Whenever wrestlers die before their time, the cause can be obvious: drugs. WWE has seen a few guys pass away as has WCW and ECW. World Class is infamous for a shocking death toll due to drugs and they continue. It’s sad to see so many young lives snuffed out by addictions and the harsh shadow it puts over wrestling. But sometimes, a death has nothing to do with drugs, it has to do with circumstances beyond anyone’s control. Accidents happen to wrestlers as much as anyone and astounding sometimes how a guy can go years with drugs and injuries but one car crash or other freak accident is the thing that ends their life.
They happen all over, whether to retired people or those in their prime. Often, it’s a car wreck, a common thing for wrestlers who are on the road so much and it presents a major risk. Sometimes, it happens in the ring, a freak occurrence aggravating something and causing a fatal ending. There are several cases of close calls but some guys just aren’t that lucky. Here are 20 wrestlers who died in an accident of some sort and how tragedy hits without warning.
20 Perro Aguayo Jr.
As the son of one of the most famous luchadores in Mexico, it was no surprise Perro Jr. would soon make his way into the business. He started in AAA and soon rising high, a fantastic worker and absolutely terrific on the mic to rile up crowds. He was soon the leader of the Los Perros del Mal stable in CMLL which became one of the hottest acts in the country. He left to start his own promotion and then staged an “invasion” angle that drew huge business. At 35, he still seemed to have plenty of potential left and was seen as a major star in Mexico and most expected him to dominate for a while. On March 20, 2015,
Perro teamed with Manik against Rey Mysterio and Xtreme Tiger for a bout in Tijuana. He took a dropkick from Mysterio to set up the 619 but appeared to be lax and unresponsive. He was raced to the hospital after the match and pronounced dead from apparent whiplash and a stroke. The various promotions of Mexico put their differences aside to honor him and he was put in the AAA Hall of Fame, a top honor for a top star.
19 Brady Boone
Billed as the cousin of Billy Jack Haynes, Boone won a few titles in the Pacific Northwest and did an okay job as a jobber in WWE. He was famous for a bit brutally attacked by Demolition and stretchered out to sell the Demos as brutal heels. He then came out as the rather nutty character of Battle Kat with his goofy cat mask and antics that were laughable. However, Boone ended up inspiring and training none other than a young Rob Van Dam who even emulated some of his cartwheels and flying moves. Boone did some work in WCW before moving onto becoming a referee. In 1998, he was killed in a car accident at 40 with most remembering him more for a career that could have been rather than that dumb character.
18 Iron Mike DiBiase
Most would know him today for being the adoptive father of Ted “the Million Dollar Man” DiBiase. But in his prime, Iron Mike was a top notch heel, notable for a great technical style and a hard worker. He held titles in the AWA, NWA and Central States and was notable for his terrific ring work. He was a workhouse, refusing to take much time off and still going at the age of 45. On July 2nd, 1969, DiBiase faced Man Mountain Mike and took a devastating slam. Harley Race was watching and saw DiBiase collapsing, recognizing the signs of a heart attack. He raced in to help but it was too late, DiBiase dying of a cholesterol build-up. His legacy lived on with his son who always sought to do his old man proud.
17 Plum Mariko
Japanese women’s wrestling is brutal. There’s no other way to describe it. The training can drive Marines to tears and the matches go full out. There are no “Divas” or “Knockouts” but women taking bumps most American promotions have banned. Plum Mariko stands as the ultimate showcase for that. Trained in the harsh dojos, Mariko was doing her best to handle the wild matches and rise up more in the ranks. She took several brutal shots over the years with the discovery of a brain abscess. Since time off isn’t really a thing in Japan, she kept right on going. In August of 1997, Mariko was taking part in a tag team match when she took a Ligerbomb finisher for the pin. When her opponents realized she wasn’t moving, they had her picked up and taken to the hospital.
She was pronounced dead of head trauma and a memorial show was made. Mariko sadly is historic as the first Japanese wrestler to die in the ring and a showcase of how harsh they can be there.
16 Randy Savage
In his prime, the Macho Man was one of the biggest stars around. He had the act already in Memphis and Portland, growling while being a genius in the ring and his flying elbow a major highlight of the business. In WWE, he blossomed huge as IC Champion and then WWE Champion with classic battles with Ricky Steamboat, Hulk Hogan and others. He left in a cloud in 1994 for WCW for more great battles and feuds but by the 2000s, was a shell of his former shelf. Savage soon became known for an insane manner, ranting at folks in everything from interviews to a rap album.
It was so bad WWE basically ignored Savage despite his great past. But in 2011, a heart attack while at the wheel led to a car crash that cost Savage his life. In the aftermath, many saw Savage in a new light, WWE finally inducting him in the Hall of Fame and it's a shame it took his death to get more of his due.
15 Dick the Bruiser
He remains one of the most groundbreaking stars of his time. In the 1950s, William Afflis was a player for the Green Bay Packers and learned his toughness. He moved onto wrestling with Verne Gagne giving him the moniker of “The Bruiser.” While he was presented as a heel, his great promos and charisma soon got him huge cheers. He basically put the Detroit area on the map for wrestling, an early star of the TV era. The Bruiser was renowned for his toughness, often getting into brutal fights and bloodied up but the common man fans loved him. He also founded the WWA promotion and ran it for years as well as serving as champion.
He also worked with the AWA, including a terrific team with the Crusher that held the AWA tag titles five times and shone as the most popular workers around. Still in terrific shape after retirement, Afflis was weightlifting at home when something went wrong, dropping a weight which caused an internal rupture. He died of internal bleeding, a surprising end for such a tough man but a legacy few can touch.
14 Crusher Blackwell
Jerry Blackwell actually competed in the World’s Strongest Man competition but had to bow out to an injury. Just being in it gave him fame, however, and carried him to wrestling. Boasting a weight of 475 pounds, Blackwell was naturally pushed as a monster clashing with other big guys. But Blackwell surprised many by being quite nimble for his size, throwing dropkicks and even moves off the top rope. “The Mountain From Stone Mountain” was soon a mainstay of the AWA, known for his terrific battles, holding the tag titles and feuding with many of the major stars of the time. He kept with the AWA all the way to the end, eventually retiring after issues of weight and obesity. In December of 1994, he was involved in a brutal car accident and spent nearly a month in the hospital before dying of complications. In his prime, Blackwell was one of the better “big men” in the business so it was sad to see his life ending in a hospital bed.
13 Sam Bass
An okay wrestler, Bass found his true calling as a manager, soon behind several top heels in the Memphis area and promoting major stuff. He was the man who first called Jerry Lawler the “King of Wrestling,” a name that has followed him ever since. He served as Lawler’s corner man for years and Lawler always counted him as a friend. In July of 1976, Bass was with the tag team the Dominoes when they were involved in a car wreck, killing all three. Lawler still made sure to remember him in storylines, including a heated feud over a jacket Bass had given him. Lawler always went out of his way to credit Bass with his success and how the man helped create the aura of the King that pushed Lawler to stardom.
12 Danno O’Mahoney
The Irish Whip has become such an accepted move in wrestling that it’s hard to believe it wasn’t always around. But it was created and popularized by Danno O’Mahoney, a groundbreaking star from Ireland. He started out in 1934, winning nearly 50 matches in a row to build him up into a big deal. He and Jim Londos faced off in a top battle that did huge business for its time. He then won the first recognized unified world wrestling title but it was a match ending in huge controversy. A natural hero for the ethnic crowds, O’Mahoney was still going strong as AWA champion but took a break to serve in World War II. He pretty much was hanging it up in 1950 when he returned to Ireland.
He was involved in a nasty car accident, seemingly walking it off but he would pass a few days later. A statue stands in his hometown of Ballydehob to pay tribute to the man behind one of the most famed moves in wrestling.
11 Vivian Vachon
The Vachon family is well known as one of the most notable clans in wrestling. All of them are famous for a hard ring style and just as wild outside it. Vivian kept that tradition going by being one of the best female wrestlers of the 1970s. A beautiful woman, she could get down and dirty in the ring, brawling it out but managing to carry herself well. She held several titles in California and the AWA Women’s title. In many ways, she set a new standard for female wrestling, more energetic and doing her best not to make it just a sideshow.
She retired in 1986 to take care of her family but tragically, in 1991, she and her nine-year old daughter were killed by a drunk driver. It was a tragic end to an otherwise fine life but her niece, Luna, would cite Vivian as a major inspiration as many a female worker has.
10 Adrian Adonis
Originally, Adonis was a true tough guy, dressed in motorcycle outfits and a top heel. He and Jesse Ventura were terrific as AWA tag team champions and Adonis used that for WWE. He was also a star in Japan, known for teaming with Stan Hansen and great work there. However, when Adonis gained a ton of weight in WWE, Vince McMahon punished him by forcing Adonis to put on a dress, wear makeup and act as gay as possible. He hated it but put up with it for a bit before leaving the company in 1987. In 1988, Adonis was working for Stampede, back to one of the top tough guys around. On the 4th of July, his car went off the road and smashed up, killing Adonis instantly. It was a tragic end to a once great career that made big press for the wrong reasons.
9 Hercules Cortez
Like anyone taking the name of Hercules, Alfonso Carlos Chicharro was a well-built man with a terrific physique. Born in Spain, he trained for wrestling there before coming over to the states. He was soon known as a serious muscleman and a top notch strong guy to face off against enemies. Notable was how he brought a massive boulder to the ring with him, claiming it was from his homeland and daring any opponent to lift it (which, of course, they couldn’t). He held a few belts like the AWA tag team title and even acted in movies in his native Spain.
On July 24, 1971, Cortez and partner Red Bastien were driving to St. Paul when they were involved in a nasty car accident, with Cortez being killed. It's a true shame as the man seemed ready to rise up more but at least he's remembered as one of the better strongmen of his time.
8 D.J. Peterson
Not to be confused with the baseball player, Peterson started off in Texas before moving to World Class, Mid-South and other places. He is historic in that he and the Trooper were the final AWA tag team champions before the promotion finally went under. He was pretty much a journeyman jobber, used to put other guys over and just stuck with the AWA titles as there was pretty much nobody else left in the promotion at that point. Peterson seemed to avoid the major promotions, seeming to know he wasn’t right for them outside of a jobber and sticking to the independents. He was working between a few in 1993 when he was involved in a motorcycle accident that killed him at 33. He wasn’t a huge star but still notable for a sad life cut way too short.
7 Junkyard Dog
It’s true that even at the height of his fame, Sylvester Ritter was a terrible worker. He was covered by Bill Watts’ booking as well as his own great charisma, shining well. JYD was a major star for the Mid-South region, selling out arenas and doing huge business. His promos were great and he was easily quite over with his charisma and style. In WWE, he rose up more as a star but his addictions to drugs hurt him. He also suffered from overeating, blossoming to nearly 400 pounds and his skills fading. Bad runs in WCW and USWA just showed how past his prime he really was. In 1998, Ritter was driving back from his daughter’s graduation when he fell asleep at the wheel and killed in a crack-up. It was a sad end to a once-great worker.
Jesus Javier Hernandez Silva was a second-generation wrestler who grew up admiring luchadores like his father. Jesus quickly landed the name of Oro (Gold) in a stylish mask and robes. He was soon wowing with a new form of lucha libre, his use of planchas and other moves off the top rope soon impressing his fellow workers. Many of them sought to emulate Oro with their own flying moves and he helped elevate lucha libre majorly for the 1990s. He also found fame in Japan with his sensational abilities. In 1993, he took part in a six man tag match, agreeing to take a very nasty bump on the head. It turned out to be too much as he collapsed and was pronounced dead of a brain aneurysm just two months shy of his 22nd birthday. Even rival AAA paid tribute to him as many a luchador since has cited Oro as the reason they got into the business and thus his legacy remains golden.
5 Joey Marella
While not a wrestler, Joey Marella will be a familiar face to those who watched during WWE Golden Era, as Marella was a notable referee, often seen reffing big matches in the WWE. He was also the son of the late great Gorilla Monsoon and it seemed he'd have a job in WWE for as long as he wanted it. However, eventually the toils of traveling so much on the road took a negative effect on Marella. Following a show in Ocean City, Maryland, Marella was driving to the next town on tour, but he fell asleep at the wheel. Marella was driving and while passenger Harvey Wippleman was wearing a seatbelt, unfortunately Marella was not. He was 31 at the time of his passing.
4 Malcom Kirk
Best known as “King Kong Kirk,” Malcom was a former rugby player and coal miner, a seriously tough guy. He soon moved into wrestling, known for his tough manner, bald head and a good heel. Bret Hart said he felt Kirk was better than most gave him credit for, taking nice bumps and a really nice guy outside the ring, even with kids. In 1987, Kirk was taking part in a tag team match in England and took a giant splash from a large wrestler by the name of Big Daddy. After the pin, Big Daddy realized Kirk wasn’t moving and officials quickly raced in to help. It was too late as he was dead of a heart attack at 50. It caused some bad publicity and hit wrestling in England majorly, a shame given how nice a guy Kirk was.
3 Mitsuharu Misawa
He is still revered as one of the greatest wrestlers in Japanese history. The second Tiger Mask, Misawa shifted to his own man and a standout, a five time Triple Crown Champion who was hailed for five star matches against most anyone. The Wrestling Observer named him Wrestler of the Year three times and his bouts selling out crowds. Able to go from technical to brawling, Misawa was a master keeping crowds on his side and any bout with him was going to be a big one. He even served as President of All-Japan to increase his power and standing. On June 13, 2009, Misawa was in a tag match and took a vicious belly to back suplex from Akitoshi Saito. He was knocked unconscious and declared dead at the hospital of cardiac arrest. It oddly makes sense a man who elevated Japanese wrestling had his life end in the ring.
2 Buddy Landel
For a time, Buddy Landel looked like he was going to be something big. He took off as a “new Nature Boy” emulating Ric Flair with robes, nice outfits and even the figure-four leglock. A great worker in his own right, Landel was a rising star, National heavyweight champion and pretty over. Plans were underway for Landel to feud with Flair and even have a run as NWA champion. But Landel hit a major problem with drug addiction and a huge falling out with Jim Crockett. This led to him basically getting blackballed from many organizations and his fame fading out fast. He had a brief run with WWE but ended with an injury as he fell further.
In 2015, Landel was involved in a nasty car accident and spent a week in the hospital. He was released but died the next day.
1 Owen Hart
It’s one of the biggest tragedies in wrestling, not just because of what happened but who it happened to. From the start, Owen showed himself as arguably the most talented of the Hart clan. Even Bret would say Owen was his better in many ways. A technical master who could take off the ropes, Owen had promise but never quite got there. It took a heel turn and a main event run with Bret in 1994 to elevate him up although WWE still seemed reluctant to push him harder. That’s a shame as Owen was a great heel and tops on the mic while beloved backstage as a big prankster.
In 1999, Owen revived his old Blue Blazer gimmick with the idea of playing with the old 1980s heroes. At the Over the Edge PPV, he was to make a major entrance coming down on a cable and flopping into the ring. But something went wrong, the cable unclasping and dropping Owen nearly 70 feet to the ring. It was a horrifying moment as he was pronounced dead at the hospital and to this day, many mourn the loss of the most warm-hearted Hart of the bunch.