The art of professional wrestling is something that often takes a toll on the bodies of those who step inside the squared circle. Whether it’s a one-off accident or a series of injuries that are collected up over time, the men and women that risk their lives on a weekly basis sometimes end up on the worst side of history – with an early demise.
Of course this isn’t always the case and there have been plenty of stars who lived to see their 70s and 80s, but unfortunately, that’s become rarer as the years go on. There are certainly ways to rectify these tragedies, but that doesn’t make the past any easier to accept.
This list is a perfect example of that because we can guarantee that you would’ve forgotten that some of the names featured here had passed away. That’s not a knock, either, because it’s become such a frequent thing in the present day that it’s almost too hard to keep track. Oh, and we aren’t insulting those who are in the "can’t believe they’re still alive" section, it’s just that the odds wouldn’t usually be in their favour.
We’ll kick things off with the 10 larger than life athletes who unfortunately left this world far too soon.
20 Rosey (Passed Away)
Rosey, also known as Matthew Anoa’i, is a more recent addition to this list than the majority of entries – which is a shame. For those of you who don’t know, Rosey was a part of the Three Minute Warning stable during his time with WWE and was also a sidekick alongside the man we know as The Hurricane. Not exactly the most illustrious of histories, but still worth noting.
Unfortunately, Rosey died earlier this year, and some people may not realise that he was also the real-life brother of Roman Reigns. Whilst it may have garnered some attention in the initial aftermath of the incident, six months on we’d put money on people not being able to accurately tell whether or not he’s still alive. That, in itself, is a shame.
19 Terry Funk (Still Alive)
Now we move on to what some may describe as a more light-hearted section of this article, as we look at some superstars past and present who are somehow still with us. We’re kicking things off with the one and only Terry Funk, who is known far and wide as the guy who has retired about 300 times within the last two decades of his career.
Funk, now approaching his mid-70s, is still wrestling on the independent circuit despite swearing that he would walk away from the business on several occasions. The amount of turmoil that he’s put his body through probably should’ve ensured early retirement years ago, but one way or another Terry is still going strong in the face of adversity.
18 Big Boss Man (Passed Away)
Big Boss Man was an ever-present member of the WWF locker room during his two tenures with the company, and although he was stuck with some awful storylines he always seemed to make the best of a bad situation. Sure, the guy was nothing more than a perennial mid-carder, but he did his job to the best of his abilities and that’s all you can really ask for.
His death due to a heart attack back in 2004 was extremely sudden and extremely saddening, as he was known to be one of the most beloved members of the roster – dependant on who you believe. Aside from being featured as one of The Undertaker’s streak victims, we don’t tend to see him being remembered all that much on WWE programming, and that needs to change.
17 Dynamite Kid (Still Alive)
The Dynamite Kid is one of the most diverse performers in the history of professional wrestling. From Bret Hart to Dave Meltzer, figures from around the world have praised Kid for being one of the true innovators behind the "high-flying" and "athletic" style that we’ve seen in Mexico, Europe, the United States and beyond over the last few decades.
Unfortunately, he’s had many issues to go alongside his phenomenal work ethic and that’s led to plenty of health problems. The 58-year-old is a shadow of the man he once was, and nowadays you’ll be hard-pressed to find him making a public appearance of any kind. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate everything he’s given the industry.
So thank you, Dynamite.
16 Crash Holly (Passed Away)
Crash Holly’s exploits with the Hardcore Championship were fantastic, and we won’t hear anyone dispute that. The superstar who resembled a pitbull was able to string together some thoroughly amusing sequences with the belt, in which he was always somehow able to escape with the title around his waist – even if the most extraordinary circumstances.
Because of that, it’ll come as a bit of a shock that Holly actually died of a drug overdose back in 2003. He’d only just entered his 30s and should’ve been moving in the prime of his career, but as is the case with so many professional wrestlers his demons caught up with him and his passing was officially ruled a suicide.
We'll never forget the comedic title defences, Crash.
15 Rikishi (Still Alive)
Rikishi is notoriously known as the big guy with the big ass who used to Stinkface everyone that moved, but when you look deeper into his career you’ll soon discover that he was so much more than that. His main event programs were solid, he was a great big man wrestler, and his family is one of the most prestigious in all of wrestling.
So then, we don’t think it’s all too controversial to suggest that Rikishi living past 50 is a bit of a surprise. Given the nature of his line of work, his body type and his family’s history with early deaths, Rikishi still being on this earth is a blessing for us all. Sure he may not be able to go in the ring anymore, but we’d settle for the occasional appearance on Raw once every few years.
14 Miss Elizabeth (Passed Away)
Beautiful, confident and full of charisma – Miss Elizabeth was the golden girl of the World Wrestling Federation for most of her run there. She may have been predominantly used as a valet, but the effectiveness of her character can be summed up by her reunion with "Macho Man" Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII.
But she wasn’t without her demons, and back in 2003, she passed away due to acute toxicity which was brought on by a mixture of vodka and painkillers. She’s fondly remembered to this day, sure, but given that our memories of her inside the squared circle are so special it’s easy to forget that she’s no longer with us.
Perhaps a Hall of Fame induction would help to jog people’s memories a bit.
13 Jim Duggan (Still Alive)
Raising a plank of wood and yelling "Hooooo!" is one thing, but sticking around and contributing to the business well past your prime is something that deserves to be noted. Jim Duggan, whilst not being a legitimate main eventer throughout his entire career, has been an ever-present within the WWE family for quite some time now.
That isn’t a knock on him either, and neither is his appearance on this list – it’s just that Superstars from his era don’t tend to make it into their 60s these days. That’s quite an upsetting sentence for many but it’s the truth, and for that reason, we should be all the more grateful that Duggan is able to pop up so frequently; because there are many legends that can’t.
12 Ivan Koloff (Passed Away)
Ivan Koloff was nothing if not a hard worker, as evidenced by the fact that he once held the WWE Championship. The Russian Bear was a traditional heel in the ring, but at heart, he was much more than that and he should be considered an asset to the company now and forever more – even after his passing back in February.
The problem with Koloff’s death is that it happened in the midst of a series of pro wrestling-related tragedies, meaning that he was almost pushed to the side and forgotten about, which is a shame. Fans deserve to know who this man was and what he did for the business because his influence is something that cannot be understated.
Plus, how great is The Russian Bear for a nickname?
11 Buff Bagwell (Still Alive)
Buff Bagwell was "The Stuff" but never exactly "The Man," and it’s okay to admit that. Some guys are destined for the top and some are destined to forever find themselves in the mid-card, and Bagwell almost certainly falls into the latter category. He still had value in both WWE and WCW, but as the years went by his status within both companies soon began to drop.
The reason why we’re surprised that he’s still around is that rumours have been floating around for years regarding Buff’s relationship with steroids. Sure, they’ve never 100% been confirmed or denied, but it’s still worth noting that his figure does put him within that stereotypical "pro wrestler dies young" mould. Thankfully, he hasn’t lived down to that billing just yet.
10 Balls Mahoney (Passed Away)
Whilst he may not have been much more than a glorified stuntman, Balls Mahoney put everything he had on the line in the name of entertaining the fans. He was an integral part of ECW during the height of its popularity, and he was able to transfer some of that magic over to the WWE – but the good times wouldn’t last forever.
Mahoney, unfortunately, passed away suddenly at the age of 44, in what can be described a death that majorly flew under the radar. Given how young he was and how beloved he was by the fans, it’s hard to accept that he’s no longer with us. Of course, some will highlight a multitude of issues when it comes to the reason behind his demise, but all that we care about is honouring his memory moving forward.
9 Sabu (Still Alive)
Those of you who recognise the name Sabu will probably recall his early days in the WWE when he faced stars like John Cena and Rey Mysterio in high profile pay per view matches. Alas, his wrestling lineage goes back much further than that – with his tenure in Extreme Championship Wrestling being the stuff of legends.
Sabu is a human car crash and that’s quite literally the best term we can think to use when describing him, with the hardcore legend putting his body through some seriously messed up ordeals. He’s experienced many health problems as of late, and at 52 we all think it’d be best if the former champion hung up his boots once and for all.
We don’t want to see another casualty.
8 The Zombie (Passed Away)
Tim Calkins was a professional wrestler who was able to hone his craft on the independent scene for quite a few years back in the early 2000s. He was a capable performer, but never really stood out above the rest of the pack in terms of receiving that long-awaited phone call from the WWE. Then, in 2006, it finally happened.
Unfortunately, Calkins will forever be remembered as ‘The Zombie" – a character that appeared in the debut episode of WWE’s weekly ECW television show. It was a massive failure that indicated this wouldn’t prove to be a very successful venture, and Calkins actually passed away at the age of just 38 back in 2015.
Regardless of The Zombie, he deserves to be remembered on some level.
7 Jamie Noble (Still Alive)
Jamie Noble, to a lot of fans, is nothing more than a guy who was able to thrive within WWE’s watered down version of the Cruiserweight division. Thankfully, some members of the WWE Universe are more switched on than that and they’ve been able to appreciate the great work Jamie has done both behind the scenes and on screen as one of Seth Rollins’ lackeys in J&J Security.
The reason he appears on this list is simple: the man was stabbed twice during a recent altercation and still managed to come out of it with his life. Noble suffered a punctured lung and some pretty serious injuries, and yet in the present day, he continues to work day in and day out as a producer for World Wrestling Entertainment. Give this man a pay raise, for the love of God.
6 Steve Williams (Passed Away)
"Dr Death" Steve Williams was being groomed for the top of the card back in the mid to late 90s, with rumours suggesting that real-life friend Jim Ross was keen on pushing the former football player to the moon. Of course, as we all know, a knockout in the Brawl For All tournament stuck a pin in those plans, but he was still a notable addition to the WWF roster at the time.
Williams wouldn’t see past his late 40s, however, as he died courtesy of a battle with throat cancer at the age of 49. His imposing figure combined with his infamous place in the annals of WWE history would likely lead you to believe that he was still around in the present day, but unfortunately, we’ll never see Dr Death lace up a pair of boots again.
5 Sunny (Still Alive)
It’s almost not worth our time doing another entry on Sunny, but given the nature of her career, it’s only fair that we give credit where credit is due. The original "diva" back in the '90s was extremely influential in launching a platform for women within the WWE, and as such she’s fondly remembered by fans both young and old.
Her problems outside of the ring, however, are well documented and it’s led to a string of complications regarding both her personal life and her health. Sunny has fallen down so many times that we often wonder whether she’s going to get back up again, and whilst that may sound harsh we’re only being truthful. After all, her body of work really does speak for itself.
4 Mike Awesome (Passed Away)
Contract disputes and promotion hopping aside, Mike Awesome was always a force to be reckoned with inside of the squared circle. He had a certain attitude and look to him that instantly attracted the eye of Vince McMahon, but the success that he experienced over in ECW didn’t translate over to the WWF as smoothly as many had anticipated.
This is something that still frustrates some Attitude Era fans to this day, as some people believe Awesome to be one of the most underrated stars of that time period. Either way, his fate was a sad one as Mike committed suicide via hanging in his Tampa home, aged just 42. The WWE did pay tribute to him, but it’s still shocking to realise that this actually happened.
3 The Great Khali (Still Alive)
When you’re as tall and as imposing as The Great Khali, you’re always going to be considered a ticking time bomb amongst the internet wrestling community. The former World Heavyweight Champion is extremely limited when it comes to what he can do in the ring, and that’s been the case ever since he first debuted for the WWE.
Khali also had to undergo brain surgery a few years back, indicating that perhaps there are some more long-term issues that he’ll have to contend with moving forward. Still, you can’t deny that he makes an impact whenever he shows up and if he’s in that much pain on a regular basis then we should praise him for fighting through that for the sake of the fans.
2 Test (Passed Away)
Whilst Test was never able to ascend to the heights that many originally expected him to reach, nobody can deny that he had a notable career with the WWE. From being involved in storylines with Stephanie McMahon to winning a few mid-card titles, Test was always somewhere to be found and many probably thought he’d eventually return to the company somewhere down the line.
Alas, his death in 2009 at the age of 33 ended those hopes and he wasn’t really done much justice in the ways of a tribute. Sure, there may have been some drug issues that soured the waters of his relationship with people behind the scenes, but his great work inside the ropes is what we need to be considering here.
1 Scott Steiner (Still Alive)
Big Poppa Pump is the definition of intimidating, and to many, his physique is the definition of "this isn’t natural." Because of that, Steiner has been on the wrong end of the spectrum for quite some time now when it comes to fans worrying about his health and well-being. Despite that, however, he seems to have stayed away from trouble – for the most part.
The former WCW standout continues to perform to this day and whilst that’s certainly admirable, it is cause for concern too. Of course, we don’t know the physical limitations of this guy but considering he’s in his mid-50s, we have to assume that it might be smarter for him to move towards retirement a bit quicker than he would have originally liked.
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