Many of us professional wrestling fans likely grew up believing these men and women of the squared circle were superheroes. We always thought the good guys like Hulk Hogan in the 1980s and even as recently as John Cena through the 2000s, were perfect and had no flaws. They usually had the gold around their waists and, presumably in their bank accounts. What could be negative in their world?
But unlike fictional characters in the Saturday morning cartoons, pro wrestlers have their flaws and their scars from different events that have happened in their respective pasts. They feel pain like the rest of us do. And not just the physical pain that anyone who feel after a 300-pound man throws you around like a ragdoll. But emotional pain from tragic events.
Some pro wrestlers have come from tough upbringings with parents having passed away too early. Wrestlers who had to see some tough things on the way to discovering professional wrestling. Then there are those who have to perform in front of thousands watching live and millions watching at home with a damaged emotional state of mind.
Then there are those who have suffered loss as older veterans. For example, most parents never expect to outlive their children. Finding some a son or daughter passed away from substance abuse can leave a significant impact on the entire family. All of these and more highlight the following list of 15 pro wrestlers who have suffered from tragedies in their personal lives.
18 Dana Brooke
In this recent tragedy, WWE female superstar Dana Brooke’s boyfriend suddenly passed away on Aug. 21 after accidentally choking on some food. Dallas McCarver, 26, was found unconscious in his Florida home. According to Brooke, the two had talked on the phone just before he was going to make dinner for the night. There was no questions indicating foul play and was just an unfortunate accident.
Aside from his young age, the death was tragic because McCarver seemed to be showing some promise in the competitive bodybuilding world. McCarver started at age 21 and finished eighth overall in the Mr. Olympia competition in 2016. Brooke, a fitness competitor herself, likely met McCarver during a fitness expo or event. Brooke wanted fans to be positive and keep staying strong, since that is what her boyfriend would have wanted.
17 Ric Flair
To say that the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair has been through a lot in his decades of wrestling. From surviving a plane crash in 1975 to just being released from the hospital after multiple organ problems put him into a medically induced coma, Flair has had his fair share of ups and downs. However, there are few things that can be more tragic for anyone than the loss of a son or daughter. In 2013, Flair’s son Reid was found dead at age 25 in Charlotte, N.C.
An autopsy showed that Reid passed away after an accidental overdose of heroin and other substances, which included a muscle relaxant and anti-anxiety medication. A little more than three years later, Reid was brought up during a contract signing between Charlotte and Paige in a controversial promo. Flair claimed he wasn’t contacted prior and admits to shedding some tears while watching the segment. Hard to blame him, honestly.
15 Adam Rose
Adam Rose has had a number of personal situations throughout his childhood and even during his professional wrestling career. Any of them separately can be devastating to some people. The first was when he struggled with what he would discover was Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder that forced him to struggle in school back in South Africa. He wasn’t able to finish school and then ran off to be a wrestler, living out in the streets to make his dream come true.
Upon working with the WWE, fans learned from a special ESPN story that Rose’s son, Maverick, was born with a birth defect that requires feeding through a tube connected to his stomach. About a year due to his WWE release, Rose lost his sister Michelle, who passed away from a heart attack; leaving behind a 7-year-old daughter, Daniella. Rose would then help start an online fundraiser to support his niece.
14 Rich Swann
Former WWE Cruiserweight Champion Rich Swann has a unique persona when he struts to the ring either on Monday Night Raw or WWE 205 Live. Swann’s dance moves with a constant smile have made him develop a small niche in the WWE Universe. However, life hasn’t always been happy strolls through the park. Swann had to deal with a lot of personal tragedies while his family moved around to a number of questionable neighborhoods in Baltimore, Md.
His father was stabbed by his girlfriend when he was just 12 years old. His mother died from her battle with lupus when he was 16. As a teenager, he began using cocaine after falling in with the wrong kind of people. He was able to stop using drugs with the help of his aunt after his supplier would die from a heart attack. Swann was able to turn things around to finish high school and then go into professional wrestling.
13 Booker T
Growing up in a tough part of Houston, Texas, can be challenging enough. Add to the fact that both of Booker T’s parents passed away by the time he entered high school. The youngest of eight children lost his father early on during his childhood. His mother would pass away by the time Booker T turned 14 years old. His older brother Lane had to step up and raise the younger children.
Times were tough through and after high school. Booker T had to work multiple jobs, including a shift with a fast-food restaurant. About two years later, he and three other co-workers decided to try and rob the store. Their plan failed and Booker T spent 19 months in prison. Thankfully, he was able to discover Ivan Putski’s wrestling school in the Houston-area thanks to his brother Lane. The rest is history for one of the most decorated wrestlers in WWE and WCW history.
12 Dutch Mantel
Some people usually respond with sadness when a family member dies in a tragic car accident. When Dutch Mantel, also known as Zeb Colter in the WWE, lost his 16-year-old granddaughter Amelia in a car accident in August 2012, it didn’t take long for Mantel to take shots at the other driver who was found responsible for the accident. Mantel didn’t seem sad for the other driver, who later died from injuries sustained from the accident.
On social media, Mantel wrote that the other driver “deserved to die” and questioned why his beautiful granddaughter had to suffer because “of white trash like him.” Mantel would then write about how the man who caused the accident was driving 70 miles per hour and brought up that he had issues as a “life-long criminal who was running from the police when he hit my baby.” Some people respond to a tragic death in the family like this in anger. Mantel would then work to get Amelia’s Law passed in the Tennessee State Senate, which allows judges to place monitoring devices for people convicted of drug or alcohol related crimes.
11 Bill DeMott
While Bill DeMott might not have left the WWE in the best of scenarios, one has to sympathize with the fact that he lost his 20-year-old daughter, Keri, in a car accident in October 2015. According to Pro Wrestling Sheet, Keri DeMott was killed as a result of a head-on collison while driving eastbound on State Road 407 in Orlando, Fla. Another vehicle crossed over into her lane while traveling the opposite direction.
She tragically passed away at the scene of the accident while the other driver was sent to a nearby medical facility and placed in critical condition. The other driver reportedly had a blood-alcohol level of .132 and charged with DUI manslaughter. But similar to Mantel’s efforts since his granddaughter’s passing, DeMott has worked with police officers on the University of Central Florida campus to put a stop to drunk driving.
10 Kharma/Awesome Kong
It’s one thing to lose a son or daughter to something tragic like a drug overdose. But imagine the heartbreak of their death when they are unable to survive after being born. Kia Stevens, known as Awesome Kong in professional wrestling, had to leave the WWE as Kharma in May 2011 after announcing she was pregnant. The news came out on December 31, 2011, that she gave birth. But later admitted that the unborn child didn’t survive birth because she was afraid to tell people.
Stevens would tell TMZ that she fell into a deep depression after the loss of her unborn child. This led to her gaining a lot of weight and not being able to maintain her physical stamina and conditioning for being able to compete. After a surprise entry in the 2012 Royal Rumble, she was released in September of 2012 for not being able to meet their requested timeline. However, it’s easy to sympathize with the emotional state after losing a child in the way that she did.
9 Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock is considered one of the legends of mixed marital arts, along with his brother Frank. Both were brought up into the spot by their adoptive father, who kept them busy with trying out different sports and having them take out their frustrations in a more controlled MMA environment. One had to give Bob Shamrock a lot of credit being willing to marry the mother of two defiant children who had a tough time early in life.
When Ken was a young child, his biological father abandoned the family; which can be tough for any child. His mom would remarry and the family would move to California. Luckily, both Ken and Frank would find their way to Bob Shamrock’s “Boys’ Home” for problematic young men and turned them into productive members of society. Considering how well both Frank and Ken did between pro wrestling and MMA, it’s safe to say the mission was accomplished.
8 Jake Roberts
Jake “The Snake” Roberts is known as one of the best at the art of speaking in professional wrestling. He was able to deliver a five-star quality promo on a consistent basis during the peak of his run in the WWE. However, it turns out that a traumatic experience during his childhood played a role in how he became a master of craftsman of wrestling promos. Roberts admitted that early on in life, he had to learn to lie quickly.
“After you’re sexually abused, you learn to lie quickly and constantly be on guard,” he said in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Extra Mustard. He revealed that it was his stepmother abused him after she started dating his father. It wasn’t the only traumatic event in Roberts’ childhood as his sister was also kidnapped and murdered by the ex-wife of her husband – Roberts’ sister was 18 when she married the 55-year-old gentleman.
7 Daniel Bryan
WrestleMania XXX in 2014 was a dream come true for Daniel Bryan. He not only defeated Triple H in an instant classic, but he also defeated Randy Orton and Batista in a triple-threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. All was well a few weeks later when he went on a honeymoon with his wife Brie Bella. But upon returning, he learned that his father unexpectedly passed away.
Bryan was visibly distraught, but decided to come out for that night’s live episode of Raw. He was present at the announcement of his title defense against Kane, who would then come out and “attack” him to give him time away from television to mourn his father’s passing. One of the hardest things about the passing of his father is that it was within a month of Bryan’s greatest career achievement at the main event of WrestleMania XXX.
6 Mike Graham
Former wrestler Mike Graham certainly had a tough life both in terms of his personal and professional matters. While he was still active at age 34, his father Eddie Graham, promoter of Championship Wrestling from Florida, would commit suicide by a self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 21, 1985. Eddie Graham had a notable battle against alcohol addiction in addition to depression from his wrestling and real estate efforts going down.
Fast forward to 2010, Mike Graham’s son Steven also committed suicide in similar fashion. These two deaths certainly played a role in Mike Graham’s 2012 suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Add in that, like his father, Mike Graham’s business ventures were also failing – i.e. closing his Florida restaurant in 2011 after only two years of operation. With everything happening around him, he decided to leave the world the same way his father and his son have done.
3 Bret Hart
The entire Hart family, one of the staple bloodlines in professional wrestling history, certainly felt the tragic shock of Owen Hart’s unexpected death during a pay-per-view in 1999. The well-documented incident involved Owen as the Blue Blazer attempting to be lowered to the ring from the catwalk, but a clip snapped prematurely and causing Owen to fall to his death. Fans were in shock, the announcers were visibly concerned and the wrestlers were noticeably distraught during the rest of the show.
The news got around to the family pretty quickly. Bret Hart, however, was on an airplane en route to do an appearance on Jay Leno’s late-night talk show. The Hitman has been quoted saying that “you don’t ever wanna find out about a tragedy on an airplane, trust me on that one. That was really hard… there was nowhere to go…” Bret Hart even said in a 2012 interview with The Altoona Mirror that it had a rebound effect on his father, Stu, and others who may have lived longer if Owen hadn’t died.
On top of losing his brother, Bret has lost his brother Smith, and lost his brother Dean at 36 years old. Bret's also lost many of his close friends in the wrestling business, such as his former brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith, Mr. Perfect and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
2 Jim Ross
Jim Ross has been a loveable memory for many professional wrestling fans who grew up through the Attitude Era and well into the 2000s. His voice was iconic and he had some of the best stories to share during his interviews and podcasts. Good ‘ol J.R. was like a grandfather who told tales from his career and we fans were like the small grandchildren sitting on the floor, listening intently.
With that being said, the entire wrestling community felt the tragic loss with Ross when he announced that his wife Jan had passed away in March. Ross’ wife was riding her Vespa without a helmet when she was struck by a teen driver’s car; causing multiple skull fractures and brain injuries. She passed away at age 55 after a medically induced coma was unable to reduce the swelling to her brain.
1 Fritz Von Erich
Before passing away in 1997 at age 68 from battles with brain and lung cancer, wrestling legend Fritz Von Erich had the tragic task of having to see five of his six sons be buried before his own death. The first death among his children was in 1959 when his 7-year-old son, Jack, Jr., died from an accidental electrocution. In 1984, David Von Erich passed away from what the family claimed was either myocardial infarction or heart attack. Others like Ric Flair thought it was from a drug overdose.
A few years later, after several injuries from the ring and a car accident, Mike Von Erich left a suicide note before overdosing on sleeping pills. In 1991, the youngest Von Erich son, Chris, dies from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after battling drug addiction and depression. The fifth son to die was Kerry Von Erich in 1993 by way of gunshot to the heart.