Death is something every single living being on this planet has to deal with. That is unless scientists have found an immortal species somewhere and we weren’t told. Aside from that, every living being is ultimately going to die. That is one terrifying thing to know, but one that we have to live with. Now, things get a little crooked when we start considering the reality of our own mortality and then comparing it to the reality of our heroes, which in the case of most people here would be professional athletes.
Since we were little kids, we saw professional athletes as these god-like beings that are just above the rest of humanity. With that, many people forget that these are people too, and they will also eventually die. And to prove that point, in this article we would like to bring you examples of 10 athletes who recently passed away and are going to leave a very deep hole in the hearts of their fans. At the same time, we would also like to bring you a little silver lining to the story. As much as we have to admit that our heroes are going to die someday, we should also remember that athletes are people with amazing stories, and a lot of these stories involve people surviving near encounters with death.
Oh yes, there are a lot of athletes who perform at the highest level but who at some point in time came very close to bidding goodbye to our side and saying hello to the next one.
20 Passed Away: Bruno Sammartino
To start off this sad little list that will be filled with nostalgia for a lot of fans of different sports, we had to talk about the most recent and probably most painful athlete death for the wrestling world. We are, of course, talking about Bruno Sammartino. Born in Italy, he made his way to the United States at a young age and found his home with the company then called WWWF.
He quickly became one of the most popular wrestlers in the industry and would go on to become a legend of the sport.
In 2013, he accepted an invitation to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. In terms of accolades, he has held championships like the WWWF International Tag Team Championship and the WWWF World Heavyweight Championship. He died on April 18 at the age of 82.
19 Close Call: Fabrice Muamba
Athletes these days are followed by medical practitioners everywhere they go. Especially in professional sports, an athlete’s body is being analyzed for diseases and anything that can hinder their performance at all times. That is what makes it surprising that from time to time you hear stories about players who have had suffered heart attacks in the middle of a game. This is what happened to soccer player Fabrice Muamba, who collapsed on the field during a game in England.
His colleagues immediately called for help, the medical professionals promptly administered CPR and took him to a hospital. It seems like Muamba was clinically dead for more than an hour as his heart had stopped beating. Luckily, he came back to life, and despite not being able to play anymore still wants to be a part of the game as a sports journalist.
18 Passed Away: Hal Greer
It has barely started, but many could already consider 2018 a very sad year for sports in terms of how many great athletes have already passed on this early in the year. We have talked about a WWE Hall of Famer, and now we are sad to mention that there was also an NBA Hall of Famer who passed away earlier this year.
Hal Greer was not only one of the best guards of his time, but he was also one of the best scorers the NBA had in the '60s and early '70s. Greer was a second-round pick by the Syracuse Nationals who would go on to become a 10-time All-Star, one-time MVP, and NBA Champion as well as a Hall of Famer. He passed away on April 14 and was 81 years old.
17 Close Call: Maya Gabeira
As one would expect, surfing is not the safest of sports. Yeah, for people who have never been in the ocean, it might seem cool and calm to just ride on some waves since the water can’t even harm you. Well, that is very far from the truth.
It turns out that the ocean is one of the most relentless forces on our planet, and a lot of surfers have come close to dying because of its wrath.
Among the things that can happen while you are in the ocean trying to surf, there are the classic accidents that involve sharks, and the terrifying prospect of falling from a giant wave, which can be quite dangerous as Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira found out. She lost control while trying to surf an 80-foot wave. She fell and almost drowned, having to vomit almost half a gallon of water to start breathing again.
16 Passed Away: Ed Charles
Every athlete has a hobby that he or she keeps up with on the side while still performing at the highest level in one of the world’s top professional leagues. However, there are not many athletes who get as much attention for their hobbies as former New York Mets third baseman Ed Charles did.
In baseball, Charles became known as a member of the “Miracle Mets,” one of the most legendary teams in Major League Baseball history and the team that took home the 1969 World Series.
But back to his hobby, Charles was known for his skill in poetry and even earned the nickname “The Glider” from his teammates. He used his poems to express his feelings about being an African-American ballplayer in a time where segregation was still at its highest. Charles is to this day an iconic MLB figure who unfortunately passed away at 84-years-old.
15 Close Call: Bode Miller
The pressure of being a professional athlete is something that most of them have a hard time explaining to fans and even people within the media. And that is just being a regular professional athlete. Imagine being someone who is touted to win an event as grand as the Olympics? That is the kind of pressure that can literally crush a person. This is the kind of pressure that you take with yourself going up to a competition, during it, and especially after it if you end up failing.
This is what happened to American skier Bode Miller, who failed to win any medals in the 2006 Winter Olympics despite being the favorite for a lot of them. But worse than failing to win in the Olympics was how he got behind the wheel of his car and suffered an accident, crashing into a bunch of trees at 60 mph. Thankfully, he survived and bounced back to win a gold medal in Vancouver four years later.
14 Passed Away: Edwin Jackson
Yes, it is very sad when we have to talk about sports legends passing away in their old age, but it is even harder to talk about athletes dying when they are still very young. That was, unfortunately, the case with Indianapolis Colts’ linebacker, Edwin Jackson, who was the victim of a hit-and-run earlier in February 2018.
Jackson was a passenger in an Uber car when he suddenly felt ill and asked the driver if he could pull over.
The driver was kind enough to pull onto the shoulder of the interstate and exit the car to check on his passenger. That was when the two of them were struck by a truck that veered into the emergency lane, killing both Jackson and his Uber driver, Jeffrey Monroe. Jackson was 26 years old.
13 Close Call: Eric Abidal
Out of all the diseases in the world, the one that seems to rise above all others in terms of how much people fear it is cancer. And there is a good reason for that. Not too long ago, a cancer diagnosis was as good as a death sentence. However, our medicine has evolved at a relentless pace and these days, a cancer diagnosis is something people can hear but still maintain hope because they almost always have a fighting chance.
This is the mentality Barcelona player Eric Abidal certainly had when he was diagnosed with a liver tumor in 2011. The man rose above the disease like a God, and after undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, he even came back that same season to play the Champions League final.
12 Passed Away: Rasual Butler
Rasual Butler was not one of the greatest players the NBA has ever seen, but he was one of those players every coach loved to have on his team. Butler was one of those role players you could rely on to do the right thing and knew his place on the court. Case in point, he had a 13-year career in the NBA, something that many young players dream of.
He retired just a few years ago after the 2015-16 season, which he played with the San Antonio Spurs.
Butler was married to singer Leah LaBelle and even became a little famous with the reality television crowd, as he was pictured in some episodes of the television show Khloe and Lamar, since he was friends with Lamar Odom. The 38-year-old Butler passed away in January along with his wife in an automobile accident, after he lost control of his car and crashed into a strip mall parking lot.
11 Close Call: Tony Hawk
You will have a hard time going anywhere in the world where there are video games and finding a guy between 20 and 45 years old who doesn’t know the name, Tony Hawk. The man is about as legendary as legends come. Arguably the most important figure in the history of skating, Tony Hawk was also one of those guys who spread his brand to other areas that did not only include professional competition, as he became the face of the most popular skating video games and appeared in a bunch of TV and movie segments.
What many people don’t know is that in 2003, Tony almost died while filming with the guys from Jackass. During one of the stunts, he fell and suffered from a fractured skull and a broken pelvis.
10 Passed Away: Oscar Gamble
Another baseball player who became an icon for a New York franchise and has passed away earlier this year was former New York Yankee, Oscar Gamble. A guy who played almost two decades in the majors, Oscar played seven years alone with the Yankees, seven years in which he recorded 87 home runs for the Bronx team. Gamble is also known for his amazing haircut that fans got to see whenever he pulled the helmet off.
The outfielder was just 6 -years old when he passed away on January 31.
Gamble was not a victim of an accident or anything like that. He went down fighting as he tried his hardest to survive a battle against a rare tumor that developed in his jaw. Unfortunately, Oscar lost this fight, but he will always be remembered by Yankees fans.
9 Close Call: Serena Williams
Yes, Serena Williams is one of the many athletes who have had close encounters with death and almost went to the other side. In Serena’s case, it was a moment’s decision that probably saved her from a very painful death. The all-time tennis great was enjoying a trip to Munich when she suddenly stepped on a bunch of glass, something that most people have probably done at some point. It is always good to go to the doctor after something like this happens, but some folks say they can just “walk it off” (which is a terrible idea).
Serena started feeling difficulty breathing, and she noticed that her leg was swelling. That was when she made the right choice and went to the hospital, where the German doctors discovered she had a bunch of pulmonary embolisms, which could have killed her if she had not gotten the treatment.
8 Passed Away: Jo Jo White
This has really been a tough year for the Boston Celtics. Yes, they have a young squad that has been performing better than many thought they would given the losses they have suffered. From the injury to Gordon Hayward early in the year to the late-season Kyrie Irving injury, the Celtics are not what they thought they would be.
But the sadness for the team on the court cannot even be compared to what Boston fans must be feeling after they learned of the passing of the great Jo Jo White earlier in January. These young Celtics are trying to win an NBA championship? Well, Jo Jo is a Hall of Famer who won two rings in his illustrious career. The Celtics announced his passing on January 16 while he was only 71-years-old, but no cause of death was provided.
7 Close Call: Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos
A lot of people can claim they have survived a near-death experience at some point in their life. But how many can say they have escaped three close encounters with death by the age of 10? Yeah, this is the amazing story of Brazilian canoer Isaquias Queiroz dos Santos. First, we should probably give you his credentials.
Isaquias is a 24-year-old canoer who has three Olympic medals and three gold medals in World Championships. Not too shabby, right?
However, none of that would have happened if this guy was not a survivor. When he was just three years old, a pot of boiling water fell on him leaving him with severe burns on his body. After surviving that one, he was kidnapped at the age of five. By the work of a higher power or whatever, he was returned to his family unharmed. Then, when he turned 10 years old, he saw a snake hanging from a branch on a tree and decided to climb the tree. Obviously, he fell and ended up losing one of his kidneys.
6 Passed Away: Dan Gurney
When it comes to racing, you will hardly find a man who was as legendary as the great Dan Gurney. Before we go into his career, we might as well explain to those who are not into the world of auto sports that there are three main categories of car racing in the world. There is Formula One, IndyCar racing, and obviously NASCAR. Winning a single race in any of these competitions is something the vast majority of drivers can only dream of achieving since even getting to one of these promotions is nearly impossible because of how many people are gunning for a spot.
Well, Dan Gurney not only raced in all those competitions, but he also became the first driver ever to win in every single one of them. The racing legend passed away January 14 at 86-years-old from complications of pneumonia.
5 Close Call: Jonah Lomu
When you hear someone complaining about their life and then immediately hear a second person saying that they should be thankful just for being healthy, you usually just wave it off as if it was just a normal thing to say. But after hearing a bunch of these close calls, it is impossible not to become thankful for the mere fact that you are healthy. That is especially true after you hear a story like Jonah Lomu’s.
If you don’t know, this guy was a rugby legend in New Zealand. But despite being one of the top athletes in his sport, he suffered from a kidney illness. It was so harsh that after he took part in the opening ceremony of a Rugby World Cup, he started feeling ill, vomiting and feeling all kinds of terrible symptoms. He was taken to the hospital, and the doctors found that his transplanted kidney had failed. Luckily, the doctors managed to stabilize him, but Lomu had to receive dialysis treatment from then on.
Sadly, even after surviving a close call like that, Lomu passed away from a heart attack related to his kidney illness in 2015.
4 Passed Away: Johnny Bower
The Toronto Maple Leafs are one of the NHL’s greatest franchises. Well, at least they were back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s. If you are a Toronto fan, you know very well that it has been quite some time since you got to celebrate a Stanley Cup. It is something Toronto is striving to do, but something that must hurt even double now that they are also having to deal with the pain of losing one of the heroes of their last Stanley Cup victory.
Canadian goaltender, Johnny Bower, passed away just after Christmas on December 26th of last year at the age of 93 in Ontario.
Bower was a symbol of the tough Toronto team that took home their last Stanley Cup in 1967.
Bower also became the oldest goaltender to play in a Stanley Cup playoff game at 44 years, four months, and 29 days.
3 Close Call: Lamar Odom
This is an incident that is probably still very fresh on everyone’s minds. Just to give you a little background, Lamar Odom is arguably one of the most recognizable players from his generation in the NBA. The guy is a Los Angeles Lakers great who helped the team to two NBA championships in 2009 and 2010. He was even selected as the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 2011.
How great would it be if all we had to say about Lamar were the things he did on the basketball court? Unfortunately, he joined the ranks of athletes with near-death experiences when he was discovered unconscious in Nevada in 2015. He suffered kidney failure and several strokes, having to be placed on life support for a while. There is good news, though. Lamar survived and is even aiming a return to basketball overseas.
2 Passed Away: Tyler Hilinski
After talking about the loss of yet another sports legend, we, unfortunately, have to mention the passing of yet another young prospect who could have had a solid career in the professional leagues. Tyler Hilinski was a promising prospect who played for Washington State University. After redshirting his first year in 2015, he started getting shots and playing time and was even the starting quarterback for the Cougars in their 2017 Holiday Bowl game after the starting quarterback got injured.
He was even expected to become the starting QB for Washington State this season, but tragedy struck first.
After not showing up for practice on January 16, Hilinski was found in his apartment with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Tyler was just 21 years old at his time of passing.
1 Close Call: Sachin Tendulkar
You know you are good at what you do if one of the nicknames you got during your career was “God of Cricket.” This is the life Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar lived after he became a famous player. But much like thousands if not millions of kids in India, he had to deal with a lot of things growing up that many people in Western countries could not even imagine. We talk about near-death experiences involving athletes, and most of them have to do with car accidents and diseases. Well, this guy almost got killed by a train.
Yes, when he was a kid, Sachin and his friends had the habit of crossing train tracks in order to get to their practices faster. It turns out that one time they didn’t check to see if any trains were coming and they got stuck between two moving trains, having to crouch down into little balls in order to avoid getting caught by the machines. That has to be one terrifying experience.