All too often it seems, success and fame inside the ring translates to something far less spectacular outside of it. The lives of professional wrestlers at times have been as dramatic as what goes on in the ring, though far more serious and tragic.
Wrestling has long been, and continues to be, one of the most popular shows on television, with a rabid and dedicated fan base following the matches and the storylines week in and week out. Wrestlers achieve great fame, branching out into film, TV, and music. For whatever reasons, these lives filled with entertainment and athleticism does not always lead to health and happiness.
Unfortunately, there are more than a handful of notable wrestlers whose lives have ended tragically. Addiction to illegal substances and alcohol is not uncommon, and neither is trouble with the law. On top of that, it’s been all too common that wrestlers have suffered mental health issues during and after their career.
It seems of late that more light is being shed on mental illness, because similar things are taking place in other sports. Former professional football and hockey players, who, like wrestlers, engage in a sport where there is a lot of physical contact and shots to the head, have been found dead at far too young an age due to apparent suicides. A common thread throughout: mental health issues.
The connections surely are far too potent to pass off as coincidence. Whatever the reasons, however, these stars are gone, but they are not forgotten. Sadly it seems this list grows year to year, with the effects of such physically activity, paired with wealth and fame, can lead to an early end.
Here are 20 most notable wrestlers who tragically took their own life. There are unfortunately many more that sadly died from drug overdoses, who will not be included as suicides, despite speculation. We don't wish to cast a negative light and speculate on those, so we will only include deaths that were confirmed to be suicides.
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20 Shawn Osborne
Osborn, whose real last name is Shawn McGrath, was never the most popular or celebrated wrestler, but noteworthy nonetheless. His first match was with the Heartland Wrestling Association in 2003 before later working with Impact Zone Wrestling and eventually WWE. He appeared on Raw and Smackdown, but was later moved to Deep South Wrestling where he was eventually dropped. In January 2011, at the age of 34, Osborne killed himself, leaving behind a note that revealed problems in his personal life, according to PrpWrestingTorch.com.
19 The Renegade
Rick Wilson came onto the wrestling scene in 1992, signing with WCW in 1995, looking to succeed the Ultimate Warrior. Renegade, however, never caught on with fans in part because of the deception around his hype. He wasn’t the Ultimate Warrior, and was the subject of mockery in and out of the ring because of it, relegated to a jobber role as a regular loser. Two months after he was fired from WCW in 1998, Wilson killed himself.
18 Brain Damage
There isn’t a lot known about the death of Marvin Lambert, but it does seem like a cruel piece of irony that his ring nickname was Brain Damage, considering the concern that there is for athletes when it comes to concussions. Lambert worked with Combat Zone Wrestler and was known as a brawler, earning numerous accolades during his career. Lambert, a Cleveland native, died in October 2012 at the age of 34, according to f4wonline.com.
17 Adam Firestorm
Adam Dykes, known in the ring as Firestorm, was most notably a member of Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling. He worked around the Pacific Northwest and across the Canadian prairies as well. An elbow injury in 2005 derailed his career, however, and he soon took to journalism and video production, which he started out doing before wrestling. Dykes killed himself on November 5th, 2009, according to slam.canoe.ca, with his family posting on Facebook to announce the tragic news and share their thoughts.
16 Skull Murphy
Murphy was a big, bad villain in the ring, an imposing presence to fans and wrestlers alike. The Canadian held a most iconic image too because of a childhood disease that kept his body entirely hairless. His wrestling career spanned almost two decades, from working in Southern Ontario to around the States and later to Australia. He was a Tag Team Champion through the 60s, but it was in 1970 that he took his life, according to slam.canoe.ca, overdosing on sleeping pills at the age of 39.
15 Yukon Eric
Another wrestler that found success in Canada, Eric Holmback was actually born in Washington State in 1924, but spent a majority of his career in Ontario. In an infamous 1952 match, Holmback lost his ear, and two years later was part of the first televised wrestling match in Canada. However, Holmback went through a divorce later in life and was suffering from financial issues. According to slam.canoe.ca, on January 16th, 1965, he shot himself in the head while sitting in his car in the parking lot of the Church where he got married.
14 Larry Sweeney
Alex Whybrow, wrestling under the name Larry Sweeney, competed around the world with his first professional match taking place in 2000. He wrestled primarily for Chikara and Ring of Honor, but also became known as a talented manager and promoter, a man of great charm and enthusiasm. Sadly, it ended tragically for him, as he hung himself at the age of 29 in 2011, having privately suffered from bipolar disorder and illegal substance abuse, according to f4wonline.com.
13 Eddie Graham
This Tennessee native was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, over 60 years after he first started wrestling. Graham earned numerous titles over the course of his career, winning team and individual championships. Graham, however, befell a horrible injury in 1968, when in the locker room a steel window fell on his head, a incident that required 300 stitches and ruined his eyesight. It was also a source of controversy, as Graham earned a settlement from the Florida government some saw as suspicious. Still, Graham was plagued by alcoholism, and on January 21st, 1985, still working in wrestling as a promoter, he killed himself by gunshot, according to cagesideseats.com
12 Mike Graham
Sadly, Mike followed in his father’s footsteps. The younger Graham wrestled around Florida, but his career in the ring wasn’t anything particularly noteworthy. He worked in promotions and as a guest panelist often on televised broadcasts. He hosted too, while also working behind the scenes. Over 25 years after his father took his own life, Graham shot himself in the head and died on October 19, 2012 in his home in Florida, according to cagesideseats.com.
11 Ed Gantner
Gantner’s athletic career started with football, earning a scholarship to the University of Tennessee. He stayed one year, and following a respite at home, he would play in the USFL. Gantner took to wrestling in 1985, but that career only lasted a few years, suffering from injuries. Ganter also took steroids starting in high school, which caused many health problems. He later required a kidney transplant, with his heart and brain starting to fail as well. On New Year’s Eve 1990, resigned and depressed, Gantner shot himself in the heart in his parent’s home in Orlando at the age of 31, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
10 Sean O’Haire
The most recent one of this melancholic list, Sean O’Haire hung himself and took his life in the fall of 2014 at the age of 43, according to Sherdog.com. He was a three-time WCW World Tag Team Champion, and spent four years with WWE before working for New Japan Pro Wrestling and taking to kickboxing and mixed martial arts. Outside of the ring, however, O’Haire was arrested several times for alleged physical altercations. He had been depressed before his passing, according to reports..
9 Crash Holly
Wrestling for over half his life, Crash Holly (Michael John Lockwood) held numerous titles and was part of many exciting storylines. He held the WWE Tag Team Championship, as well as the Hardcore Championship, which he won a staggering 22 times. Lockwood died on November 6, 2003 from an overdose of prescription drugs that was eventually ruled a suicide. It’s suspected that the divorce papers filed by his wife not a week earlier contributed to the overdose.
8 Chris Kanyon
Chris Klucsarits, better known to his many adoring fans as Chris Kanyon, had long been suffering from bipolar disorder. In his first appearance, he portrayed an inept construction worker, and throughout his career would adopt various costumes and masks. Injuries, however, helped derail his career, leading to his retirement in 2004. Kanyon would fight back against WWE for what he thought was unfair treatment. According to FoxNews,On April 2nd, 2010 he overdosed on antidepressants, killing himself, but not before leaving an apology note to his family.
7 Mike Von Erich
Sadly, this is not the first Von Erich we will see on this list. Michael Brett Adkisson (the family’s ring name was Von Erich), was one of five wrestling brothers and son of wrestler and promoter Fritz Von Erich. Mike’s career was short lived, wrestling only for a few years, making his debut in 1983 with his final match coming in April, 1987. That’s because Mike was frequently out of action, requiring shoulder surgery in 1985 that had complications, and suffering head injuries from a car accident a year later. Mike overdosed on pills a few days after being arrested for drunk driving, according to ProWrestling.About.com.
6 Tojo Yamamoto
One of the best villains and heels in wrestling, Harold Watanabe, known as Tojo Yamamoto, was a deviant instigator people loved to hate. He would have a prolific and lengthy career, which included working as a manger and trainer. Working in wrestling for over 30 years, the Hawaii native achieved many tag team championships. Injuries, however, forced him to retire in 1991. It was only a year later, in his early 60s, that he shot himself and died, according to FindAGrave.com.
5 Kerry Von Erich
Kerry Gene Adkisson was perhaps the most physically talented of his brethren, and was known also as The Modern Day Warrior and the Texas Tornado. Wrestling from 1979 into the early 90s, he was involved in a myriad memorable matches and feuds. Von Erich was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009, with many tag team and individual championships to his credit. He was plagued by illegal substance use and arrests, though, and like his two brothers before him, eventually took his own life. Kerry shot himself and died in February of 1993, according to ProWrestling.About.com.
4 Ludvig Borga
Tony Christian Halme, known better as Ludvig Borga in WWE, was a Finnish wrestling sensation during his relatively short career. He wasn’t just a wrestler, though: he was a member of the Finnish parliament, he was an actor, and he was a writer. Halme, however, was haunted outside of the ring: he took illegal substances and alcohol, was divorced, was suspended from Parliament, and later was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Suffering from physical and mental pain, just two days after his 47th birthday on January 8th, 2010, Halme shot himself and died, according to BoxRec.com.
3 Chris Von Erich
Chris Barton Adkisson was the youngest member of the wrestling Von Erich family and he faced plenty of problems. Firstly, Chris was particularly small, billed at around 5’5” and some 160lbs, and often broke bones. Moreover, he suffered from asthma, and despite his love for wrestling, he simply couldn’t become stronger. Depressed over the death of his brothers and his wrestling struggles, Chris shot himself in the head on September 12th, 1991, less than three weeks before his 22nd birthday, according to ProWrestling.About.com.
2 Mike Awesome
With a wrestling career spanning nearly 20 years, Mike Awesome is perhaps best known for leaving ECW to head to WCW while he was still champion. The groups were rivals, and Awesome leaving rather quietly from one to another was seen as betrayal. The move didn’t work out particularly well, becoming a wrestler with a variety of gimmicks and working the independent circuit before returning in 2006. A year later, on February 17th, 2007, he hung himself in his Florida home at the age of 42, according to WrestlingObserver.com.
1 Chris Benoit
In the most disturbing case on this list, Chris Benoit not only took his own life, but the lives of two others during a tragic double murder-suicide. The decorated athlete, including a two-time world champion, was one of the greatest wrestlers of his time, one of five men in history to win both WWE and WCW Triple Crown Championships. Away from the ring, Benoit married twice, with two children from the first and a son from the second. His second wife Nancy filed for divorce and issued a restraining order, but dropped the restraining order. On June 25th, 2007, police entered the Benoit home after he missed several welfare appointments, finding the dead bodies of him, Nancy, and seven-year-old Daniel. Autopsies show that Daniel was heavily drugged before being strangled and that Benoit suffered severe brain damage, so much so that cerebrally he resembled a 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. All the information for this entry was taken from CBSNews.com.
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