Before we get into this list, just remember this is a warning for all you out there that are thinking about using drugs or are knee deep into it now. Each and every person on this list has paid a price and so has their family and loved ones. Drug addiction is a serious problem and these wrestlers can be considered victims more than criminals.
It’s pretty much safe to say the “War on Drugs” has been a major bust and Big Pharma pushing out more and more pills isn’t helping our crisis right now. We’re not saying the person who is addicted isn’t at fault, they could be severely depressed, easily susceptible to peer pressure, or think nothing can destroy them and eventually go down this dark path. What we are saying is the country and the world is going through a major problem with drug addiction and certain institutions aren’t helping.
Many of us wrestling fans know the tales of drug addictions when it comes to the really popular Superstars. We know the stories about Curt Hennig, Davey Boy Smith, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Scott Hall, Brian Pillman, Test, Umaga, and Bam Bam Bigelow. Although this list has a few major players in the wrestling industry, we tried to focus on some wrestlers whose stories haven’t been told often.
15 Chase Tatum
A product of WCW’s training facility, WCW Power Plant, Chase Tatum was built for wrestling. At the age of 19, he would win the Mr. Georgia bodybuilding competition and then sign with Ted Turner’s promotion. His career was mostly regulated to jobber duties and you may remember him as a member of Master P’s failed stable No Limit Soldiers. The wrestling industry can make a man built look like he was made from steel and turn him into pudding and that is exactly what happened to Tatum.
His career would last less than two years due to severe back problems. Those problems would turn into a painkiller addiction which he could never shake off. Sadly, at 34 years old, Tatum would pass away from an accidental drug overdose in 2008. His father proclaims he was getting ready to fight his addiction by entering a rehabilitation center.
14 Louie Spicolli
The California native would go by many ring names over the years. Body Snatcher, Rad Radford, and The Zodiac are some. Spicolli would unbelievable make his debut in the wrestling industry at the age of 17 for the WWE in 1988. As a jobber, he would be involved in many squash matches on the lower card and this trend would continue until the mid-90s.
After being repackaged as Radford in 1995, he would overdose on Soma and suffered a seizure but survived. The WWE would fire him because of the incident and he would move onto ECW and WCW. Spicolli allegedly was clean in 1998, but the death of his mother caused him to relapse. He would pass away from an overdose at the age of 27 that same year.
13 Herb Abrams
We’re cheating here because Herb Abrams was never a wrestler, however, his story should be told as a pre-caution to those in the business. Abrams founded the California-based promotion, Universal Wrestling Federation, and hoped to bring wrestling back to its traditional roots. He would shed some real cash, bringing in top legends and wrestlers, which included Bruno Sammartino, Paul Orndorff, Bob Backlund, and Bam Bam Bigelow. He even found a spot for Mick Foley as the deadly Cactus Jack.
The company would become an epic failure but it also didn’t have a lot of time to grow. In 1996, the company would fold when Abrams passed away. Police would come to his New York office and find him naked, covered in a “Vaseline” substance and smashing furniture with a baseball bat. He was also alongside "adult workers" and was covered head-to-toe in cocaine. He would pass away in police custody that night.
12 Anthony Durante
Known as Pitbull #2, Anthony Durante’s best moments in wrestling were being one-half of the tag team, The Pitbulls. He would make his wrestling debut in 1988 and was trained by the late Rowdy Roddy Piper. As a novice, he was still impressive enough to be signed by the WWE in 1989. Along with his partner, Gary Wolfe, the two would compete as jobbers for the company.
The team would gain more credibility in the mid-1990s when they signed with ECW. His wrestling career would come to an end on the indie circuit in 2000. In 2003, friends and family were stunned when they found out Durante and his girlfriend both died from an overdose while their two young children were in the house.
11 Lance Cade
You know you’re something special when Shawn “Mr. WrestleMania” Michaels is the one training you. After being trained at the Shawn Michaels' Wrestling Academy in San Antonio, he would make a journey to Japan to gain experience. After a year overseas, WWE would sign Cade in 2001 to a developmental contract. After performing in Heartland Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling, Cade would make his big league debut against Lance Storm on WWE’s Sunday Night Heat.
His first run in the WWE would last until 2008 when he was allegedly fired for drug abuse that resulted in a seizure. He would sign with the company again in 2009 but was quickly released once again. At the age of 29 years old, Cade would die from heart failure in 2010. The cause of death was the result of intoxication from mixed drugs complicating a cardiomyopathy.
10 Gino Hernandez
Most known for his work in the National Wrestling Alliance, Gino Hernandez was considered one of the bright prospects of his time. Debuting in the industry in 1973 as a teenager, he would get his start for Ed Farhat’s (The Sheik) Big Time Wrestling in Detroit. His babyface look and in-ring potential even earned him one match with the WWF at the time, Vince McMahon Sr.’s promotion.
He would have a real break in the territory scene when he started to work for World Class Championship Wrestling in the late 1970s. He would work with the best, which included the Von Erichs, Tully Blanchard, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Sadly, Hernandez would pass away in 1986 at the young age of 28 years old. His death initially started a homicide investigation but the autopsy report showed an overdose of cocaine.
9 Art Barr
Eddie Guerrero may have made the Frog Splash famous, however, Art Barr was the one who came up with the term “Frog Splash” and perfected it. Guerrero and Barr were pretty close and when Barr passed away, Eddie decided to pay homage to the man by incorporating the finisher into his move set. He would make his wrestling debut on the west coast in 1987.
Barr would have a short stint with WCW from 1990-1991 and then focused on the wrestling scene in Mexico. It was in AAA where he and Eddie formed La Pareja del Terror (The Pair of Terror). Barr would then spend the rest of his short life with the company. Although there is some mystery surrounding his death, the majority believe Barr died in his sleep due to a drug-related heart attack at the age of 28 in 1994.
8 Trent Acid
If you enjoy indie wrestling from the turn of the century then you must know about Trent Acid and Combat Zone Wrestling. Billed from The Vatican in South Philadelphia, Acid would make his wrestling debut in 1995. He would compete in many indie promotions, including Combat Zone Wrestling, Ring of Honor, and Juggalo Championship Wrestling. As one-half of The Backseat Boyz with Johnny Kashmere, the two would practically win tag team gold in almost every promotion they were in.
He would be on the cusp of the prime of his career when things came crashing down for him. In 2010, his body would be found by his mother and his autopsy showed he passed away from a drug overdose. At just 29 years old, his life and career were over due to a drug addiction.
7 Luna Vachon
A lot of fans talk about Sable, Trish Stratus, and Torrie Wilson when it comes to women’s wrestling, however, Luna Vachon deserves the same respect. As a member of a prestigious wrestling family, let’s just say it was in her blood to become a wrestler. Although many people, including Andre the Giant, tried to persuade her not to wrestle, she would make her debut for Fabulous Moolah’s promotion in 1985. She would work for the WWE from 1993-1994 and 1997-2000.
As a heel, she easily terrified the kids with her face paint, haircut and wild personality. One great achievement that isn’t talked about is she became the first woman to be featured in a WWE video game, WWE Raw. In 2010, she would pass away from an overdose of oxycodone and benzodiazepine at the age of 48.
6 Axl Rotten
One of the unsung heroes of ECW, Axl Rotten isn’t talked about as much as Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam, or Sabu, however, he had a major impact on the promotion’s success. He would make his wrestling debut in 1987 and eventually team up with a man he trained, Ian Rotten, to form The Bad Breed. He would get a part-time gig with WCW in 1991 and would meet his future boss, Paul E. Dangerously (Heyman).
After ECW was bought out by the WWE, he wouldn’t be hired by Vince McMahon until the ECW tribute Pay-Per-View, One Night Stand, in 2005. Rotten was dealing with a lot of health problems by the end his career. Sadly, Rotten would be found dead from a heroin overdose in 2016. It was also revealed he suffered from CTE, a degenerative disease that has many people questioning if they should be wrestling.
5 Buzz Sawyer
Known as “Mad Dog,” Buzz Sawyer began his career as a member of the National Wrestling Alliance in 1979. He would team up with his brother, Brett Sawyer, and the two would start a pretty sweet feud with The Road Warriors. Sawyer was also involved in one of the hottest feuds of the 1980s, battling Tommy Rich which concluded in a match called “Last Battle of Atlanta.” The match is considered one of the greatest of all-time and the footage of the event is as rare as Vince McMahon not pushing Roman Reigns.....
His status would earn him a spot on the WCW roster heading into the 90s, however, he would fracture his wrist in 1990 and never return to the company. Sawyer would work the indie circuit up until his death in 1992 which was the result of heart failure due to an overdose.
4 Reid Flair
It’s well documented that Ric Flair was a major party animal during his prime years. If one thing is true in life, it’s that most sons try to emulate their father, especially if they make a ton of cash and are famous. Sadly, Reid wouldn’t be able to live out a long and full life like his father does. At just 25 years old, he would be found dead in a hotel back in 2013.
The autopsy revealed that it was an accidental overdose of heroin and prescription drugs clonazepam and alprazolam. At ten years old, he would famously defeat Eric Bischoff in the WCW in 1998. He would return in 2000 and help his father in a match against his older brother David Flair and Vince Russo. Reid potentially could have been in the WWE right now but drug abuse once again claimed another young soul.
3 Dynamite Kid
Dynamite Kid is still alive but his body is basically a brittle shell of his former self. The 58-year-old British native would make his wrestling debut in 1975. He would eventually make it to Stampede Wrestling in Canada and become a household name. One of the shorter wrestlers in the industry, Kid would be exposed to the anabolic steroid Dianabol and the stimulant speed.
After a successful run in Japan in the early 80s, Kid, along with Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith would be signed by the WWE. With more fame came more drugs for Kid and several major injuries didn’t help his situation. The drug abuse over the years has created major heart problems for a man who isn’t even in his 60s yet.
2 The Von Erichs
It’s always a pain to write about the Von Erichs, even decades after their tragic tale took place. As second generation Superstars, the brothers had a lot to live up to. It was no secret their father, Fritz Von Erich, pushed them to extreme expectations in World Class Championship Wrestling during the late 1970s and 1980s. They would have epic feuds with The Fabulous Freebirds and Rick Flair. Although Fritz lost his first child in 1959, David was the first adult to pass away in 1984.
It’s well known he would die from a drug overdose and Bruiser Brody would flush the narcotics down a toilet. David was “The Golden Child” and his death would severely affect his brothers. Mike would be diagnosed with toxic shock syndrome, retire from wrestling, and commit suicide in 1987. Chris became so overwhelmed about the death, he also decided to commit suicide. Kerry would become addicted to painkillers and would commit suicide in 1993. Kevin Von Erich would be the only surviving member of the brothers to keep the legacy going.
The story of Chyna has been told many times over and it’s sad that maybe the greatest women’s wrestler of all-time had passed away due to an accidental drug overdose. In 2016, at the age of 46, Chyna would be found dead in her home. The autopsy revealed a combination of alcohol, the painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone, the sleeping aid temazepam, and the anxiety drugs diazepam and nordiazepam were the cause of the overdose.
Her case is just another example of how supposed “medication” from Big Pharma can lead to death if not taken correctly. You can say what you want about her other occupations outside the ring, but one thing is for sure, the wrestling universe lost a great one when she passed away.