Wrestling fans have been aware of the industry’s tragic secret for some time now, long before the deaths of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit brought it to national headlines. Sports entertainers have a tendency towards dying young, sometimes extremely young, on a level that makes the long held belief athletes are somehow healthier than your average person seem completely laughable. With that in mind, the personal habits and lifestyles of these wrestlers often played a huge role in the fact their lives were over at such young ages. Still, the pattern has been so evident for so long that many critics are starting to believe the wrestling industry itself could well have been implicit in some of these grappler’s demises.
As with any profession, wrestlers have died for every reason imaginable, some of them intrinsically related to age, some fairly predictable, and others that remain complete shocks even with years of retrospect. Considering the ages we’re talking about, almost all of these stories had at least some hint of tragedy to them, with the worst cases proving repeated examples of just how dark the wrestling industry is capable of being. The scariest part of this trend is that it seems to be rapidly increasing, with more than half of our list having passed in the last 20 years alone. Keep reading to learn about 40 wrestlers who died before they turned 40.
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48 David Von Erich - Overdose At 25
The Von Erich family often serve as a microcosm for tragedy in the wrestling industry, so it seems appropriate to start this list where the Von Erich tragedy began. Fritz Von Erich became one of the most successful independent promoters of the 1960s and 70s by building in the Southern United States and once his company started filming well-produced weekly TV in the 1980s, his sons were poised to take his place. The Von Erich boys all had their potential and yet David remained the standout thanks to his incredible feuds with names like Ric Flair and Harley Race. Nicknamed “The Yellow Rose Of Texas,” David was highly rumored to be in consideration for a reign with the NWA World Championship when he was found dead in Tokyo, Japan under mysterious circumstances in February 1984. The official Von Erich family story claimed he died of enteritis caused by eating bad food, but most insiders believe the real story was a drug overdose.
47 Test - Overdose At 33
Had things gone only slightly differently early on in his career, the name Andrew “Test” Martin may have meant a whole lot more to WWE history. Test debuted as an unnamed bodyguard of Motley Crue, only to suddenly skyrocket to fame as a tag team partner of then WWE Champion The Rock only a few months later in his first official match. Test managed to stay near the main event scene throughout he majority of his time in wrestling, feuding with names like Shane McMahon and Triple H, while forming unions with Vince McMahon and Booker T. He and Booker won the WWE and WCW Tag Team Championships, in addition to solo runs with the Hardcore, European, and Intercontinental Championships. After three years of high profile stagnation, Test began to descend down the card in 2002, and never quite climbed back to the top. He meandered in a team with Scott Steiner and did his best to adapt to the hardcore ECW revival, only to leave WWE for good in 2007. A short run in TNA followed and he retired later that year. He remained away from the scene until March 2009, when he was found dead due to an overdose of oxycodone.
45 D.J. Peterson - Motorcycle Accident At 33
Stardom is subjective, so perhaps despite his relative obscurity we can call D.J. Peterson one of the last stars to achieve success in the American Wrestling Association. Prior to moving North, Peterson had made a minor name for himself primarily in Texas and then working for Bill Watts in Mid-South, though Verne Gagne was the only promoter to let him stand out in a noteworthy manner. Peterson actually made a short stop in WWE working as a jobber, but his lack of success brought him back to the AWA, where he was the last AWA World Tag Team Championship with his partner, The Trooper, who later came to fame in WCW and WWE as The Patriot. Peterson wouldn’t have the chance to salute his partner’s success, though, as he passed away due to a motorcycle accident in May 1993.
44 Ed Gantner - Suicide At 31
Lists like this one are rife with untapped potential and yet Ed Gantner still stands out as having a reputation as one of the biggest wastes of potential the wrestling industry have ever witnessed. That’s if you believe Paul Heyman, at least, who said he had never seen anyone with more promise than the former football star who became a wrestler in 1985. Gantner was entirely out of the business less than two years later, though, retiring due to a laundry list of mental health issues. Gantner had managed to become quick a big deal in the Florida territory despite the shortness of his career, feuding with legends like The Road Warriors and Dusty Rhodes, and winning the NWA Florida Championship only months before his retirement. Gantner’s physical and mental health only kept deteriorating after his retirement, causing him to move back in with his parents and when that didn’t work, seek psychiatric care. No matter where he looked, Gantner couldn’t find the peace he was looking for and he committed suicide in December of 1990.
43 Umaga - Overdose At 36
Old habits die hard in wrestling, which is how Umaga somehow found fame as a wild and uncivilized Samoan savage despite societal norms having made it very clear such a person hasn’t actually existed or even been believed to exist for centuries. It makes sense Umaga would try to revive the trope anyway, as he was the nephew of Afa and Sika of The Wild Samoans, plus the brother of Tama and Rikishi. Umaga made his debut like most members of his family after training with his uncles, finding his way to WWE for the first time in 2002 as a member of 3-Minute Warning. An alleged bar fight caused WWE to release him, at which point he achieved reasonable success in All Japan Pro Wrestling. Umaga returned to WWE with the Samoan savage gimmick, reaching his greatest fame and winning the Intercontinental Championship. Umaga also engaged in a feud against John Cena and an alliance with Vince McMahon, turning him into one of the highest profile destructive heels in recent history. Despite his success, Umaga was fired from WWE after he failed a drug test and refused to enter a rehab program. He was found dead as a result of an overdose only a little under seven months later.
42 Gary Albright - Heart Attack At 36
Lineage alone isn’t enough to make a wrestler famous, which is how Gary Albright remains a relatively obscure name despite having had a cavalcade of legendary trainers, plus marrying in to one of the largest and most infamous families in wrestling. Albright was trained in part by industry pioneers like Lou Thesz, Danny Hodge, and Billy Robinson, followed by additional advice being imparted from the entire Hart family by way of his early career in Stampede Wrestling. The Harts weren’t the only important family to Albright, as he also was the son-in-law of WWE Hall of Famer Afa The Wild Samoan through marriage to Afa’s daughter, Monica. Albright was only a moderate star in Stampede, having achieved much greater fame as a gaijin in Japan, where Albright was a two-time AJPW Tag Team Champion. Albright’s career came to an abrupt end during a match against Lucifer Grimm in January 2000, when he suffered a heart attack concurrent upon receiving a three-quarter facelock bulldog. Albright was pronounced dead almost immediately after he was removed from the ring.
41 Brian Hildebrand - Bowel And Stomach Cancer At 37
Were he a little bit bigger, Brian Hildebrand could’ve been a great wrestler, but his size meant he instead was one of the best referees of his era. Like most refs, Hildebrand actually did get his start as a performer, though, specifically working as an evil manager named Hymie P. Weiss. Hildebrand also had some experience getting in the ring, when he wrestled as the Nina Turtle parody Kowabunga for Smokey Mountain Wrestling. It was at SMW his transition to refereeing began as well, and positions in ECW and WCW followed soon after. Hildebrand was memorable for his consistent histrionics, adding subtle urgency and emotion to every match he called. He also managed to steal the show at least once by stopping a deranged fan who attempted to run into the ring during a match between Dean Malenko and Psychosis. Although Hildebrand was diagnosed with stomach and bowel cancer in 1997, he kept wrestling for WCW until he summer of 1999, at which point he was too weak to do so. Hildebrand succumbed to the disease in September of that year.
40 Crash Holly - Took His Own Life At 32
The mere fact a wrestler portrayed a comedy character the majority of their career is in no way a slight on their talents, as was certainly the case with the man best known as Crash Holly. Born Michael Lockwood, Holly spent nearly a decade on the independent scene wrestling as Johnny Pearson and Erin O’Grady to little success. In the mid-90s, a short stint in Japan lead to interest from ECW, which was followed by a tryout for WWE in 1998. Lockwood made his debut in 1999 as Crash, the cousin of Hardcore Holly, and soon became a staple of the tag team and hardcore divisions. Crash won the WWE Tag Team Championships with Hardcore once, in addition to minor reigns with the European and Light Heavyweight Championships, as well. More notably, Crash won the Hardcore Championship 22 times, in part due to his decision to defend the title 24/7, a rule that all future champions followed. Crash was released from WWE in July of 2003, and he committed suicide approximately five months later.
38 The Wall - Heart Attack At 36
Jerry Tuite was slightly older than the average rookie when he trained at the WCW Power Plant and he got lucky by making up for lost time soon after he made his debut. Tuite started as The Wall, bodyguard of Berlyn, a partnership that was short lived in part due to controversy surrounding their gimmicks. Tuite kept The Wall name when he returned a few months later in a much higher profile role, calling out Hulk Hogan and getting into a feud with Bam Bam Bigelow. Tuite’s WCW prospects fizzled out, only for him to suddenly reappear on the scene during the early days of NWA: TNA under the new persona of Malice. Malice was the last wrestler eliminated by Ken Shamrock in the main event of TNA’s first show and thus became one of the most regular contenders for Shamrock’s NWA World Championship. Despite the push, Malice didn’t last long in TNA, either, and was out of the company after less than a year. Once again switching his name, this time to Gigantes, Tuite left to Japan in 2003, where he suddenly passed away due to a heart attack.
36 Adrian Adonis - Car Accident At 34
The deterioration of Adrian Adonis happened so fast, in retrospect it can be hard for fans to remember he actually showed a great deal of talent for a significant portion of his career. The real Keith Franke, Jr. started his career portraying Adrian Adonis as a leather clad New York street tough with an affinity for motorcycles, serving as a member of mismatched tag teams with flashy Californian Jesse Ventura in AWA and Southern boy Dick Murdoch in WWE. Those teams both brought Adonis the respective companies Tag Team Championships and he also enjoyed a respectable career as a solo star, frequently challenging Bob Backlund for the WWE Championship. Once he and Murdoch split, Adonis gained a dangerous amount of weight and dyed his hair blonde, switching to an offensive gimmick as “Adorable” Adrian Adonis, ditching his leather for perfume and flowers. Adonis then engaged in an extremely high profile feud with Roddy Piper, but left WWE in 1987 amidst backstage controversy. The next year, Adonis died from injuries suffered during a car crash in July 1988.
35 Mike Von Erich - Suicide At 23
All things considered, the Von Erich family seemed to recover fairly well from the loss of David in the immediate wake of his death. Younger brother Mike did his part towards replacing David in his wrestling commitments, despite many insiders indicating Mike never had any actual passion towards becoming a wrestler himself. He nonetheless achieved success similar to the rest of his family, winning multiple singles and tag team championships and playing a major role in the timeless Von Erich-Fabulous Freebird feud. Mike’s fortunes turned when he contracted toxic shock syndrome in August of 1985, nearly causing his death and highly diminishing his abilities in the ring. He was rumored to suffer brain damage due to the disease and a series of car accidents were soon to follow. Two years later, in April of 1987, Mike Von Erich committed suicide by intentionally overdosing on sleeping pills and alcohol.
34 Art Barr - Heart Failure At 28
Being innovative and having famous friends can sometimes allow history to wash over the most horrible crimes, as the so-called “Love Machine” Art Barr knew to a personal if not professional certainty. Art’s father Sandy Barr was a longtime promoter in the Portland area and so Sandy trained Art, his brother, and a variety of other superstars to fill out the ranks of his roster. Art was an early standout in terms of talent and charisma, coming to regional fame for portraying a character inspired by the film Beetlejuice. During this same time, Barr was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman and was convicted of committing first-degree sexual assault. Barr was almost hired by WCW when the trial was made public, causing him to get blackballed in America. He nonetheless enjoyed a highly successful career in Mexico as Eddie Guerrero’s tag team partner, in addition to being Guerrero’s real life best friend. Barr died suddenly due to drug related heart problems in November of 1994.
33 Eddie Gilbert - Heart Attack At 33
As a wrestler, booker, promoter, manager, and leader of an ever-changing stable, it’s pretty obvious “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert had a great passion for virtually every element of the wrestling industry. Gilbert’s first chance to turn that passion into a career ironically came due to a serious injury, when he was badly hurt in a car accident while working as enhancement talent for WWE. The accident greatly raised his profile and turned him into a minor star upon his return to the ring, though it wasn’t long until Gilbert aspired to be more than a wrestler and left WWE to find work somewhere that would hire him both as a booker and in-ring talent. He found such employment in Memphis, where he feuded names like Tommy Rich and Jerry Lawler, all the while contributing to the careers of rising stars like Sting and The Ultimate Warrior as their manager in Mid-South. Gilbert was also instrumental in the early days of ECW as a booker and mentor of Paul Heyman. His highly influential career came to a sudden end in February of 1995 when he died of a massive heart attack.
32 Big Dick Dudley - Kidney Failure At 34
Of all the forgotten ECW Dudleys, Big Dick lasted the longest and had the greatest impact on who the ragtag group of half brothers from Dudleyville would become. Alex Rizzo trained with Tazz as a student of Johnny Rodz, followed by getting his start as a wrestler in Puerto Rico as Alexander The Great. Rizzo joined ECW in 1994 and created the Big Dick Dudley character with Tazz and Tommy Dreamer, soon cementing his role as the enforcer of the group thanks to his incredible size. Big Dick was sometimes considered the leader of The Dudleys, a fact that may have gone to Rizzo’s head, leading to arguments with Paul Heyman about his position in ECW and ultimately his dismissal. He then played a big role in the foundation of Xtreme Pro Wrestling, serving as one of the company’s first World Champions and main event stars, until a series of automobile accidents left him seriously injured. His poor fortune continued to May of 2002, when Big Dick Dudley was found dead due to kidney failure.
31 Rick McGraw - Heart Attack At 30
Not everyone lives to see his or her 15 minutes of fame, including “Quickdraw” Rick McGraw, who arguably achieved his greatest fame in the wrestling industry due to a rumor that spread after his death. Named for the Hanna-Barbera cartoon, McGraw got his start in the Florida and Mid-Atlantic areas prior to prolonged stints in WWE and the NWA as a career jobber. McGraw suddenly shot into the spotlight by accosting “Rowdy” Roddy Piper on an episode of Piper’s Pit, leading to a high profile televised match that saw Piper beat the hapless McGraw bloody en route to a more than decisive victory. McGraw suddenly died of a heart attack the same week the match was broadcast on Championship Wrestling and although the two incidents were completely unrelated, in an era where kayfabe was stronger than it is today, some fans actually believed Piper beat McGraw to death. In reality, the match was taped a few weeks earlier and McGraw would even wrestle a few more times prior to his demise.
30 Bobby Duncum Jr. - Overdose At 34
The son of an unfairly forgotten top heel in his own right, Bobby Duncum Jr.’s death almost feels brushed under the table considered when it happened and how little attention it received. Duncum Jr.’s father was a widely despised enemy of names like Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales, plus an ally of the infamous Heenan Family, not to mention other top heel managers Gary Hart and The Grand Wizard. Duncum Jr. had short stints in Texas, ECW, and Japan before he debuted in WCW to engage in a short feud with Chris Jericho. Duncum Jr. then turned heel by joining Curt Hennig and The West Texas Rednecks, a group that started earning him unexpected cheers until he suffered a serious rotator cuff injury that required surgery. Like many wrestlers, Duncum Jr. developed a reliance on pain medication during this time and he died of an accidental overdose in January 2000.
28 Buzz Sawyer - Overdose At 32
In the wrestling world, it doesn’t take long for a true master to make people absolute his or her their guts. The career of “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer stands as a repeat testament to this fact, as he turned into a harshly hated heel everywhere he went despite never sticking around anywhere long enough to break through as a mainstream star. Sawyer’s greatest contribution to the sport was participating in a feud with “Wildfire” Tommy Rich, which culminated in The Last Battle of Atlanta, an enclosed cage match that would later inspire WWE to create Hell In A Cell. Sawyer only spent a short time in WWE himself, finding far more fame in Georgia, Texas, Mid-South, and WCW. Though Sawyer would often find himself a top villain everywhere he went, his drug problems meant most places would kick him out sooner rather than later. In February 1992, Sawyer’s substance abuse reached its climax when he died due to an overdose.
27 Louie Spicolli - Overdose At 27
After years of relative obscurity, it seemed like Louie Spicolli was on the cusp of becoming a major star in the months immediately prior to his death. Spicolli had spent most of his career as a WWE jobber, with short stints as a comedy character in Mexico under the name Madonna’s Boyfriend. Spicolli joined ECW in 1996 and quickly engaged in a feud with Tommy Dreamer impressing fans with his hardcore and technical wrestling abilities while showing his personality for the first time. WCW soon took notice and Eric Bischoff allegedly promise to turn Spicolli into “the Chris Farley of wrestling.” The process began when Spicolli debuted as Scott Hall’s lackey in the nWo, leading to a match between Spicolli and Hall’s enemy Larry Zbyszko. The match never took place, though, as Spicolli passed away one week before it was scheduled to take place, in February of 1998. Spicolli choked on his own vomit after mixing alcohol with a concoction of pain relievers.
26 Yokozuna - Pulmonary Edema At 34
Although it took him several years on the independent scene before he got there, Yokozuna turned into one of the top stars in WWE almost instantly upon arrival. Part of it no doubt had to do with Yoko’s ability to move reasonably quickly in spite of his incredible size, making him one of the most feared heels in wrestling the moment he struck gold with the right gimmick. Rodney Anoa’i went from indie star Kokina Maximus to Yokozuna in October of 1992 and was already WWE Champion by March of 1993. A second WWE Championship reign and two stints holding the Tag Team Championships with Owen Hart would follow, carving a legend for Yoko as impressive as his massive frame. Eventually, his size got to be too much for him and he was repeatedly asked to lose weight by WWE officials, and then fired for being unable to do so. While on tour of England in October of 2000, Yokozuna died of a pulmonary edema.
25 John Kronus - Heart Failure At 38
Perhaps John Kronus was destined to stand in the shadow of his more talented partner Perry Saturn from the very start, when he chose his ring name in honor of one Saturn had already been using for years. Saturn and Kronus wrestled together as The Eliminators, with Saturn serving as the slightly seasoned pro Kronus was intended to learn from. The Eliminators were minor stars in USWA and then big names in ECW, only for an injury to sideline Saturn and leave Kronus on his own. Kronus recovered by way of a tag team with New Jack, but again found himself alone when their team proved short-lived. Though neither lasted long, Kronus’s two teams collectively earned him four reigns as ECW Tag Team Champion, once with New Jack and three times with Saturn. Kronus attempted a career in XPW and various other hardcore independents to no avail, retiring around 2002. Five years later in July 2007, Kronus was found dead due to heart failure.
24 Chris Von Erich - Took His Own Life At 21
As the youngest member of the Von Erich family, the one way Chris still managed to stand out amongst his famous brothers was by perhaps having the saddest story of them all. Like many young Texans of his day, Chris Von Erich idolized his brothers as they dominated their father’s company. Chris couldn’t do much to get involved himself, however, as he suffered from extremely brittle bones and severe asthma that made it a risk for him to pursue a fulltime career. Chris had minor feuds against Percy Pringle and a young Steve Austin, but his brothers or friend Chris Adams had to do most of the work, and it didn’t seem like Chris was going to be able to make it as a star. On top of this, he was deeply affected by the deaths of his elder brothers, especially Mike’s suicide. Due to these stresses, Chris Von Erich too committed suicide in September of 1991, three weeks prior to his 22nd birthday.
23 Pitbull #2 - Heart Attack At 36
Such was the unique nature of ECW that The Pitbulls didn’t even need individual names in order to become some of the biggest stars in the company. It made sense at first, when Gary Wolfe was simply The Pitbull, only to get slightly more complicated when Anthony Durante joined as his tag team partner and the two started using the same name. Durante and Wolf had already tagged under their real names for WWE, working as jobbers in the late 1980s prior to their breakout in ECW. Once The Pitbulls were so-named, they achieved the greatest success of their career, winning the ECW Tag Team Championships together, in addition to each Pitbull earning a solo reign as the ECW Television Champion. Both Pitbulls were out of ECW shortly after winning the gold, amidst rumors they were dealing steroids to their fellow superstars. Durante and his girlfriend were both found dead after allegedly suffering heart attacks in September of 2003.
22 Joey Maggs - Undisclosed Causes At 37
If a wrestler sticks around long enough, they can become notable without ever raising above the opening match. “Jumping” Joey Maggs made his way up the card on a few occasions, but fans will probably always remember him as the WWE and WCW jobber who lasted almost the entire 1990s. Amongst his high profile losses were Sid Vicious, Steve Austin, and once an 8-man tag team loss with fellow jobbers Frankie Lancaster and Men At Work against the 1996 version of The Four Horsemen. Maggs also achieved moderate success in smaller companies, such as Southern Championship Wrestling and the USWA, where he won the Tag Team Championships with Rex King. Maggs’s personal life was mostly a mystery, and he apparently disappeared from the wrestling business in 1998. He was found dead in his hometown on October 15th, 2006, under equally mysterious circumstances.
20 Marianna Komlos - Breast Cancer At 35
Members of career tag teams do strange things when they split up and for Headbanger Mosh that meant starting to spend time with Marianna Komlos. Komlos was a former weightlifter and bodybuilder with a far more impressive physique than the average female superstar during the Attitude Era, although WWE never really did anything to acknowledge this fact. Instead, Marianna portrayed two equally bizarre and offensive gimmicks in the wife/mother of Beaver Cleavage and the girlfriend of Chaz, who lied about being abused for no particular reason. Marianna’s onscreen union with Mosh/Chaz/Beaver came to a sudden end when Thrasher returned to reveal Marianna’s scheme (yet not her motive). While it makes sense WWE wouldn’t exactly celebrate Marianna’s career, it was nonetheless surprising they did nothing to mention her 2004 death from breast cancer, especially considering the company has donated millions of dollars and endless hours to promoting the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
19 Chris Candido - Surgical Complications At 33
Boasting he was the sort of superstar so talented he didn’t need a gimmick, Chris Candido seemed poised to break through in a major way at several points in his short career. He was a standout from an incredibly young age, achieving success in Smokey Mountain Wrestling and the early version of ECW while still in his early 20s. Candido’s accomplishments continued when he won the NWA World Championship when only 22, making him one of the youngest men to achieve the gold. He made his WWE debut the next year, performing as Skip, a fitness expert alongside his girlfriend, Sunny. In contrast to his wild success up to that point, Skip’s first high profile feud came against Barry Horowitz, a career jobber who defeated Skip and essentially ruined his chances in WWE. Candido returned to ECW and once again came to prominence, and a moderately successful run in WCW followed. Candido looked to continue his career in NWA: TNA throughout the early months of 2005, only to break his leg in multiple places during a cage match in April of that year. The injury required surgery, complications from which ultimate leading to Candido’s death four days later.
18 Jay Youngblood - Heart Attacks At 30
The Youngbloods are one of the lesser known family names in wrestling, a fact which may be directly related to the fact Jay was arguably the most talented of all, in spite of his unmercifully ablated career. The other Youngbloods were Mark and Chris, also known as The Renegade Warriors, a tag team most memorable for a stint as jobbers in WCW. The brothers’ father, Ricky Romero, was also a wrestler, having been a huge regional star when working for the more famous Funk family. Like his brothers, Jay also generally kept to the tag ranks, although he had much greater success, in part due to his legendary partners including Jake Roberts, Johnny Weaver, and most famously Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Steamboat and Youngblood’s team made history by playing a big role in the inaugural Starrcade in 1983, winning the NWA Tag Team Championships against The Brisco Brothers, only for Youngblood to suddenly die two years later after a series of heart attacks after a potential in-ring injury.
15 Brian Pillman - Heart Attack At 35
The company a wrestler keeps can speak volumes about their character, so friends like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the collective Hart family should be more than enough to start painting Brian Pillman as one of the most unfairly forgotten superstars WWE has ever seen. Pillman was hugely influential even before his famous friends fame to national attention, due to his highly innovative wars against Jushin “Thunder” Liger in the original cruiserweight division of WCW. Pillman moved past cruiserweights and started rising up the cards on the laurels of a tag team with Steve Austin. Pillman broke up the team and introduced his madcap “Loose Cannon” gimmick, which he controversially used to book his own firing from the company. A short stint in ECW followed, after which Pillman jumped to WWE to reignite his program with Austin, in turn spilling into Austin’s feud with Bret Hart. Pillman joined Bret’s Hart Foundation and transitioned into a program against Goldust that was scheduled to culminate at Badd Blood. The night of the show, Pillman was found dead in his hotel room of a heart attack.
14 Davey Boy Smith - Heart Attack At 39
Regardless of consistently strong relations between the two countries, including years of shared cultural history, American wrestling fans appear largely unaware of the British wrestling scene outside of a few key names. Most important amongst them was arguably Davey Boy Smith, perhaps the most famous British wrestler to find success in WWE. Smith started wrestling in his native UK, generally teaming with his cousin The Dynamite Kid in a group that eventually became known as The British Bulldogs. The Bulldogs traveled together to Canada, where they achieved success in Stampede Wrestling prior to getting noticed by WWE. Eventually, The Bulldogs split due to Dynamite suffering career-ending injuries, and Smith took The British Bulldog name to the main event as a solo act. He bounced back and forth between high profile runs in both WWE and WCW before taking significant time off to train for a top level comeback. His comeback was cut short in May 2002 when he suffered a fatal heart attack.
13 Trent Acid - Overdose At 30
Dozens of hardcore havens were birthed in the wake of ECW, perhaps most notable amongst them being the “ultraviolent” Combat Zone Wrestling, founded by John Zandig and his most hardcore students. One of the standouts was Trent Acid, who formed the infamous tag team The Backseat Boyz with his longtime friend, Johnny Kashmere. Acid and Kashmere’s careers in CZW started as rivals, though they achieved much greater success as a team, winning the CZW Tag Team Championships on four separate occasions. Acid was the more successful member in the solo division, having also won the CZW Iron Man and Junior Heavyweight Championships. Outside of CZW, Acid also wrestled plenty of main event matches for Juggalo Championship Wrestling and Ring Of Honor. Concurrent to his rise, Acid also apparently developed an addiction to heroin, as he was arrested for possession of heroin in April of 2010. Acid was sentenced to 23 months of confinement for his crime, with a second trial scheduled in July to determine the specifics of his sentencing. He never made it to the court, as he passed away due to an overdose between the two trials.
12 The Zombie - Unknown Causes At 38
The ECW revival came as a big surprise to fans and left them with so much to take in that many of us were soon to forget the bizarre debut of wrestling’s walking, talking (well, grunting) Zombie. The Zombie’s real name was Tim Roberts, and he also achieved moderate indy success wrestling under the name Tim Arson. He was trained by Johnny Rodz and once worked for Mikey Whipwreck, amongst dozens of other regional promoters in the New York and Puerto Rico areas. While still wrestling regularly in Puerto Rico, Roberts made a short trip to the mainland in order to portray The Zombie on the debut episode of ECW On Syfy, appearing to be comically covered in dust as he took a beating from The Sandman. Roberts soon returned to Puerto Rico, were he kept working until his sudden death in 2015, the cause of which has been undisclosed to the public.
11 Kerry Von Erich - Took His Own Life At 33
The last piece of the Von Erich tragedy was also the star to shine the brightest, and yet many feared from the beginning Kerry was destined to meet the same fate as his brothers. Nicknamed “The Modern Day Warrior,” Kerry may have lacked David’s microphone presence, but he more than made up for it by being the most talented member of his family inside the ring, at least when he wasn’t on too many drugs to concentrate, which may have been more often than not. Kerry at least kept his head clear long enough to engage in multiple feuds with huge stars like Ernie Ladd, Harley Race, and Ric Flair, the latter of whom he even once defeated to earn a brief reign as NWA World Champion. Von Erich’s success followed him to WWE, where he was Intercontinental Champion, as well. Kerry’s skills were diminishing in the ring, however, and his time in WWE was short and ended with a gradual plummet down the card. After months of warning signs, Kerry continued the family curse by committing suicide in February of 1993.
10 Owen Hart - Internal Bleeding At 35
The prankster spirit can soothe even the most bitter of personal feuds, which is part of why Owen Hart fast became one of the most endearing employees WWE had ever seen. The youngest of 12 children, Owen nonetheless managed to stand out as perhaps the most talented member of his family. He trained with his father and brothers in the early 1980s, fast coming to attention during tours of Canada, England, and Japan due to his unique, fast-paced style. Short runs in WWE and WCW followed, after which Owen returned to WWE for good in 1991. After being the standout in a series of minor tag teams, Owen became a top star in his own right by feuding his brother Bret throughout the summer of 1994. Once his war with Bret was over, Owen formed unions with Yokozuna, Davey Boy Smith, and Jeff Jarrett, winning the WWE Tag Team Championships with all three. Owen also won the Intercontinental Championship twice, and was poised to do so for a third time when he tragically fell to his death off screen during the WWE Pay-Per-View Over The Edge.
9 Leroy Brown - Heart Attack And Stroke At 37
The name Leroy Brown probably makes most people think Jim Croce, wrestling fan or otherwise, and unsurprisingly it was Croce’s famous song that inspired the best known ring name of Georgia grappler Ronald Daniels. Starting in the late 1970s, Daniels took the Brown persona to moderate success throughout the Southern territories of the US, once feuding with Ric Flair and winning a handful of tag team championships with partners like Killer Tim Brooks, Bad News Allen, and WWE Hall of Famer Ernie Ladd. In addition to the better known Brown persona, Daniels also achieved success wrestling as Elijah Akeem alongside Kareem Muhammad, known as either The Muslim Connection or The Zambui Express depending on the general conservatism present in the area they ran the gimmick. Gimmick notwithstanding, Brown also apparently suffered from alcoholism, as Brown died in 1988 when severe cirrhosis caused a stroke followed instantly by a heart attack.
7 Lance Cade - Overdose At 29
Assuming the right training is the first step on the path towards greatness, Lance Cade started with a leap once he accepted training from Shawn Michaels. Teaming with fellow student Bryan Danielson, Cade took the fruits of HBK’s training to Japan for further conditioning before signing with WWE in 2001. After four years in various developmental territories, Cade made his main roster debut in 2005 alongside new tag team partner Trevor Murdoch. The duo won the WWE Tag Team Championships on three separate occasions, the second time defeating The Hardy Boyz to secure the belts. Cade turned on his partner after their last stint with the belts, moving into a much higher profile angle as Chris Jericho’s partner in his war against Shawn Michaels. For reasons that remain unclear, Cade was suddenly released in the middle of the feud in October of 2008. He and Murdoch resumed their team on the independent scene, also trying their hand at success in Japan. Drug problems also followed Cade wherever he went, ultimately taking his life in April of 2010 when a combination of drugs caused a fatal heart attack.
6 Gino Hernandez - Overdose At 28
As one of the favorite clients of Gary Hart, “The Handsome Halfbreed” made all the right connections to become a huge star in the wrestling world. Gino Hernandez started his career in Detroit as a babyface milking his natural good looks, winning regional championships from names like Don Kent and The Sheik. He then headed south, where he teamed with the likes of Jake Roberts and Tully Blanchard, and engaged in heated feuds against The Von Erichs, Jose Lothario, and Chris Adams. Gino’s feud with Chris Adams was one of the hottest in Texas throughout the end of 1985, bringing fans to a frenzy when Gino “blinded” Adams by throwing hairspray in his eyes. Adams took time off to “recover” and spend time with his family, and the feud suddenly ended while he was away when Hernandez died suddenly due to a cocaine overdose. While most insiders agree with the cocaine theory, a select few believe the death may have been a homicide.
5 Russ Haas - Heart Attack At 27
There are certain qualities that can help destine a wrestler towards stardom, including collegiate credentials and a unique real-life gimmick like a family tag team. Russ and Charlie Haas had both, though only Charlie would go on to reap the fruits of their fortuitous beginnings. The Haas Brothers started as amateur wrestlers at Seton Hall University, going pro together after training with “Iron” Mike Sharpe once they graduated. The brothers won tag team championships in CZW and other regional independents, ultimately earning the attention of WWE in August of 2000. They were sent to developmental to complete the last portion of their training, with many industry insiders expecting big things as soon as the duo were called to the main roster. They would never get the chance, as Russ suddenly died in his sleep due after suffering his second heart attack in December of 2001. Charlie later went on to moderate success as a solo star and with a variety of new partners, such as Shelton Benjamin and Hardcore Holly.
4 Johnny Grunge - Sleep Apnea At 39
Fans who weren’t around during the existence of ECW miss out on certain details, such as the fact The Public Enemy were the first true homegrown stars of the organization. Johnny Grunge and Rocco Rock were unable to match their success in either WWE or WCW, but that does nothing to change how energetic and explosive the duo were while ECW started to gain serious attention. Though their careers prior to teaming together were largely free of note, the team’s use of tables made them hardcore icons. The Public Enemy won the ECW and WCW Tag Team Championships, and continued teaming together and winning regional championships for years after those companies wet out of business. Rocco Rock passed away from a massive heart attack in 2002 and the younger Grunge met an equally early demise four years later due to complications from sleep apnea.
3 Larry Sweeney - Took His Own Life At 30
Certain performers have the magnetic ability to always bring smiles to fans faces, a quality Larry Sweeney had on display during his many appearances in CHIKARA and Ring of Honor. Sweeney made his debut in 2004 as the leader of Sweet ‘n’ Sour International, a group of wrestlers denied entry in CHIKARA’s Young Lions Cup. Sweeney stayed atop the card as both a manager and a wrestler, winning dozens of regional championships in addition to his longer stays at CHIKARA and ROH. While in Ring of Honor, Sweeney rarely wrestled but still engaged in feuds with future stars like Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), Roderick Strong, and Davey Richards, making him one of the most talked about names on the independent scene and getting named Best Non-Wrestler two years in a row by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Hidden from his fans was the fact Sweeney suffered from mental illness his entire life, suffering a mental breakdown in 2009 and then committing suicide by hanging himself from a turnbuckle pole in 2011.
2 The Renegade - Took His Own Life At 33
The wrestling industry has been called complicit in virtually every death on this list and The Renegade might one superstar who has a legitimate claim to that argument. Rick Wilson trained under Killer Kowalski and got his start wrestling for Genichiro Tenryu’s Wrestling and Romance using the name Rio, Lord of the Jungle. Wilson was chosen by WCW to portray The Renegade character amidst hype Hulk Hogan was going to introduce “the ultimate surprise,” making Wilson the most blatant and egregious rip off of The Ultimate Warrior one could possibly imagine. Fans bitterly rejected WCW’s attempt at pulling wool over their eyes and continued to reject whatever Wilson attempted to do for the rest of his career, which granted was never much due to his less than stellar in-ring abilities. The Renegade stayed in WCW as a jobber for almost three full years prior to his release in 1998, an incident that deeply depressed Rick Wilson, who somehow bought in to his own hype and firmly believed the promises WCW had made him to the very end. Once it became clear he was never going to a star, Wilson committed suicide in February 1999.
1 Eddie Guerrero - Heart Attack At 38
There are too many factors to consider in naming the greatest wrestler of all time for any definitive answer to be decided upon and yet one name most critics would at least put in contention for the title is Eddie Guerrero. Eddie was the fourth son of Gory Guerrero to father in their father’s footsteps to become a wrestler, though at 13 years younger than his closest brother, in many ways Eddie was on his own in terms of becoming a star. He made sure to further separate himself from his family when that star first started to shine, wrestling in Mexico and Japan while wearing a series of masks in order to raise his profile as a serious talent. Eddie joined ECW soon after returning to America, where he immediately stood out thanks to his feud with Dean Malenko. Guerrero next caught the attention of WCW, where he won the Cruiserweight and United States Championships. He jumped to WWE in 2000, and achieved even greater success in that company than ever before, winning dozens of titles including the WWE Championship. While still a serious contender for that championship, Guerrero suffered a fatal heart attack in November of 2005.
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