryan Freel was never considered to be one of the best baseball players in the league. He was, however, a reliable journeyman that played for a number of teams. Freel seemed to be a well-liked guy wherever he went. It came as a shock to many, then, when it was announced that Freel had taken his own life on December 22, 2012. Freel had agreed to donate his body to science prior to shooting himself. Because of that, doctors discovered that he suffered from a condition known as Stage II CTE. While that condition is, sadly, common in other sports, Freel was the first MLB player to ever officially be diagnosed with the condition. It was also revealed that Freel suffered from a number of psychological disorders that likely contributed to his suicide.
15 Survived - Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson is arguably the most polarizing figure in the history of boxing. In the ring, Tyson made a name for himself as arguably the most dominant power puncher the heavyweight division had ever known. Out of the ring, Tyson committed a number of atrocious acts that forever changed the way people looked at him. Tyson’s history of supposed suicide attempts is long and quite odd. Some of the first reports of Tyson’s apparent desire to commit suicide surfaced when the fighter was only 22. At that time, he had apparently told his wife that he planned to end it all by crashing his car. Later on in life, Tyson noted that he’d honestly suffered from self-loathing for most of his life and spoke vaguely of suicidal thoughts. However, Tyson has also downplayed reports of specific attempts.
14 Ended It - Andre Waters
Andre Waters was a tremendously talented defensive football player. Though he entered the league as an undrafted free agent, it wasn’t long before Waters made a name for himself with his hard-hitting style. In fact, the NFL was forced to implement an unofficial “Andre Waters Rule” due to Waters’ fondness for attacking quarterback's legs while they were in the pocket. Sadly, Waters is best remembered by many over the circumstances that surrounded his 2006 suicide. When Waters’ brain was examined post-mortem, doctors found that it was functionally equivalent to the brain of a 90-year-old man. In fact, doctors believed that Waters may have just been 10 years away from losing the majority of his mental functions. The circumstances of Waters’ death became a catalyst for increased talk regarding the NFL’s concussion protocols.
13 Survived - Dwight Gooden
Dwight Gooden was a special pitcher in his prime. While not the most technically sound player to ever take the mound, Gooden specialized in striking out batters. His high-risk, high-reward pitching style made him a fan favorite who was near unhittable when he was playing at his best. Unfortunately, Gooden also suffered from serious substance abuse issues which eventually led to his suspension from baseball in 1995.
Later on, Gooden confessed that he contemplated ending his life during this time. In fact, he recalls sitting in his bathroom with a loaded gun trying to decide whether or not to pull the trigger. While Gooden was debating the matter, his wife walked into the room and was able to talk him out of actually following through with his thoughts.
12 Ended It - Terry Long
Unless you’re a lifelong Steelers fan, it’s likely that you don’t really remember Terry Long’s football career. Long was one of those guys who was good enough to stay in the league for a few years - he spent about seven years with the Steelers - but rarely made a real difference in games. He stepped away from football in 1991 and resurfaced in the headlines again when he took his own life in 2005. Even those who didn’t remember Long as an NFL player were shocked to learn the circumstances of his passing. According to reports, Long drank a gallon of antifreeze in order to take his own life. Later on, it was revealed that he was one of many NFL players that apparently ended it, as a result of the damage concussions had done to his brain.
11 Survived - Greg Louganis
Even if you don’t follow professional diving - or the Olympics in general - you’ve probably heard of Greg Louganis. After all, it’s not often that a male diver wins every event he participates in during consecutive Olympic games. Actually, Louganis is the only person to ever do it. Louganis has 17 gold medals to his name and is considered to be one of the greatest athletes in Olympic history. However, life outside of the Olympics hasn’t been kind to Louganis. Not only was he diagnosed with HIV in the ‘90s, but he struggled to find his place in the world as anything else but a diver. In fact, Louganis says that he tried to end it all when he realized how low the lows of post-Olympics life can get. The details of his attempt remain unknown.
10 Ended It - Ricky Berry
With the 18th pick in the 1988 NBA Draft, the Sacramento Kings selected small forward Ricky Berry. Berry was a physically gifted player who the Kings felt could be turned into a franchise star. While Berry’s rookie season wasn’t the best the league had ever seen, many still felt that he was in a position to be one of the NBA’s best young players. However, during the 1989 offseason, police found Berry unresponsive in his California home from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Fans everywhere were shocked. Not only had Berry’s NBA career just begun, but there had been no indication that Berry was feeling depressed. He didn’t even leave a note. He and his wife had been arguing prior to the incident, but many feel there was something more at play.
9 Survived - Lex Luger
Ever since he became a professional wrestler, promoters have tried to turn Lex Luger into a headline star. It wasn’t hard to see why. Sure, Luger wasn’t the best technical wrestler on the planet - and his promos were awful - but he did have a great look and real presence in the ring. Over time, Luger’s star faded slightly as his already limited in-ring skills became increasingly worse. Luger’s star had faded around the time WCW folded. What really put him off WWE’s radar, however, was his rampant drug use. Luger - along with his then-girlfriend Miss Elizabeth - had been having more substance abuse problems in recent years. When a particularly bad night led to the passing of Elizabeth, Luger contemplated ending it all. Instead, he found religion in prison.
8 Ended It - Melvin Turpin
If you’ve never seen Melvin Turpin play college basketball, then you should do yourself a favor and watch some of his old highlights. He had the ability to almost single-handedly dominate teams with his size and athleticism. What was truly impressive, though, was his knowledge of the game. Unfortunately, Turpin never quite lived up to his 6th overall pick potential. After six seasons in and out of the NBA, he eventually retired. Turpin worked regular jobs after that and did a pretty good job staying off the radar. That’s part of the reason why everyone was shocked to learn that he had killed himself in 2010. Nobody is quite sure what led to his decision to shoot himself. If he did give a reason, it’s never been revealed.
7 Survived - Erik Kramer
Erik Kramer was the kind of guy that sports fans everywhere loved. He wasn’t the best athlete on the field - he wasn’t even drafted into the league - and he seemingly blew his chance at the big-time when the Falcons cut him in 1987. However, Kramer didn’t give up. He worked his way back into the league and led the Detroit Lions to a 12-4 record in 1991 as well as the franchise’s first playoff win since the ‘50s. When Kramer retired, he took a job as an NFL analyst and seemed to live a happy life.
However, on August 19, 2015, Kramer tried to end it all via a gunshot. He survived, but those close to him revealed that they believed Kramer’s years of head injuries had fundamentally altered his personality.
6 Ended It - Mike, Chris, and Kerry Von Erich
Yes, this is technically three separate athletes, but the fate of these brothers will forever be linked by their wrestling careers and decisions to take their own lives. Mike was the first of the Von Erich boys to take his own life (though not the first to suffer a tragic death). On April 12, 1987, he intentionally overdosed on tranquilizers not long after learning he’d probably never be able to wrestle again. Chris Von Erich (the youngest of the Von Erich boys) then committed took his own life in 1991 via a self-inflicted gunshot wound. It’s believed that he was frustrated by his inability to become a high-profile pro wrestler. Finally, Kerry Von Erich followed suit on February 18, 1993. He reportedly told people for months that he planned on ending his own life to join his brothers in heaven.
5 Survived - Ronda Rousey
Ronda Rousey’s reign of terror somehow feels like it happened a lifetime ago. Yet, there was a time - not to long ago - when the women’s MMA scene consisted of Rousey and everyone else. Rousey’s dominance was almost superhuman. She won most of her matches in under a minute and looked unstoppable. However, Rousey eventually suffered her first UFC loss in a fight against Holly Holm. Rousey was the heavy favorite, but Holm managed to score a devastating knockout. Rousey was left not only physically dazed, but emotionally bewildered. She felt like she had let down the world. Rousey later noted that she was laying in her hospital bed after the fight ready to kill herself. However, she was eventually inspired to not follow-through with it when she saw her boyfriend.
4 Ended It - Freddie Mills
Freddie Mills was an everyman boxer. He was the kind of guy that didn’t really rely on pure form, but rather his ability to deliver more damage than he took. He had some trouble moving up to his beloved heavyweight class - he was technically a more accomplished light-heavyweight fighter - but Mills refused to backdown from a brawl. When he retired at age 30, Mills had seemingly arranged a pretty nice life for himself. However, it was later discovered that he was in deep debt to organized crime figures. It’s believed that he killed himself because he simply didn’t know how to escape his debt. Some speculate that he was actually killed by gangsters. Other people believe that Mills was actually a serial killer terrorizing London at that time who had reportedly killed multiple women.
3 Survived - Hulk Hogan
Hulk Hogan’s financial fears may have been alleviated slightly by recent events, but Hogan’s life was in a serious tailspin not that long ago. We all remember Hogan as arguably the most famous professional wrestler that has ever lived, and many of you may remember that Hogan’s post-wrestling life has been filled with controversies, scandals, and other personal life low points. The lowest of those points may be Hogan’s divorce from his ex-wife, Linda. Having lost a considerable amount of money and respect during the divorce proceedings, Hogan recalls feeling like ending his life was the only way out of his personal predicament. He claims that a phone call he received from Laila Ali who recognized that Hogan was acting depressed convinced him that he should continue living.
2 Took Their Life - Crash Holly
Crash Holly certainly isn’t the most popular wrestler ever, but he was a guy who is probably fondly remembered by everyone that who watched WWE programming during the attitude era. Crash Holly was mostly a comedy character who made a name for himself by dragging a scale to the ring and insisting that his light heavyweight opponents weigh themselves before the match. He was also one of the most entertaining hardcore champions in WWE history. Crash Holly was released from WWE on June 30, 2003, and was found unresponsive on November 6, 2003. He had seemingly drank quite a bit that night while taking large doses of prescription pills. Reports suggest that his wife’s recent divorce filings had pushed him over the edge.
1 Almost Did - Ken Griffey Jr.
If we’re talking about pure talent, Ken Griffey Jr. may just be the greatest professional baseball player of all-time. In his prime, Griffey did things behind the plate and on-the-field that still leave people in awe. It was like he was made in a lab to do nothing else but play baseball. While injuries eventually robbed Griffey Jr. of his prime, only a fool would dare consider Griffey Jr. to be anything but one of the best baseball players ever. Years later, Griffey Jr. revealed that his Hall of Fame career almost never happened. At age 18, Griffey Jr. contemplated killing himself as he was facing pressure from coaches, fans, and his father. Unsure of how to handle it all, he felt that suicide may be his best option. He eventually tried to swallow a large dose of Aspirin and ended up in intensive care.