Wrestling is fueled with tragedies. Injuries, drug use and financial ruin seem to be heavily normalized for many performers throughout their time in the business. As a result, it comes as no surprise that many professional wrestlers have much shorter lives than the average person.
Many wrestlers have passed away much before their time due to consequences from steroid or drug use, poor mental health or other health consequences that went unnoticed. Some of these passings were extremely high-profile, while others were placed over due to other notable current events at the time. If anything, these circumstances only make these passings even more tragic than they are by themselves.
There have also been plenty of characters that have had close calls with death. Many of these close calls have been attributed to the consequences of drug use, yet there are plenty of close calls that are not associated with drugs. There are plenty of wrestlers who have unfortunately been at the wrong place at the wrong time and nearly lost their lives because of it.
For the purposes of this countdown, we will be heavily focusing on the realities that wrestlers have faced outside of the squared circle. While wrestlers sacrifice their bodies day in and day out, they have to deal with the wear and tear on their bodies every single day. Plenty of wrestlers have dealt with this wear and tear in unhealthy ways, leading to additional stress on their bodies. While there are plenty of wrestlers to choose from, here are eight of the most tragic situations of wrestlers leaving us young, and eight who narrowly survived.
16. Passed Young: Yokozuna
Known to many as one of the largest men to ever set foot in a WWE ring, Yokozuna was a former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, reaching his career peak in the mid-1990s. However, by the time 1996 rolled around, Yokozuna’s weight had crawled upwards of 600 pounds, and he struggled to pass physicals that were necessary for him to be medically cleared to complete.
After making his final WWE appearance at Survivor Series 1996, Yokozuna would continue to wrestle around the independent circuit. His weight would only continue to rise and many would say it contributed to his health problems. In 2000, Yokozuna would pass away due to respiratory-related issues while on an independent wrestling tour in Europe. He was only 34 years of age, but his career accomplishments still earned him a spot in WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2012.
15. CLOSE CALL: Vader
Recently, Vader was only given two years to live by doctors due to congestive heart failure. Around that same time, Vader was involved in a car accident that he described as near-fatal on Twitter.
According to Vader’s tweets, he was knocked unconscious and his car rolled over. Vader also said he was trapped upside down in the car for more than a half an hour and that his vehicle rolled over twice. The big man would upload pictures of his bruised face, while also saying that he somehow walked away. It really is going to take a lot more to truly knock out one of the toughest wrestlers in professional wrestling history. Let’s hope that he can defy the odds and live as long as possible, despite his sombre diagnosis.
14. Passed YOUNG: Sensational Sherri
She was sensational. She was scary. She was one of the best managers of all time. Sensational Sherri was an icon who truly helped elevate those she managed to the next level. She was also an accomplished wrestler.
Sadly, she was one of many from her era of wrestling that struggled with drug use. In a shoot interview, she admitted that she was fired from the WWF for failing a drug test. She also admitted that her drug use cost her valuable friendships. She would also be fired from WCW, but before she was let go, Eric Bischoff asked her if she had a drug problem. After being inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2006, Sherri passed away at the age of 49 in June of 2007, just days before Chris Benoit’s tragic double-murder suicide.
13. CLOSE CALL: Sunny
Like Sensational Sherri, Sunny is also regarded as one of the best managers in the history of the business. Both were pioneers and showed that women could truly be stars in the business. Also like Sherri, Sunny has had a well-documented struggle with drugs, which has continued into recent times.
But Sunny’s close call with death has not strongly been associated with her drug use. In the early 2000s, she was hospitalized after her appendix burst. She also struggled with a wide variety of health issues, including unintended weight gain. She has said in interviews that she was hospitalized and even given her last rites, which is usually done just as someone is about to die. These days, Sunny is luckily on the right track (for now), focusing on her sobriety. May the future days always be Sunny for Ms. Tamara Sytch.
12. Passed YOUNG: Chris Candido
It’s only fitting to mention the long time love of Sunny after her. Chris Candido met Sunny in high school and introduced her to the world of professional wrestling. Eventually, the two of them would be signed to the WWE together, where they would work as the Bodydonnas. Sunny would become a megastar, while Candido would go down as one of the most underrated superstars of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2005, Chris Candido worked a match for TNA and suffered a broken leg in his last match. Candido would have surgery to repair his leg, but would contract pneumonia as a result. A few days after his surgery, doctors tried to drain Candido’s lungs, yet Candido passed away at the age of 33.
11. CLOSE CALL: Ric Flair
Most wrestling fans should know that Ric Flair recently had a medical scare that led many worried for his life. Yet this isn’t the first time that the Nature Boy has had a close call with death.
In 1975, Flair was just 27 when he was involved in a serious plane crash that nearly killed him and ended his career. A plan he was on crashed in Wilmington, North Carolina and Flair broke his back in three places. Doctors even told him he would never be able to wrestle again. After being extremely dedicated to physical therapy, Flair returned to the ring less than a year after the crash. Some also say that the plane crash forced him to change his in-ring style, which would later lead to the birth of his legendary Nature Boy gimmick.
10. Passed YOUNG: Miss Elizabeth
When fans ask who deserves the title of The First Lady of Professional Wrestling, almost any true wrestling fan would say Miss Elizabeth. There’s a reason for that: she was the first female to truly stand out on her own, even as the manager of Macho Man Randy Savage.
After she and Savage got divorced, Elizabeth would eventually begin a relationship with Lex Luger. It’s around this time that some people say that Elizabeth began to grow increasingly distant from other people. Their relationship had also received media attention prior to her passing, including an alleged domestic dispute between the two of them that happened less than two weeks before her death. On May 1, 2003, Luger called 911 to say that Elizabeth was not breathing after the two of them popped pills and drank vodka together. This concoction would lead to her death at the age of 42.
9. CLOSE CALL: Jerry Lawler
In September of 2012, one of the scariest moments in WWE history occurred when Jerry “The King” Lawler collapsed at the announcer’s table during a match. Michael Cole continued to commentate the match and the following match before describing Lawler’s situation. WWE.com would later confirm that Lawler did have a heart attack.
After taking a two-month hiatus from work, Lawler would return to commentary in November of 2012. At the time of his heart attack, Lawler was in his early 60s, which is still significantly younger than the average life expectancy. Yet there has never been a more prolific instance of a performer almost losing their life that has been aired on WWE television. Since then, the WWE has not cleared Lawler to wrestle a match, given that Lawler had been wrestling earlier that night.
8. Passed Young: Test
Once seen as a future star in wrestling, Test would have two stints with the WWE. His most memorable storylines were in the very early years of his career, when he was Stephanie McMahon’s storyline boyfriend and when he was a part of T&A alongside Albert and Trish Stratus.
His second WWE run would end in 2007 just one week after he was suspended for violating the WWE’s Wellness Policy. Later that year, Test claimed that he retired from wrestling. While he would wrestle matches shortly after, he never returned to the stage that made him famous. He did pursue a relationship with Kelly Kelly, whom he dated from 2007 until 2009, shortly before his death. He was found motionless in his house and pronounced dead four days before his 34th birthday.
7. CLOSE CALL: Michelle McCool
Michelle McCool may be flawless, but she has had plenty of interactions with bad luck over the years. In her early career, she was hospitalized for more than a week after having a bad interaction to ibuprofen. While on tour in 2006, she had an enlarged kidney, a broken sternum and an electrolyte imbalance.
In 2016, McCool was diagnosed with skin cancer. She posted a very candid post on her Instagram page where she encouraged her followers to put on sunscreen regularly. She stated that because she didn’t do so, she now has to have holes cut out of her skin to save her life. Since then, her prognosis has looked a lot more positive, but it definitely hits home when something like this happens to a familiar face like her.
6. Passed YOUNG: Chris Kanyon
Chris Kanyon wasn’t a forgettable superstar by any means, but he never had the opportunity to jump up the card like some of his peers. Outside of wrestling, Kanyon also had his fair share of struggles with mental health.
After Chris Benoit’s double murder-suicide, Kanyon went on the record to say that he tried to commit suicide by taking 50 sleeping pills in 2003. Kanyon also admitted to struggling to fit in while being a closeted gay man. Kanyon also struggled with bipolar disorder, which he discovered after his first suicide attempt. In 2010, Kanyon’s brother found him dead inside his apartment next to an empty bottle of anti-depressants. Other wrestlers that have committed suicide include three of the Von Erich brothers (Kenny, Chris and Mike), Sean O’Haire and Mike Awesome.
5. CLOSE CALL: Bret Hart
Shortly after retiring from full-time competition in WCW, Bret Hart was involved in a bicycle accident that almost took his life. Hart hit a pothole and flew over the handlebars of the bike he was riding, landing on the back of his head. As a result of the accident, Bret was paralyzed on the left side of his body due to a resulting stroke.
Luckily, Hart would regain a majority of his mobility after the incident. He would even return to the WWE to squash tension with Vince McMahon after the infamous Montreal Screwjob incident. After that, Hart would be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2016, yet he has gone on to say that he is fully recovered after undergoing surgery to treat the disease.
4. Passed YOUNG: Brian Pillman
One of the most controversial wrestlers of the 1990s, Brian Pillman is one of the few WWE performers to die while contracted by the company. Pillman was scheduled to wrestle Dude Love at the WWE’s Badd Blood: In Your House pay per view event. Pillman failed to arrive to the show, and Jim Cornette was assigned to find out where Pillman was.
Cornette contacted the hotel where Pillman had been staying, only to find out that Pillman was found dead earlier that day at the age of 35. Pillman’s death was linked to a heart attack linked to a previously undiagnosed heart condition.
The next night, Pillman’s widow Melanie was interviewed live on WWE television in one of the more tasteless moments of the Attitude Era, as Vince McMahon bombarded her with question after question while she was obviously still in mourning.
3. CLOSE CALL: Shane McMahon
Shane McMahon is one of the most fearless performers to ever grace a WWE ring. It’s shocking that he has not injured himself more than he has.
However, Shane-O-Mac had a very close call with a helicopter crash earlier this year. After the engine in the helicopter in which McMahon was on board failed, the helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Once the helicopter landed, emergency crews responded to the mayday call issued by the pilot and rescued McMahon and the others. McMahon escaped the crash uninjured, yet it’s hard to believe that he wasn’t a little bit scared after such an unexpected incident. In what was then a shocking segment a few weeks later, Kevin Owens said to Shane (kayfabe): “I’m going to be real honest with you right now: your entire family would have been better off if you hadn’t survived that crash. Everyone. Your dad, your wife, and especially your kids.”
2. Passed YOUNG: Chyna
The Ninth Wonder Of The World was a true pioneer for female athletes long before the modern-day Women’s Revolution. Chyna was truly the first female to prove that she was just as good in the ring as the men.
Yet it’s also not a secret that Chyna had her fair struggle outside of the ring. She’s the first to admit that she struggled with drugs. In 2016, Chyna was found dead inside of her home, just days after she posted a video on YouTube in where she looked apparently intoxicated. An autopsy performed on Chyna after her death found a combination of anxiety drugs, painkillers and sleeping medications in her system. She was just 46 years old. Since then, more fans have been vocal about Chyna deserving a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame.
1. CLOSE CALL: Scott Hall
Has any wrestler had as many close calls with death as Scott Hall? Probably not. In recent years, Scott Hall has been hospitalized for double pneumonia, seizures, and heart-related issues. He’s been reported to have multiple drug overdoses and even had an ESPN documentary produced on his experiences with drugs and alcohol.
Over the past couple of years, Scott Hall appears to be in much better health than he has been in a long time. He moved in with Diamond Dallas Page to focus on his sobriety, and shortly after that, he was inducted into the WWE’s Hall of Fame. He also made a return alongside Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash at WrestleMania 31. While he’s relapsed a couple of times, Hall is definitely much better off today than he was a few years ago.
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