The pro wrestling business hasn’t always been kind to its practitioners. There are those wrestlers who wound up with broken down bodies, broken marriages, or financially broke. And while each of those outcomes is quite sad, there may be one eventuality that trumps them all—those wrestlers who have ultimately taken their own lives.
There are wrestlers who have died to accidents in or around the ring, or who have succumbed to death at young age rooted in substance abuse problems or the accumulation of head or other injuries suffered across decades of experience. No death is necessarily more tragic than another, but there is something particularly troubling about someone who takes his or her own life, and particularly after having attained enough success in his or her professional field to reach a national audience at the level a job with WWE, WCW, or comparable organization affords someone. It goes to show that mental health issues are not necessarily predicated by real life failures or tragic incidents, so much as mental and emotional factors beyond a person’s control, past traumas, and personal demons that can add up to horrifying results.
Not every sad story in wrestling has ended in tragedy, however. There are those stories that have, instead, taken more positive turns. There are wrestlers who found strength in themselves, or who reached out for help when they were at the brink and wound up turning things around. These are the close calls that wound up OK.
This article takes a look back at eight professional wrestlers who took their own lives, as well as seven close calls.
15 Took Their Own Life: Chris Kanyon
In the 1990s, Chris Kanyon started getting billed as “The Innovator of Offense” for his fresh and interesting style of ring work. The guy never broke through to the main event level, but became a staple mid-card guy plugged into different roles and programs during the Monday Night War, perhaps most famously as Diamond Dallas Page’s right hand man and part of their Jersey Triad with Bam Bigelow. Kanyon would have a brief stint with WWE as well, where he most notably teamed up with Page in getting decimated by The Brother s of Destruction in a one-sided feud.
Kanyon would make headlines after he’d dropped out of the mainstream wrestling scene, including coming out as gay and coming out as bipolar. In the end, he’d down a high volume of antidepressants in his home and leave behind a note, saying that he was sorry to his family.
14 Close Call: Hulk Hogan
There’s little question that, at his peak in the 1980s, Hulk Hogan was the most famous, most popular wrestler in the world. All the more remarkably, he built off of the foundation of his Hulkamania run in WWE to set up his wildly successful tenure as the heel leader of the New World Order in WCW. From there his later work in WCW saw him return to his old red and yellow colors, before he’d have memorable nostalgia runs with WWE and even TNA.
For all of Hogan’s successes, he undeniably fell upon hard times. His marriage dissolved. His son was incarcerated. A sex tape of him got out, and then a recording that included him repeatedly using the N-word. Hogan has described a number of interviews that he contemplated taking his life, first after his divorce, then after the tape of the aforementioned racial epithets went public. In the end, he did persevere, though, and had some good news when he got the better of his legal battle with Gawker.
13 Took Their Own Life: The Renegade
Before the nWo overtook all other WCW’s storylines and Hulk Hogan’s WCW career, there was a point when Hogan was largely working the old babyface shtick that had made him a household name via WWE. Included in that run was Hogan hyping the arrival of “the ultimate surprise” to help him out in his war with the top heels in the company. Between the wording and silhouettes of the incoming talent, fans had reason to believe The Ultimate Warrior was on his way to the company. Warrior wouldn’t sign with WCW for another three years, though, and instead we got The Renegade—a green, underwhelming, overt rip off of Warrior.
Despite early attempts at a push, The Renegade never really went anywhere, and WCW wound up mostly giving up on him in a few months. Though he’d remain under contract for nearly three years, he was mostly used to put over rising talent for the rest of his tenure, before his release in 1998. He’d take his own life, via a self-inflicted gunshot shortly thereafter. It’s widely believed he took his life in direct response to feeling like a failure after WCW let him go.
12 Close Call: Paige
Few wrestlers have had a more tumultuous year than Paige from 2016 to 2017. She went from one of the best celebrated female performers on the WWE to a combination of Wellness Policy suspensions and real life surgery keeping her out of the ring. Not only could Paige not wrestle or appear on WWE TV, but she also faced an array of issues in her personal life, including very public strife in her relationship with Alberto Del Rio, and perhaps most notably of all the leak of several videos and photos that captured her naked and engaged in various sex acts. News broke that her family was concerned about her mental state during this period and that she might do something tragic.
At her darkest hour, Paige alluded on social media that she thought of harming herself in response to feeling humiliated and bullied by people on the Internet. Fortunately, Paige seems to have emerged OK. She’s been out of the headlines in recent months and rumor has it she’s preparing to return to an on screen role for WWE.
11 Took Their Own Life: Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit was a great wrestler. While he never had the charisma or talking skills to get himself over at the level of the business’s all time biggest legends, he was an incredible athlete who was remarkably proficient in the craft of wrestling itself. Using skills cultivated over two decades of traveling the globe, there was a time when it was hard to argue there was any active wrestler better than Benoit in the ring.
Unfortunately, so much of Benoit’s legacy was tarnished by the final actions of his life. Benoit would purportedly murder his wife before killing his son, and ultimately hanging himself using a weight machine in his home. The prevailing theory is that these events followed a serious of head injuries Benoit endured over the course of his career, and he wasn’t in his right mind. Regardless, while all suicides are tragic, this murder-suicide is particularly troubling for all wrestling fans to reflect on.
10 Close Call: Scott Hall
Wrestling fans of the 1990s tend to have fond memories of Scott Hall. Whether they think of his days as the charismatic Razor Ramon who got super over in WWE, or as a charter member of the New World Order in WCW, he was a legitimate icon, and on the short list of best and most memorable performers to have never won a world championship.
Hall had a dark side, though. Throughout his wrestling career, and all the more so in the years after he dropped out of full time performance, Hall struggled with alcoholism and substance abuse. It came out more recently that some of his issues stem from a traumatic incident before he got into the wrestling business when, working as a bouncer, he got in an altercation with a man who had a gun that resulted in Hall shooting him to death.
Hall has been open that, at his darkest points, he considered taking his life. Under the tutelage of Diamond Dallas Page, Hall seems to have largely turned his life around and be in a much better place today.
9 Took Their Own Life: Kerry Von Erich
There was a period when The Von Erich boys—the sons of Fritz Von Erich who largely reigned over their dad’s World Class Championship Wrestling—were some of the most famous faces in the wrestling world. The brothers, and most notably David, Kerry, and Kevin, were great singles stars and big time fan favorites as a team as well, who drew particularly well when working opposite The Fabulous Freebirds.
The Von Erich family was also marred by tragedy, though. David Von Erich tragically passed in Japan, only a short time before he was purportedly slated to win the NWA World Championship. Accidents and suicides took other brothers’ lives, last of all Kerry. After realizing David’s destiny as NWA World Champion, and after a run with WWE, Kerry had asserted himself as, at the least, the most famous of his brothers. He would ultimately decide to take his own life, though, via self-inflicted gunshot wound on his father’s property. In his note, Von Erich said he was leaving to join his brothers in heaven.
8 Close Call: Mo
Men on a Mission aren’t remembered all that favorably, from their mid-1990s run as a tag team during a low point for WWE programming. While Mabel would go on to reasonable mid-card success under the monikers of Viscera and Big Daddy V, Mo would fade from WWE memory altogether.
In a visit to the Two Man Power Trip podcast, Mo explained some of what was going on behind the scenes. He recalled a point at which Mabel experienced health problems and needed to sit out a match. Shawn Michaels, by then just arriving as a top star, hit Mo backstage, and told him off for his tag team being lazy and messing up the show. Mo responded by saying if Michaels hit him again, he’d beat him up.
According to Mo, standing up to Michaels in such a fashion put him in big time political trouble. The tag team didn’t get much in the way of opportunities, and though Mabel got a shot as a main eventer, Mo was had pretty much peaked as part of the team. He discussed in the podcast that his fall from grace and the disrespect he felt had him contemplating suicide, and he even alluded to having made an attempt on his life in that period.
7 Took Their Own Life: Ludvig Borga
WWE fans may remember Ludvig Borga as fast rising heel foreigner whom the company booked as a dominant force in 1993. His run most memorably included ending Tatanka’s undefeated streak as Borga was set up as a rival for patriotic Lex Luger. Borga suffered an ill-timed ankle injury that took him out of action. While he hasn’t gotten into details, Jim Ross has alluded to Borga being very unpleasant to deal with, and it seems the combination of injury and attitude put an end what might have been a main event run.
Borga’s life pursuits were fascinating and diverse, as he went on to briefly compete for UFC, as well as box professionally before switching gears to politics and spending four years in Finnish parliament. He’d take his own life via gunshot wound in 2010, with rumors suggesting that drug and alcohol use contributed to the suicide.
6 Close Call: Marty Jannetty
As half of The Rockers, Marty Jannetty was a popular tag team wrestler who helped revolutionize the genre through the use of fast-paced, high-flying tandem offense. However, after the team split up and Shawn Michaels rose to greatness as a singles star, it became a bit of a wrestling colloquialism to refer to the less successful half of a tag team as “the Marty Jannetty” of the pair.
Jannetty would struggle with alcoholism and substance abuse throughout his life, and these issues are widely believed to be a key reason why the talented athlete never really took off a singles wrestler. Purportedly, in the early 2000s, he seriously contemplated suicide. According to some accounts, it was ironically enough Michaels himself who helped save his old tag team partner by reaching out to him at the right time and inviting him into the church. The two have had their ups and downs since including more than one spat in which Jannetty in particular seemed to be upset with his old partner. Nonetheless, Jannetty is still alive, which is happy news for fans from the 1980s and 1990s.
5 Took Their Own Life: Sean O’Haire
Sean O’Haire got his start during the Monday Night War and teamed up with Mark Jindrak as one of WCW’s top tag teams in the promotion’s dying days. He’d transition over to WWE, and while his work during the InVasion angle was largely forgettable, the guy got a bit of a push recast as an evil heel who spoke uncomfortable truths about society, and later paired with Roddy Piper.
After his stint with WWE, O’Haire briefly fought in kickboxing and MMA. Sadly, it’s been widely reported that he grappled with substance abuse issues around this time, and he would ultimately hang himself in his home. O’Haire goes down as a guy with the physical gifts and charisma to have been a big star, and it’s profoundly sad that his story would end this way.
4 Close Call: Sean Waltman
Sean Waltman had a noteworthy wrestling career as The 1-2-3 Kid, Syxx, and X-Pac. His athleticism and charisma carried him a long way, and while he was never a bona fide main event talent, he is something of an icon from the 1990s who wouldn’t be out of place with a WWE Hall of Fame induction.
Waltman had his demons, though. He grappled with substance abuse issues for a long time and engaged in a well-documented unhealthy relationship with Chyna that included the two releasing a sex tape and her physically abusing him. According to an interview with The Miami Herald, Waltman reached his lowest point years later in Mexico. He got into a physical altercation with his partner—the woman formerly billed in WWE as Ryan Shamrock—that culminated in him striking her. Waltman claims he had always said he would die before he hit a woman.
Following the incident he downed some valium and tried to hang himself. Fortunately, his partner found him, administered CPR and called for help. Waltman’s life was saved and all indications are that he’s in a much better place today.
3 Took Their Own Life: Eddie Graham
Eddie Graham was a successful wrestler who made even more of a mark on the business as a trop promoter out of Florida and power broker with the National Wrestling Alliance. He was instrumental in the rise of a number of national stars—not least of all, The American Dream Dusty Rhodes.
For all of Graham’s successes, those close to him indicate that he grappled with alcoholism for much of his life. His drinking issues are largely considered to have been a primary contributor to him ultimately taking his own life with a gun in 1985 at the age of 55.
Perhaps on account of wrestlers like Rhodes whom he’d helped early in their careers, Graham got his just recognition via WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2008, when the ceremony took place in coordination with WrestleMania XXIV in Orlando.
2 Close Call: Jake Roberts
Jake Roberts is one of the most respected wrestlers of all time. He’s credited with at least popularizing and arguably inventing the DDT. Moreover, he’s celebrated as a master of wrestling psychology who helped mentor a lot of other stars, got himself over as a popular face and as even better heel, and may well have been a full-fledged main event talent for a national promotion had he not struggled with substance abuse for so much of his life.
Roberts struggled with drugs and alcohol for decades, and the 1999 Beyond the Mat documentary cast him in a particularly tragic light as he struggled with personal demons and the family life he was responsible for ruining. Fortunately, things have taken a more positive turn for Roberts. Working with DDP, whom Roberts had helped as a wrestler, Roberts seems to have largely overcome his personal demons, not to mention gotten his body back into reasonable shape.
1 Took Their Own Life: Crash Holly
While Crash Holly was never a main event threat, and he’s probably not one of the first names that comes to mind when fans reflect on the Attitude, there’s a fair argument that he was one of the most fun contributors to that era in wrestling history. His antics in the Hardcore division in particular were always entertaining and the combination of humor and plunder-heavy violence made him a near perfect mid-card attraction for the time.
Unfortunately, beneath the fun exterior, Holly had some demons. While visiting the home of his friend Stevie Richards, Holly would reportedly down a combination of prescription pills and alcohol that resulted in his death a short time after his divorce. The talented performer was only 32 years old at the time of his passing.
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