Professional wrestlers are often presented as superheroes, especially the ones who achieve incredible success in the sports entertainment mecca that is WWE. Most fans are well aware of the fact that this representation only holds true on camera, and in fact, society is also familiar with the almost cliché tale of a professional wrestler having fallen from glory, awash in a mixture of drug abuse and misery only a few years after having experienced wildly successful careers in front of a large and adoring public.
WWE in general isn’t to blame for the fact many superstars have seemed to hit rock bottom shortly after ceasing their employment for the leaders in sports entertainment. Neither is Vince McMahon in particular, nor are any of his highest ranking officials. That isn’t to say pro wrestling culture in general hasn’t contributed to the precarious lifestyles led by many WWE superstars past and present, and caused many a tumultuous personality to teeter on the brink of complete destruction.
Thanks to modern rehabilitation methods, quite a few of the wrestlers who hit rock bottom have slowly done their best to dig themselves out of their personal holes, with or without WWE offering financial assistance. Unfortunately, quite a few others weren’t so lucky and a good portion of the following superstars either wound up dead of drug overdoses or seem dangerously close to doing so to this day. What they all have in common either way is that at one point they worked for Vince McMahon, and it was shortly after they stopped doing so that their lives went completely off the deep end. Keep reading to learn which 20 wrestlers hit rock bottom once they left WWE.
20. Perry Saturn
It goes without saying that every wrestler on this list made certain decisions in life leading to hitting rock bottom that they could have chosen against and that no downward spiral is possible without some involvement of the person experiencing it. However, it is also true that certain people just have difficult lives from the start and that was the case with Perry Saturn. Saturn had what was by his definition a violent upbringing and he would use his experiences in crafting his early no-nonsense street fighting character in ECW. When he connected with Raven in WCW, his flirtation with street life turned into serious drug abuse, which wouldn’t end until one of the most drastic downward spirals on this list.
Many of the wrestlers on this list suffer a variety of frightening and tragic fates, but Saturn is unique in that he is the only former superstar to have been publicly declared missing during the worst stretch of his drug abuse. Saturn’s worst problems began in 2004 when he was shot while attempting to save a woman from getting sexually assaulted, resulting in a painkiller addiction that evolved into homelessness and a severe addiction to crystal meth. Amazingly, Saturn is also one of the greater redemption stories on this list, as he eventually managed to get clean all on his own and make an in-ring comeback in 2011.
19. Davey Boy Smith
Despite a strong professional wrestling presence on British television for roughly as long as the sport has existed in America, there have only been a handful of successful English performers throughout WWE history. Davey Boy Smith wasn’t the first, and he may not have been the biggest, but he was still one of the best and he accomplished something no other British performer ever has. Smith headlined SummerSlam 1992 from Wembley Stadium, the only time a British superstar headlined a major WWE Pay-Per-View event broadcast from Great Britain. Bulldog would repeat the accomplishment for several UK-exclusive broadcasts, but it seems highly unlikely his SummerSlam accolade could ever be matched.
Beyond the match that made his career, Davey was also a multi-time WWE World Tag Team, Intercontinental, European, and Hardcore Champion. Smith was one of the first performers to jump back and forth from WWE to WCW, expanding his star power all throughout American wrestling at a time virtually no other British performers were even around. His wild success was marred with consistent drug use, which spiraled out of control in 1998, when a back injury caused by a trap-door in a WCW ring caused an addiction to painkillers to become a deadly habit. Davey returned to WWE after his stint in WCW, and the company even attempted to sponsor a stint in rehab, but Smith gave up on both by the end of 2000. He passed away from a drug related heart attack in 2002.
18. Tyson Tomko
Tyson Tomko didn’t have the longest career in WWE or pro wrestling in general, and his brief flirtation with fame should paint a pretty obvious picture as to why. Tomko’s one brush with greatness occurred in 2004, when he debuted in WWE as the buff but bumbling sidekick to future World Heavyweight Champion, Christian. Christian had recently introduced his persona as Captain Charisma and the idea was that Tomko may have been imposing, but he clearly lacked in all of the crowd drawing ways Christian excelled at, making the leader of the Peeps look all the more impressive in doing so.
Christian left WWE in 2005, causing Tomko to flounder on his own for a year before getting released. Tomko went on to join Christian in TNA after a brief stint in Japan, but his lack of personality once again left him with little to do once Christian had outgrown him. Tomko bounced back and forth from WWE to TNA without standing out, and appeared to briefly leave wrestling sometime around 2010. Tomko resurfaced next year in the most bizarre manner, facing a robbery arrest for allegedly stealing 210 tablets of Oxycodone from a local CVS. Tomko then allegedly crushed and injected 178 of those pills into his bloodstream in the bathroom of a nearby Chili’s before police were able to arrive. With WWE’s assistance, Tomko’s lawyer was able to work out a deal where his former company sent him to rehab in accordance with their Wellness Policy.
17. Miss Elizabeth
The old saying goes that behind every great man there is a great woman and that was most certainly true with “Macho Man” Randy Savage and his long suffering girlfriend turned wife turned ex, Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth was far from the first woman in WWE, but fans remember her nonetheless as an innovator within the industry thanks to her style, grace, and success as a female manager to her once husband. Elizabeth managed Savage over both of his WWE World Heavyweight Championship reigns, and followed him to WCW in the mid ‘90s, where she would also successfully manage superstars like Lex Luger and Ric Flair.
It would be Elizabeth’s relationship with Luger that ultimately lead to her downfall, as the two enabled the most toxic parts of one another’s behaviors and addictions. Luger’s actions will be covered next, because tragically, Elizabeth’s story is much shorter than his. Elizabeth passed away in 2003 as a result of an overdose of painkillers mixed with vodka. WWE controversially aired Lex Luger’s 9-1-1 call on the short lived docu-series Confidential, and although crass, the idea was to paint the sad picture that Elizabeth’s life had apparently been on the decline for some time before her death.
16. Lex Luger
While we’re on the subject of Miss Elizabeth, we might as well transition to the man who spent her final years with her, Lex Luger. Luger is a former WCW World Champion and he also achieved several years of wild success within WWE as the driver of the Lex Express. Luger was criticized for being lazy in the ring, but what he lacked in a wide move set, he more than made up for with his incredible physique, unmatched by even his biggest and baddest competition.
If you were to look at Lex today, however, you would see a shell of the Adonis he once was. Luger’s problems started around the time of Elizabeth’s death and he was actually arrested in relation to a domestic dispute he had with her a few months before she passed. Days later, Luger was also arrested for drunk driving, in addition to having no legal documentation the car was his in the first place. Luger was arrested for multiple counts of drug possession after Elizabeth died and faced incarceration again when he violated probation by attempting to visit Canada. Luger mostly cleaned up his act since, though it’s also worth noting he’s been severely impeded due to a spinal infraction that has greatly diminished his mobility.
15. Shawn Michaels
Not every item on this list ends in complete tragedy and, in fact, sometimes the people who hit rock bottom the hardest are the ones who prove absolutely anybody is capable of redemption. Shawn Michaels is a WWE Hall of Famer considered by many to be perhaps the greatest in-ring performer in WWE history, but most fans are also aware that HBK battled some serious demons during his tenure as an iconic, show stopping, main event superstar.
The point of this list is to track superstars who went off the deep end when they left WWE and Shawn most definitely did that, too, but it was actually during his time with the company that his problems began. Michaels first was hired by WWE in the late 1980s as a member of The Rockers and the duo were almost immediately fired for their party boy attitudes. HBK claims his drug problem began here and it would only get worse after he was hired back from the company and began succeeding, now that he knew drugs could dull whatever pain his high performance level caused him to experience. Things would get even worse for Michaels after retiring from the WWE in 1998 due to serious back problems.
Luckily for HBK, redemption and forgiveness are both possible, and he experienced both thanks to his relationship with his wife and a strong faith in his religion. Michaels eventually managed to put his many drug problems behind him and return to WWE for what some consider an even greater portion of his career, showing that some of the younger talents on this list might still have a chance to go from the bottom all the way back to the top.
14. Matt Hardy
Matt Hardy is so bizarre and crazy in his modern day TNA character that it might be possible to argue hitting rock bottom has essentially turned into his gimmick. No matter how you look at it, Matt Hardy is nothing like the young superstar with boundless potential who began impressing fans with his brother Jeff during the Attitude Era.
Most wrestlers hit rock bottom by doing impossible amounts of drugs or getting dangerously drunk, but Hardy was characteristically creative about the matter, instead deciding to compose a completely fake suicide note and post it on the Internet. This is of course an entirely different type of rock bottom, but the idea of faking suicide was so toxic it actually forced WWE to ban their wrestlers from interacting with Hardy on Twitter, so it remains shockingly low, nonetheless.
Amy Winehouse became a superstar by emphatically telling the world her response to any suggestion of rehab would be no, no, no, and perhaps unpredictably, she wound up dead of a drug overdose only five years later. WWE superstar Umaga faced a tragically similar fate, as his meteoric rise up the card from a bizarre caricature into one of the biggest heels of the modern era was cut short when not only did he fail a WWE drug test, but he refused to go to rehab once he was caught doing so and lost his job as a result.
Umaga was released from WWE due to his drug problem in June of 2009 and less than six months later in December of that year, he was found dead of a heart attack. Umaga’s death was officially contributed to an overdose of hydrocodone, diazepam, and carisoprodol, three painkillers extremely popular amongst fellow wrestlers. While every death and drug problem is tragic in its own right, situations like that of Umaga can truly only be blamed on his own unwillingness to get help.
12. Mr. Perfect
It takes some serious intestinal fortitude to get away with a name like Mr. Perfect as a serious boast, not to mention an inimitable talent level required to live up to the moniker. Curt Hennig had both of these qualities and that is why Mr. Perfect was considered one of the greatest wrestlers in WWE history from pretty much the very first day he walked in the door. Perfect started his first stint in WWE in 1988, building his trademark legacy of perfection until 1995, when an injury kept him out of the ring for several years.
Perfect returned to the ring in WCW, and then again to WWE in 2002, at which point his problems with drugs and alcohol started to present themselves in a very public and ugly manner. Hennig had been drinking and taking pills during a seven-hour flight with many other WWE superstars, including Brock Lesnar. One thing lead to another and Hennig challenged Brock to a fight while the plane was still in the air, and considering Brock had been drinking and taking pills, too, a fight took place 40,000 feet in the air. Hennig was fired for the incident and his drug use didn’t stop there, as a cocaine overdose claimed his life the next year.
11. The Road Dogg
A surprising number of superstars were able to get away with making overt references to their drug use during The Attitude Era, especially if that drug was considered playful and not particularly dangerous, as has always been the case with marijuana. The Godfather implored fans to roll up fatties, X-Pac told people their ass was grass and he was gonna smoke it, and The Road Dogg flat out covered his ring gear with pot leaves, all without Vince McMahon batting an eye. More on how this relates to X-Pac later and for now, we’ll focus on how this lifestyle affected Road Dogg.
Pretty much no one goes to rehab solely for marijuana, but weed’s reputation as a gateway drug isn’t completely a D.A.R.E. horror story. Road Dogg smoked weed and drank alcohol most of his life, and he claims these habits combined with unbridled success during the DX era are what lead him to developing an addiction to painkillers. WWE ultimately fired him due to these addictions and his problem got worse after a failed stint in TNA. In an interview with JBL on the WWE Network, Road Dogg later revealed he began experiencing powerful suicidal thoughts during his stretch of unemployment. Thankfully, WWE sent him to rehab on multiple occasions and he has since returned to the company as a road agent.
10. Kurt Angle
If professional wrestlers are superheroes and icons, Olympic gold medalists have got to be some form of living gods. Kurt Angle is legendary as the first man to truly achieve outrageous success in both arenas, winning the Gold Medal in Freestyle Wrestling during the 1996 Olympic Games and going on to enjoy one of the most impressive careers in WWE and then TNA history. That isn’t to say Kurt’s life is without negatives, however, and in fact his tenure in TNA was regularly marred by a personal life rapidly spiralling out of control.
The point of this list, once again, is to highlight which superstars got their worst when they left WWE, and Angle is no different, but it nonetheless is a little bit amazing just how quickly Kurt made that downfall. Kurt announced he was voluntarily leaving WWE for health reasons in late August of 2006, only to turn around and debut in TNA less than one month later. Insiders were speculating this was due to Angle’s desire to eschew the new WWE Wellness Policy, and fueling that belief, Angle has since been arrested for a number of DUIs and other drug related offenses throughout his near 10-year career with the company. Angle has had more than a few stints in rehab and despite strong fan interest in him returning to WWE, it would appear the company is not yet convinced his demons are behind him and thus have yet to welcome him back.
9. Jeff Hardy
Life tends to imitate art and thus even the youngest Jeff Hardy fans in WWE probably weren’t surprised when Jeff was arrested for drug trafficking right after major WWE storyline about how he was a huge drug addict. Hardy spent the majority of the summer of 2009 feuding with CM Punk over Punk’s straight edge lifestyle, and the fact a longtime drug user like Hardy found Punk sanctimonious in his complaints about modern society. Despite Hardy’s assertion that he could do drugs sometimes, then stop, all by himself, immediately after WWE requesting time off from WWE to deal with mounting injuries, Jeff Hardy was arrested for drug trafficking, caught with hundreds of various pills, steroids, and cocaine.
The world may never know if WWE intended on Jeff making a comeback after his 2009 injury, because his serious legal troubles have since precluded the company from ever again mentioning him on television. Jeff has gone through a variety of rehabs and continues to work for TNA to this day, though some would argue his true rock bottom occurred during the main event of a TNA Pay-Per-View, when Hardy arrived at Victory Road 2011 in no condition to repeat. The result was a minute long match where a legitimately furious Sting destroyed Hardy, and it was a downright miracle TNA or its fans were ever able to forgive him for that one.
Hitting rock bottom is generally associated with severe drug use and in many of the saddest stories recovered addicts are known to tell, there tends to be a sexual element to the worst things people have done seeking drugs. As degrading as that is, without the drugs, it’s just sad that a once successful performer would be forced to trade their body for profit, not by way of choice, but because they had no other way to make money. Fans can say what they will about Sunny making adult films, but her real rock bottom was asking fans for money to non-sexually lay in bed with her—every single element of that story paints a shockingly sad picture, proving today’s Sunny has sunk depressingly low from her former position as the most downloaded woman on the Internet.
Sunny had long been notorious for her drug problems, exacerbated by longtime boyfriend Chris Candido and maybe even worse by short-time fling Shawn Michaels. Sunny spoke candidly about her problems on an episode of ECW on TNN, openly admitting she had a death wish during the height of her fame and that she was using drugs as an escape. Over a decade later, she now works in the adult film industry through a contract with Vivid Entertainment and has experienced dozens of driving arrests on suspicions of DUIs. Still, nothing about Sunny is quite as sad as the fans willing to pay her to sit in the same bed as them.
Despite the fact it was her drug problems that ultimately ended Chyna’s life, the majority of criticisms levied upon Joanie Laurer post her exit from WWE in 2001 seemed to be based on her decision to start a second career in the adult film industry. The irony of course is that Vince McMahon and WWE had initially strongly supported her decision to pose nude for Playboy, but when Chyna started incorporating other WWE characters into her pornographic videos, things started getting a little too gross for Vince, Triple H, Stephanie, and others who Chyna pretended to have sex with in her videos.
In addition to making some very questionable DVD releases, Chyna had been battling with drugs and alcohol her entire life. Chyna’s mother suggested she enter rehab at an early age and she chose to run away from home instead. Chyna made regular appearances on The Howard Stern Show after her wrestling career ended, and later became a cast member on The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, with each televised appearance showing a woman closer to the edge of destruction. Chyna ultimately succumbed to her addictions when she passed away in April of 2016 of a suspected drug overdose, though it appeared to be accidental.
While some drug addicts prefer to indulge their addictions entirely by themselves, others prefer a partner in crime, and that mentality is what lead to the public, infamous, and controversial relationship between Chyna and X-Pac. Chyna’s WWE stint ended in 2001, and X-Pac left the company the next year. It’s unclear when exactly the relationship began, but it must have been in full swing by 2004, at which point the couple released a celebrity sex tape titled 1 Night in China.
X-Pac and Chyna’s relationship, and the ensuing madness surrounding it, was also documented on an episode of The Surreal Life, when X-Pac burst into the house shared by the cast of the show to demand a reconciliation with Chyna. When Chyna refused, he was kicked out of the house. X-Pac would later explain that he was on crystal meth during a great deal of their relationship, explaining some of his behavior. When X-Pac switched to consuming mass amounts of alcohol, he also became suicidal, once attempting to hang himself while performing in Mexico. Thankfully, X-Pac somehow survived and WWE has since paid for him to attend rehab. He appears to be on the right track and we wish him well in that pursuit!
5. Justin Credible
Most wrestling fans are familiar with the infamous Kliq of superstars who allegedly ran the backstage politics in WWE throughout the early ‘90s, as well as the fact this same Kliq was just as well known for their constant and overwhelming drug use. One thing that is often forgotten about the Kliq is that outside of the core members, the group had several hangers on and associates, most notably of which was Justin Credible. Credible befriended Scott Hall early on in his career, and it was thus Hall who introduced then-Aldo Montoya to the world of painkillers. Almost immediately, the two were inseparable drug buddies, and things only got worse for Credible from there.
Justin was by far the least successful Kliq associate and didn’t really became noteworthy until he left WWE for ECW in 1997. The ECW locker room was even freer with drug use than WWE and therefore Justin’s nascent drug problem turned into widespread addiction sometime around his jump. By the time ECW went out of business and Justin returned to WWE, he had been experimenting with crystal meth, which unpredictably caused that tenure with the company to be decidedly brief. Getting fired only made things worse for Credible and, before long, he was intravenously using heroin on top of all his other favorite drugs. Despite the fact Credible remains in the background, reports indicate he actually managed to redeem himself, finally swallowing his pride and asking WWE to send him to rehab in 2012.
4. Sean O’Haire
One of the worst things about a drug problem is that it can rob a talented or brilliant performer from ever achieving their true potential and that just may have been the case with Sean O’Haire. O’Haire was perhaps the most exciting prospect to come out of the WCW Power Plant in the year 2000, at a time when the company unleashed a half dozen perhaps unready new trainees to the world and called them The Natural Born Thrillers. O’Haire was the standout member of this group and hoped to translate that success to WWE, but he was less lucky in that effort than he had been with WCW.
O’Haire only spent a few months in WWE during the Invasion, before being sent to their developmental territory for further training. O’Haire returned as the highly intriguing and popular Devil’s Advocate character, but once again only spent a short while in the spotlight, only to get sent back to the minor leagues for further training. Rather than flounder on the bottom the rest of his career, O’Haire left WWE and the wrestling business to focus on MMA. That career turned out to be another bust and O’Haire remained out of the public eye until his sudden and tragic suicide in 2014. What fans didn’t know is that in the interim, WWE had allegedly sponsored at least six trips to rehab, and that O’Haire had been arrested for domestic violence on numerous occasions.
Goldust’s incredible 2013 comeback story was one of the most thrilling angles WWE pulled off that year and the most amazing part of it may be that most people don’t even realize just how low Goldust’s life had been sinking prior to that run. Dustin Rhodes is one of the definitive “journeyman” wrestlers, in that he has worked for virtually every major wrestling company in North America, often for brief stints, hopping back and forth between promotions while somehow still managing to stand out in them all.
Rhodes succeeded under his own name in WCW during the early ‘90s, shocked the world as Goldust in the late ‘90s, was a mild success in the dying days of WCW, and then turned Goldust into a brilliant comedy character when he returned to WWE in 2002. He then bounced back and forth between TNA and WWE, and it was at this point his personal life started to fall into shambles. Rhodes explained he was addicted to cocaine, pills, and alcohol during his stints in TNA and hates talking about those parts of his career as a result. Goldust returned to WWE in 2008 by way of asking for financial assistance in attending rehab and later reentered the ring upon completion of such.
2. Scott Hall
There are sad stories in wrestling and then there’s Scott Hall. Despite the fact Hall hasn’t worked for WWE since 2002, Stephanie McMahon has gone on record to say the company has spent more money attempting to put the WWE Hall of Fame performer through rehab than any other former employee. ESPN’s E:60 has even dedicated a full episode to Hall’s downward spiral throughout life, which actually started before his WWE career and before he even decided to become a wrestler in the first place. Hall murdered a man in self-defense in 1983, and has never been able to forget his actions, leading to a lifetime of substance abuse and terrifyingly severe alcoholism.
Hall’s rap sheet is longer than most wrestlers’ career histories, so there isn’t quite time to cover every time Hall fell further towards the bottom. The noteworthy part is that things started to seriously get worse when Hall was working for WCW, where the company not only allowed him to succumb to his demons, but also practically glorified him on camera for his excessive drinking. Many fans believed Hall was finally recovering thanks to the efforts of Diamond Dallas Page, but unfortunately, a September 2016 incident at an airport bar has most people realizing Hall still has a long way to go before his demons are completely defeated. We wish him well.
1. Jake Roberts
Lists like this show how easy it was for Darren Aronofsky and Robert Siegel when they created The Wrestler, as stories like that of Randy “The Ram” are clearly rampant throughout the entire wrestling community. In fact, The Wrestler wasn’t even the first mainstream film to examine the pitfalls associated with a retired sports entertainer, as nine years earlier, a filmmaker named Barry Blaustein had already done the same thing documentary style with Beyond the Mat. While a variety of superstars were profiled in that film, the most tragic case was unquestionably that of future WWE Hall of Famer Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Jake didn’t exactly hit rock bottom after leaving WWE, in that his life was pretty tragic from very early on his life. Jake’s sister, Rockin’ Robin, could also find herself on a list like this, with her problems no doubt made worse by the fact their father Grizzly Smith sexually assaulted her when she was a child, and Jake has always implied he may have suffered some type of heinous abuse from Grizzly and his stepmother, as well. A 1987 neck injury caused by The Honky Tonk Man made everything infinitely worse and by the late ‘90s, Jake was purporting to consume an eight ball of cocaine almost every day, literally begging to die.
Jake finally turned his life around thanks to the intervention of fellow superstar Diamond Dallas Page. Another documentary about Jake would follow, this one focused on his recovery efforts and the more positive elements of his life and career. Page went on to induct Roberts into the WWE Hall of Fame, proving once more that regardless of how fall an icon falls, there is always room for them to pull themselves back to the top.
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