There was a time when wrestling stars were dropping like flies, often related to drug or alcohol abuse, mental health issues or connected to accumulated injuries over the course of their time in the ring. Look back at wrestling shows from 20 to 30 years ago, and a startling high number of even you wrestlers passed on in the decade or so to follow. The wrestling mortality rate has trailed off a bit in recent years, and we’re now seeing more of a wave of older legends passing like Dusty Rhodes, Jimmy Snuka, Bobby Heenan, and Ivan Koloff.
Who’s next? Yes, it is certainly a morbid question to ask, and I should preface this article by saying that I hope I’m wrong about the wrestlers I predict might leave us soon. Just the same, there are those guys who are getting up in years or who have experienced high profile health issues that make us think they may not survive for very long.
On the flip side, there are those men and women in wrestling who defy age. A combination of good fitness regimens, good diets, good genetics, and good luck make these individuals appear as though they really might live forever, or at least outlast much younger men and women in the business.
This article takes a look at 10 older wrestlers who might not be with us very long, and five who appear as though they have miles to go, regardless of the dates on their birth certificates.
15 May Leave Us Soon: Ric Flair
In a scary turn of events for wrestling fans around the world, late summer 2017 saw Ric Flair admitted to the hospital following complications related to surgery. The Nature Boy has ongoing issues related to heart and his kidneys, widely believed to be a result of his vast consumption of alcohol over the years.
Flair’s life being in jeopardy seemed surreal for a guy who had remained active in the ring, performing at a high level across four decades.
Just the same, it went to show that everyone is mortal and at the age of 68, living fast for so long may be The Dirtiest Player in the Game’s undoing. After he got out of the hospital, he vowed not to drink again, but it’s difficult to change a lifetime of bad habits. Perhaps being mostly retired will help reign in his behavior, though idle hands could also prove too much for Flair to handle for long.
14 May Leave Us Soon: Terry Funk
Terry Funk is a legend of the wrestling business. He was famous for merging a violent, hardcore style with surprising technical precision. He had his stints in the main event picture for various promotions, including winning an NWA World Heavyweight Championship, and engaging in particularly memorable feuds against top stars like Jerry Lawler and Ric Flair.
Funk has since became better known as a legend who just doesn’t know when to quit. While it’s remarkable that Funk can still work indie spots now at the age of 73, he doesn’t exactly look like a million bucks. It seems like it may be a matter of time before Funk goes the way of Randy the Ram—Mickey Rourke’s character in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler. He may well be the well loved legend who winds up giving his very life for the business.
13 Go Forever: Kevin Nash
For so many professional wrestlers, the business is their lives. They live their gimmicks, and build their social and romantic lives around the locker room. These wrestlers—particularly from Kevin Nash’s generation—were also prone to drown their sorrows in alcohol and painkillers.
Nash is different. While some have criticized him for it, Nash has never made any bones about the fact that he looked at wrestling as a way of making money, not a way of life. That included marrying outside the business and keeping his wife out of the wrestling scene. That also includes living a relatively clean lifestyle.
While Nash wasn’t necessarily straight edge, he did live more cleanly than a lot of his colleagues, and particularly other Kliq members (besides Triple H).
For all of these reasons, it’s little wonder Nash still looks solidly in good shape as he nears 60 years old. He rarely wrestles these days, but his big man style lends itself to still being able to work the occasional guest spot, and he still looks good those times WWE has called him back into action.
12 May Leave Us Soon: Jerry Lawler
Jerry Lawler was for many years known in wrestling circles to take good care of himself. While he never had a Herculean physique, he wasn’t one to give in to excesses when it came to alcohol or drugs, even in the 1980s and 1990s when so many of his colleagues worked hard and played harder.
Lawler’s long term outlook took a turn for the worse in 2012, when he suffered a heart attack on live TV during an episode of Monday Night Raw. That very night, he wrestled a tag match, and commented after everything had gone down that, as Dolph Ziggler rained elbow drops on him, he questioned when wrestlers started going at each other so intensely. That would end up being the last time WWE allowed Lawler to wrestle, but it hasn’t stopped the King from wrestling elsewhere. Particularly in his home city of Memphis, The King continues to get in the ring periodically. While he remains in good shape overall, one has to question the wisdom of continuing at his pace with a heart attack that probably would have killed him had it not occurred with WWE medical personnel on hand.
11 May Leave Us Soon: Harley Race
Harley Race is one of wrestling’s truest legends. While he may not have the name recognition of a Steve Austin or Ric Flair to casual fans, he was seven time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, renowned for being a tough guy and deceptively strong (he’s among those guys who successfully body slammed Andre the Giant). After his time in the ring was up, he thrived as a manager for WCW, and as a trainer and regional wrestling promoter.
Race is well respected and remains active in organizing wrestling events, his age is showing more and more with each passing year. Last year, news broke that he fell in his home and broke both legs. While Race doesn’t seem to be in any imminent danger of passing away now, he’s at a point in his life, closing in on 75, when he might not be with us for long.
10 Look Like They’ll Live Forever: Bob Backlund
Bob Backlund starred as the face of WWE from the late 1970s to early 1980s. When Vincent Kennedy McMahon took over the promotion, he marginalized Backlund, in favor Hulk Hogan as a more colorful character on top. Against the odds, Backlund would resurface a decade later and his crazy old man heel character brought him back to the world title picture as a transitional champ. Though Backlund transitioned out of WWE again and, after forty years in the ring officially retired, he has remained physically active and looking like a million bucks. He most recently appeared on national TV as Darren Young’s kayfabe mentor and still looked able bodied and spry in his late 60s.
Backlund was notorious for maintaining a strict, old school fitness regimen, including consistently walking rather than driving substantial distances.
Backlund may legally be a senior citizen, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he outlives most of the current NXT roster.
9 May Leave Us Soon: Jake Roberts
It’s no secret that a lot of wrestlers struggle on their way out of the limelight. There are the chronic aches and pains that come from a career of physical punishment, leading to at least a sour disposition, and all too frequently alcoholism or painkiller dependency. There’s also the adjustment to not performing in front of arena crowds and television audiences. Plus, how does a person transition from life on the road to trying to rekindle connections with neglected family?
Few wrestlers have more fully embodied these dynamics that Jake Roberts. His struggles were featured in the Beyond the Mat documentary, and he’s made headlines since for struggles with substance abuse and resulting health problems. The Snake came under the care of Diamond Dallas Page and his accountability house and he made enough progress to make a guest appearance for WWE and later accept a Hal of Fame induction. Still Roberts looks like a shell of his former self and has been open about the possibility of relapse at every turn. While we fans continue to root for him to find peace and live out a long, healthy life, past precedent doesn’t give much reason for optimism.
8 May Leave Us Soon: Bobby Eaton
Bobby Eaton is criminally overlooked nowadays in conversations about all time great workers. In particular as a tag team wrestler, Eaton was an star working across generations with partners including Dennis Condrey, Stan Lane, Arn Anderson, and William Regal. The main limitations for his legacy are that, despite a lengthy and diverse career, he never had a run with WWE and was never a main eventer. So, he isn’t at the top of the list of people WWE, as the arbiters of mainstream wrestling history, want to celebrate.
After nearly forty years working at least part time, Eaton officially retired in 2015. Each time he’s made news in the 2000s, things have looked a bit bleak. These moments include a heart attack and other cardiac problems, followed by a much talked about instance of going missing, last seen at the Atlanta airport. Hopefully, these are aberrations and Beautiful Bobby will be all right for some time yet, but his future is a bit murky now.
7 Live Forever: Mick Foley
Over the course of his career, Mick Foley wasn’t exactly the poster child for longevity and living a long, happy life. While his personality and skill would ultimately elevate him to legendary status, it was his unabashed willingness to absorb intense physical punishment—earning the moniker The Hardcore Legend—that first earned him notoriety.
For all of the big falls, barbed wire, and thumb tack related punishment Foley absorbed over the years, he looks in surprisingly good shape nowadays.
Foley has lost weight and seems genuinely happy now. He famously saved money fastidiously most of his career, and has since discovered additional revenue streams via his successful writing and comedy careers. All of that has provided him a comfortable life living in a large house in Long Island. He remains a legend WWE calls on to work in authority figure spots or in guest star roles. Foley isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, even as in his 50s.
6 May Leave Us Soon: Kamala
Kamala is a star representative of a different era. The way Jerry Lawler tells it, he showed up at an arena in Memphis looking for work. The King song dollar signs in the big, African American man and told him to make himself scarce around fans, before branding him as a Ugandan savage. The gimmick is, at best, a little racist, but worked for its time and resulted in a long, iconic wrestling career across a variety of promotions.
Things haven’t looked so good for Kamala in recent years. Complications related to diabetes cost him both of his legs in the early 2010s and he went on life support this past November due to heart issues. As of now, Kamala seems to be on the mend, but his health issues in recent years don’t inspire confidence he’ll be with us for a very long time.
5 May Leave Us Soon: Vader
Big Van Vader was a major star for WCW, including playing the role of dominant monster heel and long reigning world champion in the early 1990s. While his WWE run never fully capitalized on his potential, he nonetheless added to his legacy and remains something of a wrestling icon for that decade. Vader has still wrestled sporadically in recent years, with many of his efforts focused on getting his son Jesse White opportunities. The father/son tag team worked matches in Japan in the early 2010s.
In late 2016, Vader reported over social media that he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and that he only had two years left to live.
The big man has wavered on this point, and noted in subsequent interviews that other doctors offered less damning diagnoses, and that he may well have more time. Still, with a health issue that serious, and Vader openly claiming he’s going to keep wrestling until he dies, you have to wonder how long the Mastodon really has left.
4 Live Forever: Bruno Sammartino
Before there was John Cena, Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, or Bob Backlund, there was Bruno Sammartino. The Living Legend was the longest reigning world champion in WWE history, and a true icon from the early days of the company. Sammartino was estranged from WWE for a period of decades, disapproving when Vincent Kennedy McMahon transitioned from treating pro wrestling as a sport to more of an entertainment spectacle and crowning Hulk Hogan, not a legitimate wrestler, as champion. He also purportedly resented his son not getting much of a chance under the new regime.
In 2013, Sammartino mended fences with his old employer, reportedly thanks to Triple H extending the olive branch. One of the most remarkable thing about Sammartino’s Hall of Fame induction and subsequent appearance on the Legends with JBL interview show was that he still looked far younger and sounded far sounder of mind than a man in his late 70s or early 80s. Surely, Sammartino’s age will catch up to him at some point, but at last sighting, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
3 May Leave Us Soon: Scott Hall
Scott Hall has famously faced substance abuse issues since the 1990s. His issues with alcohol in particular played out on WCW TV. Since then, his demons have cost him all manner of professional opportunities, and caused him a variety of public embarrassments. It was only in the last few years that more of the story broke. Hall spoke in an ESPN special, and later for a WWE documentary about suffering form PTSD from an altercation when he was working as a bouncer before his wrestling career took off. The incident saw Hall kill another man.
Hall has made some positive strides, particularly in working with Diamond Dallas Page to detox and regain his health.
Hopefully, between DDP’s influence and Hall being more open about his issues, he can add years to his life. His track record doesn’t necessarily suggest he has many years ahead of him, though.
2 May Leave Us Soon: Matt Cappotelli
Matt Cappotelli was a co-winner for the third season of Tough Enough and looked as though he might have a bright future ahead of him in the wrestling business. After working a handful of main roster matches, he went on to a good run in WWE’s developmental that seemed to set him up for bigger things. However, his hopes were cut short with the diagnosis of a brain tumor in 2006. Cappotelli would later become a trainer for WWE, but things went from bad to worse last year when he announced he’d been diagnosed with brain cancer.
Cappotelli isn’t as old as most of the individuals on this list. It’s downright tragic that, not only was his wrestling career cut short, but it looks as though his life may well be too based on this woeful prognosis.
1 Look Like They’ll Live Forever: Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon is a notorious workaholic, who is more often than not the first person to report to WWE’s corporate offices in the morning and the last to leave at night. He openly resents when people get sick and considers sneezing a sign of weakness; even at the age of 72, it’s an event when he misses a day of work for a medical procedure.
The prevailing theory is that McMahon will run WWE until he dies. Recent business moves have included selling off WWE stock, which led to his announcement that the XFL will be returning in 2020 under the umbrella of his new company, Alpha Entertainment, a sports entertainment company independent from the WWE. Whether he continues to focus on pro wrestling or transitions to other ventures as senior citizen, one thing is for sure: McMahon is not slowing down, and may very well still have decades of not only life, but work ahead of him.
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