WWE doesn't get enough credit for solving their premature death crisis. Painkillers, human growth hormone, and unhealthy lifestyles were killing wrestlers in the 90s and early 200's at an unprecedented rate. WWE to take action or the bad PR from the short life expectancies of their wrestlers was going to have a drastic impact on the business. Their response required drastic action on their part. They put in place a Wellness Policy and announced they would pay for drug and alcohol rehab for any former employee who needed it. They have dished out millions of dollars for several former wrestlers.
While this policy has most likely cost WWE huge sums of money, it has probably saved them much more in the long-run. The Wellness Policy, for the most part, prevents problems from spiralling out of control. Nowadays, wrestlers seem to lead much healthier lifestyles and are not dropping dead before they turn 40.
Unfortunately for the wrestlers in this article, the two hardest hit eras from wrestling's premature death crisis were the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression eras. In this article, we focus on ten wrestlers from each era that lost their lives at far too early of an age.
20 Luna Vachon (Attitude Era)
During the Attitude Era, Luna Vachon served as a rival for Sable and later as a manager for the parade of Human Oddities.
Unfortunately, we lost Luna Vachon in 2010. She was 48 years old when she died of an overdose in her home in Florida. The previous year, Luna had gone to WWE sponsored rehabilitation but evidently her addiction to painkillers carried on after she completed her treatment.
Her wrestling career was unique for her era. Luna got over as a unique heel, her character was originally a reporter who was later corrupted by Kevin Sullivan. She would continue with her lunatic persona the rest of her career.
She was close friends with Andre the Giant and her ashes were scattered over Andre's old ranch in North Carolina after her death.
19 Sean O'Haire (Ruthless Aggression)
Sean O'Haire seemed like a can't miss prospect in 2000 when he came out of World Championship Wrestling's Power Plant program. He would go on to become a regular in the later stages for the promotion before his contract was picked up by WWE after they purchased WCW.
Then after a motorcycle accident in 2004, he and WWE mutually parted ways. O'Haire wanted to get involved in professional kickboxing and mixed martial arts. He ended up competing professionally in both sports after leaving WWE. People close to him say that he had been suffering from depression and was suffering from alcoholism leading up to his death. Unfortunately, Sean O'Haire committed suicide in 2014.
18 Test (Attitude Era)
The other man who almost married Stephanie McMahon in WWE programming, Andrew "Test" Martin, lost his life in 2009 of a suspected drug overdose.
When Test debuted for the WWE in 1998 he came in as a bodyguard for Motley Crew. He then ended up joining the Corporation, Vince McMahon's stable at the time. Test would eventually leave the Corporation and helped form the Union, which was a stable of wrestlers who fought against the Corporation.
Test would eventually be let go from the promotion in 2004. He would come back briefly in 2006 and 2007 to take part in the revamped ECW brand but would eventually request his release again not long after. Just a couple of years later, Test was found dead on March 13, 2009. His death was ruled an overdose due to prescription painkillers.
17 Russ Haas (Ruthless Aggression)
The tragedy of Russ Haas was not that he died right before he and his brother debuted on WWE television but that he lost his life at only 27 years of age. Had Russ had not died, there's no telling what the Hass brothers could've done in WWE's Tag Team Division.
The team was signed to WWE in 2000 and we're competing in their developmental territories when Russ died on December 15th, 2001. Charlie would wrestle for the remainder of his WWE career with the name Russ written on his wrist tape. While in developmental he changed his name to RC Hass, as in Russ and Charlie.
Russ had longstanding heart problems and had suffered his first heart attack at 21. His second heart attack killed him in his sleep at 27 years of age.
16 Doug Furnas (Attitude Era)
Doug Furnas was a power-lifter who teamed with Philip Lafon as the team Furnas and Lafon in ECW, WWE, and in Japan. They were very successful in All-Japan Wrestling and a popular team in ECW as well but they never caught on in WWE- as well as the promotion hoped they would. At one point, the plan had been to align them with Bret Hart's Hart Foundation since Lafon was from Canada but it never came to pass. They also had a great feud in ECW with Sabu and Rob Van Dam.
Before the Attitude Era, Furnas had a series of matches with Ric Flair for WCW in 1990 as well. After retiring Furnas and his wife ran a group home for abused boys, but unfortunately a heart attack would take his life at only the age of 52.
15 Crash Holly (Ruthless Aggression)
Crash Holly's WWE career sort of straddled the line between the late Attitude Era stage and the early Ruthless Aggression stage. By the time he was getting much airtime, however, most of the attitude from the Attitude Era was gone.
Crash would be placed in the fictional Holly family along with Hardcore Holly and Molly Holly. While it seemed that he was coming along and gaining some fans, he was let go from the promotion in 2003. He would quickly catch on with TNA wrestling but only did a short stint with the company who were then only doing weekly Pay Per Views.
Crash Holly's death in 2003 was ruled a suicide via alcohol and prescription drugs. He was said to have been depressed leading up to his death due to a failed marriage.
14 Viscera (Attitude Era)
Nelson Frazier, better known to wrestling fans as Viscera or Mabel, died in 2014 of a heart attack. He was only 43 years old at the time.
A very large man, Viscera was pushed to the top of the card as King Mabel, even challenging for the WWE championship at SummerSlam. It's rumored that WWE became frustrated with his lack of ability to reduce his weight, however. Having dealt with similar issues with wrestlers such as Yokozuna, WWE fired Viscera on three different occasions in 1996, 2000 and again in 2008.
Representatives for his estate attempted to sue WWE after his death claiming that the impacts of concussions and CTE were to blame. The case was later dismissed with nothing coming from it.
13 Rosey (Ruthless Aggression Era)
WWE wrestler, Rosey, performed in WWE from 2002 to 2006. He began with the company as a member of the 3-Minute Warning tag team along with Jamal, who fans might better remember as Umaga. Rosey died in April of this year as a result of a congestive heart failure.
His father was Sika of the Wild Samoans and he was the older brother of Roman Reigns. Rosey also left behinds family. He had actually been hospitalized due to his heart condition a few years prior to his death.
Weight problems plagued Rosey throughout his life. In 2007, year after being released from WWE, Rosey competed on an ABC reality show Fat March. It was a show consisting of 12 people trying to lose weight by walking over 570 miles. Unfortunately, Rosey couldn't make it the whole way as he began to suffer problems with his knees.
12 Chris Candido (Attitude Era)
Chris Candido had a short stint in WWE as one half of the Bodydonnas. The tag team is most notable for featuring the debut of Sunny, who would go on to be a big star in the promotion even after Candido returned to ECW.
The story goes that while Sunny stayed in WWE she had a torrid love affair with Shawn Michaels. Ultimately, Sunny would decide to break things off with HBK and continue her relationship with Candido, however.
In 2005, Candido competed at TNA Wrestling's Lockdown event and fractured his tibia and fibula in a cage match. He died four days after surgery to repair the damage. There are conflicting reports about whether he died from a blood clot or from pneumonia he had developed. Either way, wrestling lost a truly talented individual at only 33 years of age.
11 Lance Cade (Ruthless Aggression)
Lance Cade was part of the famous first class of Shawn Michaels' Wrestling Academy along with Daniel Bryan and Brian Kendrick. He was the guy in the class that Michaels most felt could earn a WWE contract. HBK was right on that as well as Cade would be signed with the organization from 2001 to 2008.
Cade was released by WWE after a strange incident on a plane in 2008. All that was said regarding the incident was that Cade needed medical care on a plane and Jim Ross would later say that he made a major league mistake and used bad judgment. That bad judgment, Ross continued, is what led to his release.
Two years later, Cade died of heart failure. The San Antonio medical examiner said that intoxication from multiple drugs complicated an underlying heart condition leading to his death. He was only 29 years old.
10 Nicole Bass (Attitude Era)
Nicole Bass was a bodybuilder before she got into pro wrestling via ECW in the late 90s. When WWE got a look at her while she was in ECW, they knew they wanted her on their programming. She debuted as Sable's bodyguard in 1999 but her time in the company would be short-lived.
Not long after joining the World Wrestling Federation at the time, Bass left and filed a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment by the Brooklyn Brawler. Four years later, a court tossed out the claim.
Despite only being in the wrestling industry a short amount of time, Nicole Bass left a lasting image. Much like Chyna, Bass was portrayed as a woman who could compete with men. She died early this year on February 17 at the age of 52. It is believed she suffered a stroke and died a day after being taken off of light life support.
9 Chris Kanyon (Ruthless Aggression)
Chris Kanyon committed suicide by overdosing on prescription medication on April 2nd, 2010. It is said that he had been suffering from bipolar disorder.
Kanyon was on the WCW team during the Invasion angle and even won the United States Championship. After the Invasion angle fizzled so did Kanyon's career, however. He was eventually released by the promotion in 2004.
Shortly after being released from WWE, the former United States Champion announced that he was gay. He initially said that WWE released him because he disclosed his sexuality but quickly recanted those statements.
On November 1st, 2011, a book, co-written by Kanyon himself before his death, was released. Wrestling Reality covered much of Kanyon's struggles as a closeted gay professional wrestler.
8 Marianna Komlos (Attitude Era)
Marianna Komlos died on September 26, 2004 of breast cancer. She was only 35 at the time. The former valet was a fitness model and bodybuilder before signing with the WWE in 1999. She made her debut as the "Mother" of Mosh from the Headbangers under a new (and odd) gimmick. This was a brief angle where Mosh turned into a "Leave it to Beaver" type character with a rather chest-heavy mother played by Komlos. The gimmick involved a lot of lowbrow humor and was abandoned almost as quickly as it was started. The incest angle was too much for even the Attitude Era.
She married former MMA fighter and occasional guest on Dawn Callis and Lance Storm's podcast, Paul Lazenby, the same year she died.
7 Mike Awesome (Ruthless Aggression)
Before Mike Awesome debuted in ECW, he was a big star for the Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling organization in Japan. He was with FMW for eight years and won the promotion's Heavyweight Championship on one occasion. Paul Heyman was a big fan of FMW, liked what he saw in Awesome, and brought him into ECW where he would win their World Championship on two occasions.
Awesome would then controversially sign with WCW while still the ECW Champion. The resolution to this dispute saw Awesome lose the title to Taz, who was contracted to WWE at the time. Eventually, when WCW was sold to WWE, Mike Awesome's contract was picked up and he wrestled on SmackDown.
Unfortunately, Awesome's career faltered after he was released from WWE in 2002. He committed suicide on February 17, 2007. He was 42 years old.
6 Big Boss Man (Attitude Era)
Big Boss Man played an interesting role in the Attitude Era, as a bodyguard of sorts for Vince McMahon and his Corporation stable. He even performed one of the most ridiculous WrestleMania moments in history when he was hung with a noose from the Hell in a Cell by the Undertaker. It was something that could only happen in wrestling, Bossman magically returned to action not long after and only briefly complained of having a sore neck.
Unfortunately, that was far from the only bad storyline he was involved in during the Attitude Era. He was one half of the infamous Kennel from Hell match after all.
Unfortunately, we lost the Boss Man far too early. He died on September 22, 2004 of a heart attack. He was only 41 at the time of his death. WWE inducted him into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
5 Brian Adams (Ruthless Aggression)
When Brian Adams signed with the WWE in 2001 it was his third stint with the company. He wrestled first as the third member of Demolition and then later as Kona Crush, and then again as a different type of Crush who was in the Nation of Domination. Then finally he led the Disciples of Apocalypse before signing with WCW in 1998.
When he returned to the WWE in 2001 and he did so as one half of the KroniK tag team. You might remember they didn't last very long as they were released after a bad match with the Undertaker and Kane. Adams briefly tried his hand at boxing after having been released by WWE.
He died on August 13, 2007, the unfortunate consequence of mixing painkillers and muscle relaxants. It was an all too common trend at the time. He was 43.
4 The British Bulldog (Attitude Era)
The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith died on May 18, 2002, of a heart attack. At the time, he was on vacation with his new girlfriend who just so happened to be his brother-in-law Bruce Hart's wife. That Davey had left one member of the Hart family for another member of the Hart family's wife wasn't exactly an overwhelmingly popular decision. He had two funerals, one held by his new girlfriend and the other by the Hart family.
Unfortunately, British Bulldog's death was coming at a time where premature wrestling deaths were all too common. It is said that his death of a heart attack at 39 was possibly caused by a career's worth of steroids and human growth hormone. Becoming addicted to painkillers after injuring his back in WCW certainly wouldn't have helped things much either.
3 Balls Mahoney (Ruthless Aggression)
Balls Mahoney wrestled with WWE from 2006 to 2008 during the re-vamped launch of ECW. Before then, he had a brief stint in WWE during 1995 and 1996 as an evil version of Santa Claus known as Xanta Claus. He was managed by the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase at the time to seemingly show that even Santa had a price.
Balls even made his way to the SmackDown brand in 2008 after having been involved in a well-received angle in ECW with Kelly Kelly. Unfortunately, after wrestling the Undertaker on February 29, 2008, he was released from his contract.
Balls Mahoney died in his home on April 12, 2016, while watching Jeopardy with his wife. His death was ruled as a result of a heart attack. He was 44.
2 Brian Pillman (Attitude Era)
Brian Pillman died of a heart attack at only 35 years of age. His addiction to pain medication following an automobile accident may have been a contributing factor. He was driving his Hummer and is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel. Pillman was in a coma for a week. He had to have his ankle fused in a walking position which caused him pain and limited is high flying style.
Pillman was ahead of his time in many ways. In 1995, he started the trend of shoot promos or worked/shoot promos years before Vince Russo overdid both concepts. It's unlikely Pillman will ever be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame unless the 1997 Hart Foundation stable goes in. The company did release the documentary Loose Cannon based on his life and career, however. Currently, his son is training to become a professional wrestler.
1 Umaga (Ruthless Aggression)
Edward Smith Fatu was better known to wrestling fans as Umaga. He was also pat of 3-Minute Warning along with Rosey. His most successful stint came while using the Umaga character from 2005 to 2009 in WWE. He was portrayed as an unbeatable monster for most of this period.
Unfortunately in 2009, he was released from his WWE contracts it was later revealed that he was fired after his second violation of the company's wellness policy, along with turning down a rehab stint.
While normally it takes three failures to be released, Umaga evidently refused to go to rehab as WWE requested. He would be found dead later that year . It's believed that he suffered a drug overdose which caused multiple heart attacks and a brain hemorrhage. He was only 36 years old.