Tragedy can be sudden with no warning. It’s the great equalizer, striking no matter your age, your race or your health circumstances. In wrestling, it has hit at unsuspecting times such as Owen Hart’s tragic accident. There are other times where it can be unexpected. Chris Candido survived long-term addictions only to pass away from surgery complications after suffering a broken leg. Adrian Adonis was taken in a car crash while Bruiser Brody was allegedly murdered. Even some guys seemingly for brutal ends like Chris Adams and Dino Bravo ended up dying much more brutally than expected. Such losses are tragic and terrible for how guys were taken, some far too soon and thus haunt fans majorly.
But others are different because of how they should have been obvious. Substance abuse issues are a key cause, with many wrestlers basically being an addict and hiding it. Other times it can be something that at the time was shocking but in hindsight, it was clear. Too often, it took until after the passing for the truth to come out and the realization of how badly things had unraveled for that wrestler. It happens far too often but it remains as some wrestlers just seemed destined for a bad end no matter what. A few times, they hid it well while some were quite blatant but their passings should not have been that big a shock at all. Here are 15 wrestling tragedies that fans really should have seen coming as some aren’t as shocking as they appear to be.
Often quite underrated among monster guys, Yokozuna did great with his act. While Hawaiian, he looked like a Japanese guy so no wonder he was pushed as a heel from there. His amazing bulk of nearly 500 pounds was notable and made him a great sight with his Banzai splash quite impressive. However, Yoko was amazingly agile for someone his size, able to carry himself with runs and kicks better than some guys half his size. His run as champion was good as he held his own against various faces and impressed fans.
However, his weight became a major issue as he started to balloon to the point where Vince McMahon himself told him he had to drop weight. However, Yoko couldn’t do that and was released in 1996. He drifted for a while in the indies, including the horrific Heroes of Wrestling PPV with his condition getting worse. At one point, he weighed nearly 800 pounds and was clearly unfit to wrestle. He passed on in October of 2000 at 580 pounds and most weren’t surprised that his heart couldn’t handle such a massive size.
14 The Ultimate Warrior
It was the timing that made this a shock. Had it happened a few years earlier or later, it wouldn’t have been so stunning. The Warrior was a clear case of steroid use in wrestling to build up his physique. It’s also obvious he indulged in a few other things with his frankly insane promos and wild behavior. Warrior was infamous for terrible matches and his later run with WCW one of the worst ever seen. That’s not counting his trashing gay people and other offensive comments and it's no wonder WWE raked him across the coals in a DVD.
His return in 2014 was a huge deal, mending fences and being inducted to the Hall of Fame and fans wild for his return. That’s why it was shocking he died just 48 hours later as he seemed ready to turn it around. But given his history of steroid use and erratic behavior, his end should have been foreseen, his heart clearly unable to take so much abuse to his body. Thus, in retrospect, the Warrior dying like this should have been clear and it was just the bizarre timing that made it a shocking loss.
Here is a clear case that WWE can try as much as they want but some guys are beyond help. Umaga did well with his one-note character of a wild savage type. He got a run as IC champion and his matches were Cena were surprisingly good. He was doing good but behind the scenes was in a mess as he was seriously into drugs, failing the wellness policy several times for suspensions.
WWE offered him trips to rehab and urged him to get help but Umaga refused time and again. Thus, the company had no choice but to release him and many cited it as a smart move. Just six months later, he was found lifeless from an overdose and even WWE critics couldn’t blame the company as it was obvious the guy just didn’t want any help. This was one guy whose early death was coming and few could stop it.
12 Andre the Giant
Even Andre himself knew his time was limited. He knew the statistics of how people born with gigantism rarely lived beyond 40 and most dying far earlier than that. Thus, he lived his life as boldly as he could. Stories abound of Andre on the road, partying hard, pulling a horse carriage, using a bathtub as a toilet and more. In the ring, he was used to showing his strength, hardly a technical master but still an amazing sight. He hit his height in 1987 turning heel and had the epic 'Mania match with Hogan.
But his last few years showed a clearly pained Andre barely mobile, a sad shell of himself. He kept it up for some appearances, his last in WWE being in 1991 and he spent some time in Japan. But it was clear to all his time was running out. He passed on in 1993 and while revered, many prefer to remember him as he was and not the sad decline of this once giant star.
11 Road Warrior Hawk
The Road Warriors changed so much in wrestling. It was their appearance in spiked shoulder pads, leather outfits and the face paint. It was the way they demolished opponents easily and sparked up tag team wrestling. And it was their fantastic promos that rocked fans hard. The Roadies were money in the bank in AWA, NWA/WCW and WWE, racking up titles and wowing fans.
Behind the scenes, Hawk and Animal were known for a wild party style, especially Hawk. That would cause issues with their later run in WWE, with Hawk's substance abuse problems becoming more and more troublesome. WWE noted it with the controversial storyline of Hawk “jumping” off the TitanTron which many derided. They had some splits, some returns and Hawk talked Animal into doing one final run in 2003. But just months later, Hawk was gone, suffering a heart attack after his demons finally caught up to him.
10 Luna Vachon
A great star of the Vachon family, Luna broke out as a stellar athlete and great female worker. What set her apart was her looks, shaving half her head, wild makeup and piercings and leather outfits to enhance her looks. She had a good stint in WWE with Bam Bam Bigelow and others and was even pushed with the resurgent women’s division.
However, Luna was also rough behind the scenes, not just with drugs but struggling with bipolar disorder. This led to some medications that did not mix very well and thus she soon had a reputation for rather bizarre behavior. It took its toll especially as her wresting career dried up with age and another late WWE run ruined by her antics backstage. Thus, when she died in 2010 of an overdose, most sadly saw it coming for a while. Combining addictions with mental issues is never a good mix and the result was Luna dying quietly for a wild lady.
9 Terry Gordy
The surprise to many was that he lived to 40. When the Fabulous Freebirds formed, they tore up Georgia and Texas as basically the first cool heels. Michael Hayes was the mic man, Buddy Roberts took the blows but Gordy was the workhorse. “Bam Bam” was fantastic in the ring, going from brawling to technical work with ease and amazingly tough. Good on the mic as well, Gordy rose with the Freebirds and even a run as UWF champion. He was also revered for his work in Japan, fans loving his tough drive and later reigning as WCW tag champions with Steve “Dr. Death” Williams. Gordy was also known as a party animal with Hayes saying he was the only man ever who could actually outdrink Hayes on occasions.
Gordy was also into drugs while carrying on a rough schedule. That came up big time when he suffered a stroke in 1993 and was obviously never the same afterward. He kept it up with his lifestyle but it took its toll and he passed in 2001. It was sad but expected as “Bam Bam” lived on his own terms and went out the same way.
8 Davey Boy Smith
The British Bulldogs were a fantastic pair who changed the game a lot. They were brilliant workers, Dynamite Kid the high flyer while Davey Boy was the powerhouse. Their work in Stampede and then WWE wowed fans with their fantastic tag team matches and no wonder they were made champions. However, behind the scenes, the two were massive jerks whose “pranks” included drugging the drinks of others and getting into real fights. It got worse with Dynamite’s back injury hook him on painkillers while Davey Boy got into steroids. That led to hot tempers with Smith famously getting into a brawl in a bar for a legal mess.
His WWE runs were good but marred by his body clearly breaking down. In WCW, Smith suffered a fall on a trapdoor that messed up his back big time. His later WWE run was rough before he left and fell into more problems. Thus, his death in 2002 was sad but those close to him saw it as inevitable.
It was truly sad to see her go, as in her prime, Elizabeth was the most glamorous woman in wrestling. Long before the rise of the “Divas,” she broke out in WWE as manager for Randy Savage. Their act was brilliant as Savage would berate her but be wildly possessive of her. It led to Savage’s big push as IC and then WWE champion and she also sparked his heel turn against Hogan. They had been married in real life for a while but did it on screen in 1991 although divorced the next year.
Elizabeth hung around wrestling, including a run with WCW, still gorgeous and a charm fans loved. But after WCW fell, her life was on a sad decline, various issues of drugs and trouble. She and Lex Luger got into a relationship which most saw as a disaster in the making. That was proven by her dying of an apparent overdose in 2003. It was a tragic end (and Savage would never be the same after it) made worse by how many could see an ugly fate for this beautiful woman.
6 Eddie Guerrero
It just didn’t seem fair at all. At one point, Eddie Guerrero was a cautionary tale for wrestling. He’d broken out with Art Barr but after Barr died of a drug overdose, Eddie was pushed as a solo star. In WCW, he took off with the cruiserweights and fantastic battles with Rey Mysterio and others. But Eddie hit a major slump with his addictions and was in a bad car accident. He got to WWE for some success but once more hit the skids and after a wreck and accident, was released. But Eddie bounced back, cleaning up his act, doing some work in the indies and returning to the company. He soon rose up wonderfully with titles and hit the top as WWE Champion. He finally had conquered his demons.
Plans in late 2005 were for Eddie to win the World title and get a new push. So when he was found dead on November 13th, it was a shocking moment. And yet, given his long-term addictions and how he’d been in some rough health, it shouldn’t have been. Yes, it wasn’t fair, but at the same time Eddie had already done significant damage to his body, so his passing wasn’t as out of nowhere as some contend.
5 Eddie Gilbert
Taken far too soon, Eddie Gilbert was one of the best heels around. Brash and charismatic on the mic, Gilbert was a workhorse in the ring, sparking up things like Mid-South/UWF and a good run in the Continental area. Gilbert would usually work in Memphis, his feud with Jerry Lawler epic and his work great. Gilbert was also a sharp booker as he proved in the infancy of what would become ECW. Sadly, Gilbert was also a man beset by addictions to drugs and drinking that hurt his drive overall.
For every great show, he could put on a bad match hung over and many speculated he was doing far too much bad stuff behind the scenes. In 1995, Gilbert collapsed of a heart attack brought about by long-term addictions and drinking. He was only 33 and many believe had he kept going, his great booking style could have helped ECW even more. It’s sad how “Hot Stuff” was taken too soon but most who knew Gilbert expected a short end to a fine life.
When it finally happened, it was not shocking but simply sighs of sadness. Joanie Laurer had been a good breakout in 1997. This bold and imposing figure with an Amazonian physique, she had been a bodybuilder and fan of WWE when she came up to Shawn Michaels and Triple H for a job. They hit on the idea of her as a female bodyguard and she took off. Soon, Chyna was Hunter’s muscle, giving him real heat and led to her own fame. Soon, she was dominating in the women’s division and also got surgery to look hotter and pose for “Playboy.”
However, she ended up getting released in 2001 after making a fuss over Hunter and Stephanie being together and her life fell apart. She was soon known for bad appearances, a sex tape, some drug issues and more. A TNA run lasted literally just days and it was clear a sad end was coming. When Chyna was found unresponsive, the reaction was “it finally happened” and thus it was sad to have a death so expected.
3 The Von Erichs
You can blame Fritz for ignoring their problems. But no man deserves to bury five sons before him. When the Von Erichs took off in the early 1980s, they were fantastic. David, Kerry and Kevin were amazing athletes, beloved by fans and quite a few ladies too. Behind the scenes, all were into drugs with Kerry once so stoned in a bout with Ric Flair that Flair had to do nearly the whole match by himself. Fritz, however, turned a blind eye while pushing them on. The first blow was David dying in 1984 just before he could win the NWA title with the reports of a drug overdose covered fast by a stomach flu. Fritz kept pushing them, including the young and fragile Mike as a star.
Mike nearly died of toxic shock syndrome and should have been done for good but felt he had to live up to the family legacy. That led to bad stuff before his suicide in 1987. Chris tried to get into it but absolutely no talent and took his own life in 1991. Finally, Kerry, after years of massive drug use and arrests, took his own life in 1993. Only Kevin remains as a sad reminder of a family consumed by their demons far too much.
2 Brian Pillman
In a way, everyone knew it was coming but also knew nothing could stop it. Brian Pillman lived a life on the edge as if he somehow knew his time on Earth was short and made the most out of it. He broke out as a bright babyface but many feel he was far closer to a scummy heel. The tales of his partying and affairs on the road are still legendary as is the temper so he never backed down from a fight. He and Steve Austin were great as the Hollywood Blondes but WCW ruined it with Pillman doing a bad face turn. Pillman soon embarked on his infamous “Loose Cannon” act, absolutely brilliant playing himself up so well that many were honestly convinced he’d lost his mind.
The problem as how things blurred as Pillman got too into playing the wild man. He managed to sign a huge contract to WWE but then a car accident that basically ruined his leg. But Pillman kept up in WWE, taking a mountain of painkillers which just contributed to his issues. Things got worse and yet no one could do anything as Pillman never listened. He passed on in October of 1997 hours before a PPV. His legacy is remembered for blurring the lines but buying too much into the act to cost him majorly.
1 Chris Benoit
In retrospect, the signs were all there. No one thought to look for them. For years, Chris Benoit was hailed as one of the best wrestlers in the world, a technical master who could do a hard-hitting match. Amazing in the ring, Benoit held fans’ attention with his work and his run as champion in 2004 was a fine high point for his career. Benoit was known for his making everything look real by taking chair shots without protection as well as not covering for his flying head-butt. Looking back, that should have been an obvious sign but no one recognized it.
When word broke in 2007 that Benoit had killed his wife, his son and himself, fans were stunned. That a man held by so many as everything right about wrestling could give the business its biggest black eye ever was appalling. But in retrospect, the signs should have been there. The long term damage of so many head shots, the use of painkillers, a man already known for a hard temperament and affected by the deaths of old friends, it was getting to him. The fact is that Benoit was a ticking time bomb but no one heard it before it happened. And the damage is still being felt today.