Professional wrestling is a business like no other. It’s a sport, yet it never stops. There are no seasons and the juggernaut that is WWE runs year round. It’s also entertainment and a television show, yet again it never stops unlike its rivals who have seasons and take breaks. What that means is the talents that we wrestling fans watch week in, week out, year after year rarely, if ever, get to take a break. They don’t have holidays and the only time they really get time off is if they suffer an injury, something that is common place in the industry considering the wear and tear the young men and women’s bodies go through.
It’s that wear and tear that brings us on to the topic of this particular article. Substance abuse. When you’re constantly on the road and putting your body through a physical toll every single night a lot of the time something has to give. Nowadays it doesn't seem to be as big of an issue as it once was. Back in the 1990s painkillers were common place, as well as recreational drugs to take the edge off for some performers. Sadly and inevitably that led to some wrestlers becoming addicted to drugs, them having a negative affect on their career, and in some cases as you’ll see from this list their eventual death.
If you’re a member of the famed Anoa’i family of Samoan descent, chances are you’re going to become a professional wrestler. Roman Reigns, Rikishi, The Rock. The list of Anoa’i family members who have been involved in the business is as long as your arm. Rikishi’s brother Edward Fatu was one of those wrestlers, better known to fans as Umaga. Sadly Umaga is no longer with us. In 2009 the Samoan and former Intercontinental Champion passed away. Fatu was found passed out with blood coming from his nose. Shortly after Edward was pronounced dead and upon further inspection his death was attributed to a heart attack brought about by a drug overdose. Only six months prior to his death Umaga had been released by WWE for violating their Wellness Policy and refusing to seek out rehabilitation.
15 Perry Saturn
The tale of Perry Saturn is a pretty strange and sad one, but as it stands it luckily doesn’t have the very unhappy ending that Umaga’s did. In the late 1990s and early 2000s Saturn was at the top of his game, befriending and pairing up with the likes of Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero in both WCW and WWE. After initially retiring from wrestling in 2004 Saturn was shot in the back of the neck while helping a woman from two men who were trying to rape her. The injury caused Perry so much pain that he developed a drug addiction that led to him becoming homeless and falling completely off the grid for a number of years. Saturn recently did a tell all podcast with Chris Jericho, describing his time addicted to drugs and the terrible path it took him down. He has attempted to restart his wrestling career in recent years with little success, something I’m sure wouldn’t have been the case had it not been for the injury and drug use.
14 Rob Van Dam
Anyone who knows Rob Van Dam is probably aware that the former ECW and WWE Champion is a vociferous proponent of marijuana use. Not a huge deal, and something that is becoming more and more common place and less criminalized in the present day. When Van Dam finally reached the lofty heights of WWE Champion though it landed him in hot water. Just a month into what would be his one and only reign Rob lost the title in confusing and short order. A few days later it was revealed that Van Dam was being suspended for violating WWE’s Wellness Policy. Had the ECW Original not been using drugs at the time his career would have almost definitely reached even higher heights than the ones he had already experienced. For starters that title run wouldn’t have ended so abruptly.
13 Kerry Von Erich
The tale of Kerry Von Erich is an extremely sad one, and only adds to an even more tragic story of the Von Erich family as a whole. It’s a surname that’s synonymous with professional wrestling. The father, Fritz, was a wrestler and so were five of his six sons. Tragically four of those five died before their time and Kerry was one of those when he committed suicide in 1993. In 1986 Kerry was involved in a motorcycle accident that resulted in his foot being amputated. Although he managed to continue wrestling afterward with the help of a prosthetic, he became addicted to painkillers to help manage the pain. The pain along with the drug use, two arrests and a divorce all proved too much for Kerry to handle and he committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart.
12 Jeff Hardy
Similarly to Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy has had his own issues with recreational drugs while under WWE’s banner after reaching the pinnacle of becoming WWE Champion. Jeff butted heads with WWE over his drug use long before that however and actually left the company because of it for the first time back in 2003. Like Umaga he refused to work with the company and begin rehabilitation. Despite that Hardy of course returned but was suspended in 2008 for drug use, a suspension that saw him lose the Intercontinental Championship. Jeff would once again eventually leave WWE and a low point for him came when he wrestled Sting in TNA. Hardy was so out if it in the match that Sting literally had to hold him down and pin him as the crowd around them understandably booed. He may have been a WWE Champion but he may have never left WWE if it had not been for the drug problems.
11 Miss Elizabeth
Miss Elizabeth truly was The First Lady of Wrestling. When she would accompany Randy Savage to the ring in the late 1980s she was beloved universally by pro wrestling fans. The last few years of her life were sadly a far cry from her glory years by Macho Man’s side. Elizabeth wound up in a relationship with Lex Luger after the pair were put together in WCW. After their departure from the company the couple remained together but it appears their relationship became alcohol fuelled and abusive. Luger will feature later in this list and is of course still alive today, but unfortunately Miss Elizabeth did not survive through this dark period in her life. In May of 2003 she died at Luger’s home. The cause of death was acute toxicity brought on by a mix of vodka and painkillers.
X-Pac, or Sean Waltman to call him by his real name, got into the professional wrestling business at a very young age. Being a wrestler so young probably meant he was very impressionable, and Sean has been extremely open about the problems he has faced with substance abuse throughout his life and career. Like Jeff Hardy a low point for Sean came in the ring, and often during interviews he’s recalled a time where he injected himself with meth right before going to the ring to wrestle AJ Styles. Outside of the the ring Waltman has sunk even lower, attempting to end his own life before luckily being discovered in time for his life to be saved. Sean now continues to wrestle but for a time his career was very much hindered by intense drug use.
Those of you who began watching pro wrestling around the same time I did, that being the early 2000s, will most likely remember Test. A former Intercontinental Champion and definite mid carder who looked a lot older than he was. When he passed away in 2009 around ten years after his WWE debut he was still only 33 years old. Test returned to WWE a couple of years before his death for a less successful run, largely with the newly relaunched ECW brand. That run came to an end when Test was suspended under the company’s Wellness Program and then released a week later. Twice between being released and dying he was arrested for driving under the influence. In 2009 he was found dead at his home after accidentally overdosing on oxycodone.
8 Lex Luger
This entry was touched on a little bit earlier as we covered Miss Elizabeth, but now we can move fully on to her partner at the time of her passing, Lex Luger. Following his departure from WCW Lex clearly went down a bad path. Luger was arrested and charged for battery against Miss Elizabeth and just days after was arrested again for driving under the influence with his girlfriend in the car. As we already know things got much worse and Elizabeth would pass away while with Lex after mixing painkillers and vodka. When Lex’s house was searched following her death he was once again arrested following the sheer amount of different drugs they discovered. A very dark time in Lex Luger’s life.
7 Scott Hall
Scott Hall has had issues with drug use on and off for well over 20 years. All the way back in 1983 Hall was charged with murder after shooting a man in a strip club parking lot. In an interview years later Scott said he still can’t stop thinking about the incident and his good friend Kevin Nash cites the PTSD from that night as a driving force behind his substance abuse. Another friend of his, Diamond Dallas Page, has recently helped Scott stay clean in recent years after the former nWo member fell off the wagon time and time again and would repeatedly get himself into trouble. It seems to have worked but in the present day Scott suffers from an awful lot of health issues after a life in the ring coupled with hard drug use.
6 The British Bulldog
The British Bulldog may very well be the biggest star from the United Kingdom that the pro wrestling business has ever produced. That’s why it’s a shame that Davey Boy Smith never held the WWE Championship, and even more of a shame that he died the way that he did before he had even celebrated his 40th birthday. In 2002 Smith passed away after suffering a heart attack. Even though it was never confirmed, Davey spent a lot of his life and career using anabolic steroids and those close to him attribute that in part to his premature death. At 39 Bulldog may have had so much more to give to the wrestling business, but now we'll never know.
5 Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig is most famous for his time as Mr Perfect in WWE. Sadly it would seem that in some ways that was very much just a front and persona. Throughout the 1990s drug use in pro wrestling was common place. Mostly painkillers but as is evident from this list, some much harder and more sinister things also. While Hennig’s father believes that painkillers and steroids played a part in his son’s death, the official cause was attributed to acute cocaine intoxication. Curt was only 44 years old and was actually still wrestling at a high level when he passed away in 2003. He had returned to WWE in 2002 and was under the employ of TNA when he died.
4 Road Warrior Hawk
WWE are not shy when it comes to blurring the lines between reality and fiction. That was very evident when the Road Warriors returned to WWE during the late ‘90s. Road Warrior Hawk had been struggling with both alcohol and drug abuse in his personal life and the company thought it would be a good idea to build a story line around it. They even had Hawk demonstrate suicidal tendencies, citing his substance problems as the reason behind it. The angle was clearly in very poor taste, so much so in fact that Hawk and Animal eventually left WWE shortly after because of it. Hawk wrestled on and off after that but later passed away after suffering a heart attack at his home in 2003.
3 Jake Roberts
There is maybe no substance abuse story in professional wrestling more famous than that of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts. Like Scott Hall, long time friend DDP helped Jake deal with his substance abuse problem and had a lot of success. It was a long and troubled road though. Roberts went from being one of the most beloved wrestlers during the late 1980s to being booked at independent shows 15 years later and turning up drunk and drugged up. Jake has candidly said that had it not been for DDP he would be dead right now. While his career was ruined for a number of years thanks to his addiction, at least it wasn’t too late to save the now WWE Hall of Famer’s life.
If Chyna was eventually going to get the help that Jake Roberts had, then unfortunately that help will come too late. Maybe if someone had have stepped in sooner The Eighth Wonder of the World would still be with us today. It really is heart breaking as the women that grew up watching her and were inspired by her are the female wrestlers changing the business as of right now and Chyna is sadly not around to see what she arguably started. It wasn’t a secret that Chyna struggled with substance abuse in her life after pro wrestling but clearly she wasn’t getting the help that she needed and was maybe hiding how serious it was from those closest to her. Chyna would have made such a great representative for women’s wrestling in WWE today, much like the role Lita currently has with the company, but sadly it’s now something we’ll never see.