It's not unusual for professional wrestlers to come and go in the blink of an eye. Careers are cut far too short for myriad reasons, whether they be injury, drug, or brain related. It's arguably one of the toughest businesses to try to even get a foot in the door, let alone have a lasting career that spans across several decades (for an example of the latter anomaly, see: The Undertaker). This rings even more true for wrestlers of today, since their fame and fortune relies solely on how well the crowd receives their individual personalities. It wasn't long ago that many wrestlers in the industry had to undergo a variety of different character paths just to keep their foot lodged in that proverbial door and after all of those characters failed to "get over" with the crowd, well, that's when the door closed, and those faces vanished entirely from our television screens.
But sometimes those faces vanish in a much more truer sense of the word. Sometimes former wrestlers disappear not only from our weekly programming routines, but also from the world as we know it, often times unbeknownst to the majority of wrestling fans.
In this list, you'll find a cast of 12 different characters that you may not have known have died, partly because of their lack of major notoriety or maybe because they kind of always flew under the radar and no one seemed to notice when they no longer made it onto television screens week in and week out. Or maybe just enough time had passed after their careers were over and since the wheels of the WWE are constantly in motion, they were no longer relevant.
But they're still real to me and I hope that this article sheds a little more light on the dark side of professional wrestling.
12 Chris Candido, 33
We start this list with an unfortunate case: Chris Candido. Candido had a brief run in WWE as Skip, a character focused on fitness and body building, along with his manager and real-life girlfriend Sunny (Tammy Lynn Sytch). Although his run was brief, his death was extremely shocking to the wrestling community as it came from a complication brought on by a surgery that he recently underwent to repair a broken leg. The surgery caused a blood clot, which spread to his lungs and eventually led to him contracting pneumonia. Candido would eventually succumb to his illness four days after his initial injury. He was only 33 years old.
11 Reid Flair, 25
Reid Flair never made it to the WWE, therefore he never really got the attention that his extremely famous father, Ric Flair, ever did (and who could), but a serious drug dependency ended the life of Reid at the young age of 25 years old. Prior to Reid's death, some people probably never even knew that Ric had a son, so when the news circled the presses, it was an absolute shock to everyone. Reid's name was recently used in a controversial angle between Paige and Charlotte Flair, which some fans felt crossed the line between reality and kayfabe. Cause of death was linked to habitual use of black tar heroin.
10 Big Boss Man, 41
It's not common for wrestlers with over-the-top gimmicks like a police officer to have two separate runs of success in two very different eras of the WWE, but the Big Boss Man defied those odds. A moderate fan favorite of the late '80s/early '90s as a man of the law, the Big Boss Man sidewalked slammed his way from mid-card status all the way to duking it out against Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, and a decade later (after brief stints in Japan and WCW), he'd find himself at mid-card status yet again as an enforcer of sorts for Vince McMahon's Corporation stable of the late '90s/early 2000s. Inside the ring he helped push the careers of many of the younger talent on the roster, or help them "get over" with fans at untelevised house shows across the United States and Canada. The Big Boss Man would retire from professional wrestling in 2004, mere months before his death from a heart attack at the age of 41.
9 Road Warrior Hawk, 46
Road Warrior Hawk was one-half of arguably the most dominant tag team in professional wrestling history. Best known to current fans for his few stints in the WWE, Hawk enjoyed plenty of success with his tag team partner Animal and together they would win a variety of tag team championships across every major wrestling promotion. While their gimmick inside of the ring was to be that of intense, no-nonsense bruisers, this didn't exactly stop them from carrying that over into the real world. It certainly wasn't a rare occurrence for Hawk to have a few too many beers at a bar while on the road, which would often times lead to the inevitable bar fight. Toward the end of his career, the WWE forced a storyline onto him based on his real-life alcoholism which made him undeniably uncomfortable and Hawk quickly quit the company after his controversial "murder" at the hands of new Legion of Doom member Puke on Monday Night Raw. In October of 2003, while moving into his new condo in Florida, Hawk felt tired and went to bed, where he sadly suffered a heart attack in his sleep.
8 Sensational Sherri, 49
A true icon for women in professional wrestling, "Sensational Sherri" Martel was the perfect embodiment of what it meant to be a wrestler. A terrific talker on the mic and an in-ring ability that could match any man, Sherri was a groundbreaking female talent throughout the '80s. Many current fans of the WWE may have only known her simply as a valet for WWE Superstars like Shawn Michaels and the WCW tag-team Harlem Heat, but Sherri had the heart of a true WWE Champion from a very early age. Dominant in the women's division, she trailblazed the way for every WWE Diva currently on the roster with her charisma and persona. She had a great deal of success throughout her multiple-decade career as both a wrestler and later as a valet/manager (once the WWE decided to eliminate the Women's Division entirely), and once she started to wind down around the mid 2000s, she was honored with the distinction of being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006. It would only be 14 months later that she would pass away while at her mother's house in Alabama from a toxic overdose of various drugs, including oxycodone. She was 49 years old.
7 Mike Awesome, 42
Mike Awesome was best known for his ECW title reign of the late '90s (and signature mullet haircut), but he also had a string of runs with WCW, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and a short stint with the WWE. Although built with a large physique, Mike Awesome was also very agile and often times would launch himself over the top rope to the outside of the ring to a large number of opponents. His trademark finishing move, the Awesome Bomb, was a devastating power bomb that was frequently performed off the top rope. Unfortunately, once his career came to an end, Mike Awesome was found dead in his Florida home on February 17th..
6 Brian Pillman, 35
Brian Pillman was one-half of the WCW tag-team, The Hollywood Blondes in the early '90s along with some other guy named Steve Austin, whoever he is… Anyway, Brian was a charismatic wrestler, known at the time as Flyin' Brian Pillman, but he would later rebrand himself in the WWE as a "loose cannon," which was a persona that may have inadvertently kickstarted the infamous Attitude Era. On the November 4th, 1996 episode of Monday Night Raw, a very controversial angle between that very same Steve Austin from WCW (now known as Stone Cold Steve Austin) and Brian Pillman found themselves in the middle of a standoff at Pillman's house in suburban Cincinnati (Walton, KY). Stone Cold was attempting to break in Pillman's front door when the camera panned over to Pillman, who was armed with a 9mm glock and was ready to shoot the intruding Austin. Just as Austin successfully broke into Pillman's house, however, the cameras' feed conveniently cut out. As a result of this storyline, Vince McMahon had to publicly apologize for potentially crossing over what many consider to be "the line." Shortly after that storyline was tossed, Pillman would continue to feud with Austin throughout 1997 -this time as a member of The Hart Foundation- but he tragically wouldn't live to see 1998. An undiagnosed congenital heart condition that also claimed his father ended his life at the age of 35.
5 Miss Elizabeth, 42
Once a prominent figure throughout the late '80s and early '90s with Macho Man Randy Savage in the WWE, Miss Elizabeth seemingly vanished from the face of the Earth once she left the wrestling scene. Not much is really known about the events leading up to her death other than the fact that she was found unresponsive in the home of Lex Luger; toxicology reports showed the cause of death to be drug and alcohol related, which is unfortunately extremely common in the case of most people within the wrestling industry. She was only 42 years old.
4 Test, 33
Test had all the attributes of a WWE Superstar: size, strength, physique... you name it. He also had a brief run at the top of the WWE where he was this close to marrying Stephanie McMahon, right up until it was (kayfabe, well, at least it was at the time) revealed that Triple H had already stolen her heart, to say the least. Test would never again achieve the height he once had in those few fleeting moments at the top of the WWE. After retiring from professional wrestling at the age of 33, his neighbors in Florida alerted the police that they were concerned about seeing him motionless in his house, and it was confirmed that Test had died from a drug overdose shortly before he would turn 34 years old.
3 Giant Gonzalez, 44
Easily the biggest big-man to enter the squared circle, Giant Gonzalez had an extremely short run in the WWE (two years), but had a feud with The Undertaker that culminated at WrestleMania IX. In fact, that match has the distinction of being the only match during The Undertaker's impressive WrestleMania undefeated streak to end by disqualification (a streak which ended at 21-1 to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XXX). Giant Gonzalez suffered from the same affliction that Andre the Giant and Big Show also suffered from (acromegaly), which accounted for their extreme and unusual size. While the Big Show had surgery to stop his growing while a teenager, Giant Gonzalez never did and grew to be just shy of eight feet tall. Lesser known fact: Gonzalez was drafted as a basketball player by the Atlanta Hawks in 1988, but his knees couldn't handle the stress that the sport demands and never made it to the NBA. Despite this, his name is forever associated with being one of the first Argentines to be drafted by an NBA franchise. His health gradually worsened throughout his 30s and his career as a wrestler would be over by 1995. Because of his gigantism, he would only live to be 44 years old.
2 Bam Bam Bigelow, 45
Bam Bam Bigelow was a star throughout the '80s and '90s because of his remarkable agility inside the ring, frequently performing moonsaults off the top rope despite the fact that he was well over 300 pounds. His unusual head tattoos and trademark wrestling attire (tights covered in flame patterns) also made him one of the most recognizable athletes on the roster at the time. He gained fame through the WWE, but also had successes in ECW and WCW under the same ring name. Lesser known fact: he was single-handedly responsible for saving a group of children from a burning building in July of 2000, an incident which would see him hospitalized for over two months. Bam Bam suffered from chronic back problems and heart disease later in life, but his death was actually a result of toxic levels of cocaine and anxiety medicine.
1 Crash Holly, 32
Crash Holly was the diminutive half of the Holly Cousins, along with Bob "Hardcore" Holly. He had a successful gimmick with the fans as a 22-time Hardcore Champion, where he was responsible for the introduction of the "24/7" rule, meaning that the title was always on the line no matter where or when a challenge for the title took place. He was also given the nickname "the Houdini of Hardcore" for his ability to quickly regain the title after someone else was responsible for inflicting damage to the would-be champion. Crash would quickly scurry off backstage after a victory so that no one else could potentially challenge his newfound title reign. However, his career was cut far too short after he received divorce papers in late 2003 (after only about four years of marriage), which led to his suicide by a lethal combination of pills and alcohol. He was only 32 years old.