Professional wrestling is the subject of jokes and criticisms from people who love to point out that it is a “fake” sport. The action inside of the ring may be unplanned, but the tragic moments that have occurred throughout wrestling history have been real. It made international headlines when Owen Hart plummeted to his death during a WWE pay-per-view and Hart's tragic passing led many to wonder why a wrestling company would even consider attempting such an unnecessary stunt. That type of moment will thankfully never be recreated at another event. It's just too bad that policy came as a result of the loss of a human being.
Not all of the tragic moments in wrestling history involved wrestlers dying in front of fans at a show. The Ultimate Warrior and the WWE were not on speaking terms for a long time, and the two had taken public shots at each other. That relationship was repaired leading up to WrestleMania XXX, as Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before that edition of WrestleMania. Warrior's return to the WWE would include only one other appearance at an event, as Warrior tragically and sadly passed away not long after he was honored by the company.
With that in mind, we'll take a look at the most tragic moments in wrestling history.
15 Magnum T.A. Accident
The National Wrestling Alliance had maybe the next big star in the wrestling industry back in October of 1986 in the person of Magnum T.A.. That all changed, however, when Magnum was involved in a serious car accident. Magnum nearly lost his life and his career as an active in-ring performer came to a sudden and unexpected halt. It has, over the years, widely been reported that Magnum would have had at least one run as the NWA World Heavyweight Champion had that accident never occurred. Wrestling history was forever changed after that tragic moment, even though it is a blessing that Magnum managed to survive that crash.
14 The End of ECW and WCW
Some may believe saying that Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling being swallowed up by the WWE is “tragic” is a bit melodramatic. What you have to remember is that those two companies were more than just alternatives to WWE programming. They offered jobs to wrestlers, commentators, road crews, production people and others who wanted to work in the wrestling industry. Pro wrestling changed forever in 2001 when the WWE was the last entity standing out of those three organizations. It has been over a decade since there has been a true WCW replacement and there is no reason to believe one is ever coming.
13 The Plane Crash
What many wrestling fans remember about the famous plane crash of 1975 is that Ric Flair suffered a broken back, an injury that he recovered from before having one of the greatest careers in the history of the business. Some forget, however, that a pilot who was just 28-years-old lost his life in that crash. That tragic accident also resulted in wrestler Johnny Valentine becoming paralyzed. Things could have been much worse in that all souls inside of that plane could have been lost, but the crash is still tragic because of the lives that it affected long after the events of that night.
12 Bruiser Brody
It is one of the more wild and crazy wrestling stories that exists, if only because those who were not there will likely never know exactly what happened. Bruiser Brody was working in Puerto Rico on July 16th, 1988 when fellow wrestler and booker Jose Gonzalez asked Brody to “talk business” inside of the shower. A physical confrontation occurred and Brody was left stabbed by Gonzalez. Gonzalez claimed that he incident was self defense. Others, such as “Dirty” Dutch Mantell, have suggested that foul play was the reason for the stabbing. Brody died from the incident and Gonzalez was ultimately acquitted.
11 Darren Drozdov Paralyzed
Darren Drozdov was just 30-years-old when he entered a WWE ring to face business veteran D-Lo Brown on the night of October 5th, 1999. Little could either performer have guessed what was going to occur during the match. Drozdov went up for a power bomb, a move that both he and D-Lo probably believed they could execute in their sleep. Things did not go as planned, however, and Drozdov was left a quadriplegic because of that one moment of a match. Drozdov has, to his credit, remained amazingly positive since that accident and his story has been detailed by outlets such as FOX Sports.
10 Bret Hart Kicked
The career of one of the greatest performers in the history of the business was forever changed all because of one kick, an accidental blow that Goldberg delivered to Bret “Hitman” Hart at the 1999 edition of Starrcade. While Hart attempted to continue his wrestling career after that match, post-concussion syndrome would bring upon the end of his run in WCW. Hart then suffered a stroke in 2002, one that changed his life forever. The man who was the “Excellence of Execution” eventually worked again inside of a WWE ring, but in very protective environments where it was guaranteed he would not be in any danger.
9 The Von Erich Family
Those who do not believe in curses may change their opinion on the matter upon learning about the Von Erich family. Fritz Von Erich, the patriarch of the family, was preceded in death by five of his six sons. One died young, a victim of a tragic accident. Michael, Chris and Kerry all took their own lives at different points. David Von Erich sadly and controversially died in Japan in February of 1984. One section in such a piece alone cannot thoroughly or accurate put into words the sorrowful tale of the Von Erich family, one that has gone through pure hell time and time again.
8 Mitsuharu Misawa Death
The wrestling world was shocked to learn that Japanese legend Mitsuharu Misawa passed away inside of the ring on June 13th, 2009. Misawa was on the receiving end of what most insiders and fans would consider to be a routine back suplex, but he never moved after taking that bump. Personnel rushed to the ring, but the damage had already been done. Misawa was pronounced dead at a medical facility later that night, an unintentional victim of a move that has been performed in matches time and time again. Accidents can and do happen, however, and this time the accident was tragic.
7 Perro Aguayo Jr. Death
Perry Aguayo Jr. was involved in a match with former WWE Superstar Rey Mysterio in March of 2015, and the two were about to execute Mysterio's “619” kick. Something went terribly wrong as the move was performed, however, as Aguayo slumped down to the mat. It was clear to those watching that Aguayo was not selling an injury and he was unresponsive when others attempted to wake him up. Aguayo died that night and it was learned following the accident that he had suffered a broken neck. It was just another reminder that real-life tragedies can occur during scripted wrestling matches.
6 Macho Man Death
Unlike the previously mentioned Warrior, “Macho Man” Randy Savage never had his day of induction into the WWE Hall of Fame when he was alive. Savage was driving his vehicle on May 20th, 2011 when he suffered what was said, at the time, to be a “medical event.” His vehicle crashed into a tree and Savage passed away later that day. An autopsy showed that Savage had heart disease at the time of his passing and that disease played a role in his passing. The truth of the matter is that Savage should have been in the WWE Hall of Fame well before his tragic death.
5 Brian Pillman Death
Brian Pillman was one of the great in-ring workers and on-screen characters during the prime of his career in the 1990s. Pillman was also a complicated individual who had personal and professional woes during the fall months of 1997. He was just 35-years-old when he suffered a heart attack and Pillman was found dead on October 5th, '97. Pillman was found to have had a congenital defect that was believed to have been the cause of his heart attack. It was also known, however, that Pillman had a harsh lifestyle and that may have contributed to his sad and tragic death.
4 Eddie Guerrero Death
Eddie Guerrero had publicly battled with demons, particularly drug use and addictions, for years. It was believed that he had defeated those personal problems well before he became a WWE Champion and one of the most beloved acts in the company. There had, however, been too much damage done as of November 13th, 2005, and Guerrero sadly passed away in his sleep. It was later learned that heart failure was the cause of Guerrero's tragic death. The man who was affectionately known as “Latino Heat” among WWE fans was lost, a victim of a harsh lifestyle.
3 The Ultimate Warrior Death
The Ultimate Warrior being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before WrestleMania XXX was an event that occurred years too late. Grudges had by Warrior and by some within the WWE were finally eliminated, and Warrior was once again a member of the WWE family. Just as great as was his Hall of Fame speech was a promo that he cut during the Raw that followed WrestleMania. That would be the last public appearance of his life, however, as he sadly passed away not long after he exited the ring for a final time. It is a shame that Warrior and the WWE could not have mended fences sooner.
2 Owen Hart Death
If you were a diehard fan of the WWE product in 1999, it is not unlikely that you remember exactly where you were on the night of the Over the Edge pay-per-view. It was at that show when Owen Hart plummeted from a harness down into the ring and thousands of people inside of the arena on that night watched Hart die right in front of their eyes. The shocking and tragic death of Hart was covered by news outlets and it led to the WWE removing any similar stunts from events. The world lost far more than just a great wrestler when Hart passed away. It lost a husband, a father, a brother, a son, and a man who was, by all accounts, a great person.
1 Chris Benoit Tragedy
One could say that there has never been a more famous story involving North American professional wrestling than the tragedy involving Chris Benoit and his family. We now know, many years after the fact, that Benoit returned home from a WWE tour and killed his wife and his young son before taking his own life for reasons that will never be understood by anybody. Those tragic deaths and what was learned after the Benoit family members were discovered changed the WWE forever. The company's “Wellness Policy” is as strict today as it has ever been and the hope is that the policy will prevent another similar tragedy from occurring.