Watching someone spiral into problems with substance abuse can be devastating. Whether it’s a loved one, a friend or even someone you look up to like a celebrity. Hearing about the behind the scenes problems from the latter can be quite surprising, as you only get to see them when they’re typically having their best days. The world of pro wrestling is no exception, as many wrestlers have hid their problems from the public.
Later on when they open up and we hear about their problems, the recovery process can begin. We’ve seen some legendary pro wrestlers able to grapple their demons and get their careers back on track. Some of those names include Shawn Michaels and Jeff Hardy, who rebounded from substance abuse to get back on top.
Sadly, that’s not the case for everybody as substance abuse cost them their jobs in most cases, and even their lives. Today we look back at some of those wrestlers that are no longer active in the two biggest promotions in wrestling (WWE and TNA). Here are 15 wrestlers who decided to put substances ahead of their wrestling careers, with most of them losing it all in the process.
15 Mr. Perfect
Nobody can be perfect, including “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, who starts off our list. Hennig was once a big name in the WWE before heading to WCW in the mid 1990’s and ultimately leaving in 2000. Hennig then signed with XWF, which was bought out by the WWE and allowed him to return. Hennig’s return didn’t even last a year as it was learned he was having problems controlling himself.
On the infamous “Plane Ride From Hell,” Hennig was under the influence and got into fisticuffs with a young Brock Lesnar that had to be broken up. Hennig was then released from his contract and signed with TNA. Unfortunately, Hennig’s life would end less than a year later as he passed away at 44 years old in February 2003 due to acute cocaine intoxication.
A WWE Hall of Famer and one of the biggest revolutionary figures in women’s wrestling, Joanie Laurer (Chyna) had an untimely end with WWE in 2001. There were several different rumors coming from the dirtsheets. Some said that Chyna had been using drugs and was “let go mutually” while others said that Chyna’s breakup with Triple H in favor of Stephanie McMahon led to her departure.
Whatever it was that caused Chyna to part ways, the door seemed to be open for a return to pro wrestling full-time. Instead, Chyna was found to indeed be abusing drugs in the years that followed, and also appearing in adult films. It seemed that Chyna was recovering when she left for Japan to become a teacher in 2013, but returned to the United States and fell off the wagon. In 2016, she passed away at 46 years old from abusing several different drugs mixed with alcohol.
13 Dynamite Kid
While there’s no doubt that the Dynamite Kid was solid in the ring, he didn’t have many friends backstage, and that could be attributed to his drug use. His run in the WWE would end in 1988 after disagreements with management, and he headed to other promotions. It was learned that Dynamite Kid would find a fondness for LSD, which almost cost his life on multiple occasions and his health deteriorated due to wrestling and drug use.
As for other types of drugs that Dynamite Kid used, there are people around him that have said that he would use drugs on his own wife. Bret Hart also said in his book that the Dynamite Kid had a serious drug problem and was quick to fly off the handle. The combination of all of these things ended Dynamite Kid’s career in the 1990s, though he is still alive at 58 years old today.
12 Sherri Martel
After starting her career with the AWA, Sherri Martel (or Sensational Sherri) joined the WWE in 1987. Within a year, she would become the Women’s Champion and eventually found herself paired up with Shawn Michaels. After the duo broke up in 1992, Martel was teamed up with Tatanka before being released in 1993. Reports would later come out that Martel failed multiple drug tests with WWE, which is what caused her release.
Martel’s drug use didn’t improve much after leaving the company and joining WCW and a very brief stint with TNA. In 2007, though, Martel passed away on June 15 at the age of 49. It took three months for medical examiners to finally give a ruling in her cause of death, and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed when it turned out to be multiple drugs that caused an overdose, including oxycodone.
11 Brian Pillman
After playing football in college at Miami University (Ohio) and then professional in both the United States and Canada, Brian Pillman started a pro wrestling career that saw him join the WCW from 1989 to 1996 before a stint in ECW, finally ending up with the WWE. Pillman was in a memorable feud with the rising star of Stone Cold Steve Austin, but Austin’s career would be the one that gets remembered.
Those around Pillman said that he was starting to get hooked on painkillers, alcohol and cocaine, and that the problems were only getting worse as his career went on. Pillman’s father passed away when he was just a baby from a heart condition, which was the same one that would claim Pillman’s life in October 1997. Perhaps more focus on his health could have saved his life, as there were small amounts of drugs found in his system upon his death.
Sean Waltman, better known as X-Pac during his time with WWE and a member of D-Generation X, has been very open about his problems with drug abuse. Even before he turned 30, Waltman and his wife Terry struggled with substance abuse, with both of them taking crystal meth. Waltman said that he was able to get the problem under control and eventually wound up in rehab.
That was in 2002 when he had left the WWE, costing him his spot with wrestling’s biggest company. Waltman has had several relapses since then, getting in the way of his career. Alcohol and prescription drugs have been the biggest vices for Waltman, and he has had several run-ins with the law. The most recent was in April 2017 for possessing methamphetamine and marijuana, before the charges were dropped.
9 Road Warrior Hawk
One half of perhaps the most memorable tag team in wrestling history, Road Warrior Hawk of the Legion of Doom had developed some serious problems with substance abuse toward his later years in professional wrestling. The sad thing is, the WWE actually used his problems in an angle that included Hawk getting drunk and falling off of the TitanTron. There was quite the backlash against the WWE because of that, and the Legion of Doom left WWE shortly thereafter.
Hawk’s problems would continue after the two left, and Road Warrior Animal was relegated to working solo matches for the most part. In 2003, substance abuse claimed Road Warrior Hawk’s life, though his official cause of death was a heart attack. Though it’s unclear if his heart problems were directly related to drugs, his substance problems did get him tossed from the main stage of pro wrestling.
8 Lance Cade
If you don’t remember Lance Cade during the Ruthless Aggression era, he had signed with WWE in the developmental territory back in 2001, and made a brief appearance on the main roster before debuting full-time in 2005. Cade had teamed with Trevor Murdoch for several years before the duo split up in 2008. Then, Cade was teamed up with Chris Jericho, which seemed to be a big step in his career.
Cade wouldn’t even make it out of 2008 with WWE as he was released from his contract. According to Jim Ross, Cade had used drugs before a flight, causing a seizure in midair. WWE decided to give Cade another chance in late 2009, but he never made the main roster after heading to rehab in January 2010 and was released in April. Sadly, Cade’s problems ended up costing him his life in August 2010 as he died of heart failure at just 29 years old. Medical examiners would eventually rule that Cade died of an accidental overdose from a lethal mix of drugs.
7 Rob Van Dam
The case of Rob Van Dam when it comes to substances is an interesting one. It’s pretty clear that Van Dam loves marijuana more than anything in the world, and at one point it cost him the biggest push of his career. As the stigma around this particular substance has waned in the past decade, though, the overall view on Van Dam has changed. It was only a decade ago that Van Dam was a world champion, but was then suspended for drug possession.
Van Dam eventually left after returning, saying that he was burned out. While it’s obviously a lot more lighthearted to want to take a few years away from the limelight to smoke weed when compared to harder drugs, it was a bit interesting to see. Van Dam would eventually return to wrestling with both TNA and eventually a comeback to WWE in 2013, but he’ll be the first to tell you that marijuana is more beloved than wrestling in his eyes as he’s still using.
If it seems like it was just yesterday that Paige was well on her way to being the biggest women’s wrestler in the business, it’s because it was only a couple of years ago. After winning the Divas Championship in her first night on the main roster, things seemed to only go south eventually. It would hit rock bottom in the summer of 2016 when it was learned Paige had violated the Wellness Policy, receiving a 30 day suspension.
Not even two months later, Paige was suspended for 60 days for violating the Wellness Policy once again. There was a back and forth between Paige and the company where she claims it was only prescription medication that she received from doctors, but there have been allegations of other drugs. It’s been more than a year since Paige has appeared on WWE television, and it seems only a matter of time before she’s released, but at least there's time to turn it around.
5 Mr. Kennedy
Getting fired from one major promotion for abusing substances should be enough to wake open your eyes, but it happened twice for Ken Anderson. While in the WWE as Mr. Kennedy, Anderson was well on his way to the main event scene before his career took a sudden derailment. Anderson had to drop his Money in the Bank briefcase in 2007 after violating the Wellness Policy, and was released in 2009 after not getting along with big timers like Randy Orton or John Cena.
Anderson would then join TNA where he was one of the bigger names with the company for several years. In March 2016, though, Anderson showed up to work under the influence. TNA asked him to take a drug test on the spot, which he failed. That would lead to Anderson’s release from the company, and now he’s relegated to independent circuits while trying to kick his addiction.
If you have successful reigns as both the United States and Intercontinental Champion, but never make it to the main event scene, substance abuse might have been the roadblock that stopped you. It appears that was the case for Carlito, the wrestler who notoriously carried an apple to the ring. After joining a tag team with Primo in 2008, Carlito was eventually facing the likes of John Cena and Christian.
2010 would be the last hurrah for Carlito’s career, however, as he violated the Wellness Policy in May of that year. WWE offered Carlito a chance for rehab as it was his first offense with the company, but he refused and his contract was terminated. Carlito admitted it was painkillers that he was hooked on, and though it seems to have gotten better in recent years, he hasn’t made his triumphant return like some wrestlers who have gotten over addiction.
3 Adam Rose
After growing up in a tough environment that saw him take part in substance abuse as a teenager, Ray Leppan seemingly achieved his dream of being a WWE superstar when he was signed to the developmental territories in 2010. Eventually adopting the name Adam Rose and finding success in NXT, Rose ultimately floundered on the main roster. There was a chance that a reworked gimmick could have saved his career, but drugs ultimately took hold.
Rose had been suspended once already in 2013 for 30 days without many headlines, and his final Wellness Policy violation came in April 2016. Rose was appealing his suspension by saying that he was taking prescribed Adderall and nothing else, but his actions when he had been charged with domestic abuse forced the WWE’s hand, leading to his release. Since then, Rose has been on the independent circuit without much fanfare.
At one point in his WWE career, Umaga was a big part of the main event scene, taking on the likes of John Cena. After being sent back down to the midcard, Umaga toiled around a bit in several different rivalries before he made his last appearance in mid 2009 at the Extreme Rules pay per view. Just two weeks later, Umaga was released from the company, and people were surprised to hear the news.
It wasn’t until after the release that it was discovered Umaga had put substances ahead of his career, which was the second time he violated the Wellness Policy. Umaga would have just served a suspension, but refused to go to rehab. Later in the year, substances would cost Umaga his life as he had a heart attack at just 36 years old. Officially, his death was ruled as a drug overdose.
Test had been released from the WWE in 2004 with a handful of other wrestlers, which came on the heels of spinal surgery. Test would return to the company in 2006 where he was put into ECW. Within a year, Test had disappeared from television despite getting a pretty solid push. It turned out that Test was in violation of the WWE’s Wellness Program, and his suspension ultimately culminated in his release.
We later found out in a tragic way that oxycodone was likely to blame for Test losing his job with the WWE after injuries he suffered in the wrestling business. Those drugs would end up taking Test’s life, as he passed away just before turning 34 years old due to an overdose. Doctors ruled that it wasn’t suicide, but instead an accidental overdose.
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