Professional wrestling is, when stripped down to its very core, a performance show that is meant to entertain audiences watching in-person or via some other means. It has been decades since it was not public knowledge that the outcomes of matches were scripted, and fans of the product are also well aware that the moves that are put on display during contests are not actually intended to cause any serious physical harm to opponents. The hope is that all of the wrestlers involved in a match will be able to shake hands and wish each other well behind the scenes when all is said and done.
With all of that said, performers inside of the ring take significant risks during matches that do not just include aerial maneuvers that feature wrestlers taking leaps off of the top rope, off of cages and off of ladders. What looks to be a simple bump to the majority of fans who have never wrestled can be a serious blow to different parts of the body, most notably to the chest, head and neck regions of a person. Any unnatural jolt that rocks such a fragile part of an individual can lead to a serious injury that even, in certain cases, results in the unthinkable occurring in front of fans.
What is arguably the most-famous case of a wrestler passing away inside of a ring is one that was completely 100 percent avoidable, an incident that never should have occurred in the first place. That day continues to be one of the darkest in the history of the wrestling business, one that shocked all who were in the industry and one that resulted in thousands of paying customers witnessing that horrific event right in front of their eyes. The only positive to come from that evening is that the company involved has never again taken such a risk with one of its performers.
10 Malcolm Kirk
Malcolm Kirk, who went by the name “King Kong Kirk” (he was over 300 pounds during his wrestling career), more often than not played the a heel character during the 1970s and 1980s in the United Kingdom. Roughly four months before he was set to turn 51-years old, Kirk was working a tag team match in Norfolk when he was on the receiving end of a splash from Big Daddy. Kirk remained on the mat after the pinfall and he turned blue, presumably from a lack of oxygen, and he was pronounced dead on arrival at a local hospital. It was learned after the fact that Kirk had a pre-existing heart problem.
9 Plum Mariko
Years before head injuries were taken so seriously by organizations such as World Wrestling Entertainment and the National Football League, Plum Mariko was a women's wrestler who had suffered multiple brain traumas during her career. The last she would ever sustain came on August 15th, 1997 when Mariko took the Ligerbomb/Sitout powerbomb during a tag team encounter. Mariko was legitimately knocked unconscious because of the impact she made on the mat, and she would, several hours later, become the first confirmed pro wrestler in Japan to pass away because of injuries accumulated because of wrestling.
Jesús Javier Hernández Silva performed under his ring name Oro while working in Mexico. The story surrounding his tragic passing involves Oro desiring to take a massive bump on his head to sell a clothesline during a tag team match that occurred on October 26th, 1993. Oro took the bump as planned during the encounter, but he soon after collapsed after a failed attempt to pick him up to continue the match. The wrestler's pulse faded, and he passed away even before he was loaded into an ambulance. Oro was less than two months from his 22nd birthday when he died.
7 Gary Albright
Gary Albright was a mountain of a man, reportedly checking in at over 350 pounds at points during his wrestling career. He was 36-years old on January 7th, 2000 when he worked at a World Xtreme Wrestling show in Pennsylvania. Lucifer Grimm, Albright's opponent on that fateful night, hit Albright with an Ace Crusher/Cutter/RKO, and the massive performer who had been booked to win the contest failed to respond after the move. Grimm dragged the prone Albright on top of himself to end the match via pinfall, and subsequent attempts to revive Albright were unsuccessful. The official cause of Albright's death was ruled to be a heart attack.
6 Larry Cameron
Before he was given such wrestling nicknames as “Butcher” and “Lethal,” Larry Cameron was a pro football player who attempted to make it in the Canadian Football League. Cameron would eventually train in the well-known “Hart Dungeon,” and he competed in multiple North American pro wrestling organizations before going overseas. Cameron was working in Bremen, Germany on the night of December 13th, 1993 when he suffered what would prove to be a fatal heart attack. The referee stopped the contest and then tried to save Cameron's life, but Cameron had already passed away.
5 Mike DiBiase
“Iron” Mike DiBiase was the original patriarch of the wrestling family that would later include names like “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, Ted Jr., Mike and Brett DiBiase. The former amateur wrestler won titles in numerous organizations during his career, and he was 45-years old when he entered the ring on July 2nd, 1969 to take on Mountain Man Mike. DiBiase suffered a heart attack during the match, and attempts by Harley Race to keep the fellow performer alive were not successful. It would later be learned that a cholesterol buildup and not any one particular move that occurred during the match caused the death of DiBiase.
4 Luther Lindsay
A trailblazer during the 1950s and 1960s, Luther Lindsay was part of some of the early interracial pro wrestling matches in the United States. He was also known as a standout of the legendary Stu Hart “Hart Dungeon.” Lindsay was competing inside of the ring in February of 1972 when he finished off an opponent with a diving splash. While Lindsay won the pinfall, he failed to respond to the referee after the count of “3.” Lindsay's limp body was taken to the dressing room after the match, and he was declared dead that night. It would later be learned that he suffered a fatal heart attack.
3 Mitsuharu Misawa
Mitsuharu Misawa was a legend of Japanese wrestling and a multi-time winner of the Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year award. He wrestled up through his mid-40s despite the fact that he had a long history of injuries, and Misawa entered the ring on June 13th, 2009 for a tag team contest at the Hiroshima Green Arena. Misawa was on the receiving end of what seemed to be a relatively harmless belly to back suplex during the match, but he was knocked out as a result of the contact. He never regained consciousness, and it is believed that a spinal cord injury led to his death.
2 Perro Aguayo, Jr.
What exactly occurred to cause the death of the Mexican wrestling superstar on March 25th, 2015 will likely never be completely known. Perro Aguayo Jr. was performing in a tag team match, as he and partner Manik were facing Rey Mysterio Jr. and Extreme Tiger in Tijuana. Aguayo took a bump on the middle rope near the planned end of the contest to set Mysterio up for his trademark 619 move, but then Manik also fell on that same rope. It was here when Aguayo seemed to go out for good. Aguayo was never revived, and it was later learned that he suffered three fractured vertebrae during his final match.
1 Owen Hart
The younger brother of Bret Hart was playing the “Blue Blazer” superhero character when the WWE decided to have Hart be lowered from the top of the arena to the ring via a harness at the 1999 Over the Edge pay-per-view event. The stunt ended disastrously, as Hart plummeted approximately over 70 feet downward before whiplashing off of the top rope and into the ring. While Hart was not pronounced dead until he was taken to a local medical facility, it has been widely believed for years that he died upon impact. World Wrestling Entertainment has since never again attempted such a needless and silly stunt.