Death is an inevitable part of life. This seems all the more true in the world of professional wrestling, where drug abuse has traditionally run rampant and a physically demanding lifestyle can exact a toll that has shortened lives and led to countless tragedies of individuals taken too soon.
Some of these wrestler deaths make headlines, both for their shock value and, let's face it, the profile of the wrestler who has passed away. The deaths of The Ultimate Warrior, Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit and Owen Hart all sent shockwaves around the world, spawning countless tributes and the release of sordid details surrounding their demise. However, whether fair or unfair, not all wrestler deaths are created equal.
The trend of grapplers meeting their untimely demise, an alarming concern that helped inspire WWE to implement their Wellness Policy drug intervention program, has tragically become so regular that some deceased superstars get lost in the shuffle. In some cases, a wrestler's death is washed away from the public consciousness soon after their "In Memoriam" slide briefly appears on WWE TV. That is, if they're even fortunate enough to be in good enough standing with WWE to warrant an "In Memoriam" tribute.
Here are 15 superstars whose deaths may have flown under the radar, including some you may not even realize have passed away.
15 Sean O'Haire
With a build that was custom-made for WWE, a superstar-ready look and some surprising agility, Sean O'Haire seemed destined for big things after making the move to WWE upon the collapse of WCW. As a protege of "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, he showed promise with a Devil's advocate character that the company invested plenty of air time to in introductory vignettes. But Piper left WWE in 2003 and O'Haire fizzled out from there, seeing his push derailed until his release in 2004. After a failed MMA attempt, O'Haire become a hair stylist. Although he appeared to find a new lease on life, he was found dead in September of 2014 in his home after apparently hanging himself.
14 Lance Cade
When it comes to blue chip prospects, it's hard to find much more of a sure thing than Lance Cade. Gifted with mic skills and a WWE-ready physique, the Iowa native had the good fortune of being mentored by Shawn Michaels. However, despite a successful tag team career that included three championship reigns alongside Trevor Murdoch, Cade could never really get his own singles career going. He was finally released in October of 2008, ironically after losing a singles match to Michaels on Raw, for what Jim Ross cryptically described as "a major league mistake while utilizing bad judgment." Cade died of an apparent heart failure in 2010 at 30 years of age.
13 Mike Awesome
Quick bit of trivia: Mike Awesome was actually the first wrestler to come over the WWE during the Invasion and win gold, beating Rhyno for the Hardcore Championship. That title reign was short-lived, however, continuing a trend of Awesome struggling to find success elsewhere in the wrestling world after a main event stint in ECW. His last notable wrestling appearance came on WWE's 2005 pay-per-view "ECW One Night Stand" in which he and Masato Tanaka had a show-stealing match. In 2007, Awesome hung himself inside his Tampa home, dying at age 42.
As part of the storied tradition of great Samoan wrestlers within the WWE family, Eddie Fatu had a fairly long tenure in the company, first as half of the "Three Minute Warning" tag team and, more notably, as the dominant savage, Umaga. As Umaga, Fatu was pushed heavily with a lengthy unbeaten streak and high profile matches against John Cena and Bobby Lashley in the infamous "Battle of the Billionaires" match. He was ultimately released from his contract after failing a drug test and refusing to enter rehab. In December of 2009, Fatu was found dead of a drug-induced heart attack at 36 years of age.
11 Sensational Sherri
Though most wrestling fans recall the shocking 2003 death of Miss Elizabeth, few took note when Sherri Martel passed away four years later. Like Elizabeth, Sensational Sherri managed "Mach Man" Randy Savage during a valet run that also saw her occupy the corner of "The Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase and Shawn Michaels. Martel, however, had some in-ring talent of her own, winning the AWA Women's title early in her career. Martel ultimately overdosed in June of 2007, one year after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
By any name, be it Mabel, Viscera or Big Daddy V, Nelson Frazier Jr. made his career on his formidable physical presence. The 6'9", 487-pound mountain of a man debuted as part of the rapping duo known as Men on a Mission, gaining his greatest success as the heelish King Mabel, a push which culminated in a SummerSlam main event world title match against Diesel. That tenure at the top of the WWE ladder came to a quick end, reportedly on account of Frazier's reckless in-ring style. The mammoth superstar died of a heart attack in February of 2014, with his widow dividing his ashes into 500 pendants as gifts for loved ones.
Andrew "Test" Martin rose up the ranks of the WWE quite quickly, even entering a storyline in which he was set to marry Stephanie McMahon before the nuptials were thwarted by her real-life husband Triple H. Though Test looked the part of a top flight superstar, he was a rather bland worker and an uninspiring interview. And that look may not have been entirely natural, either, given his multiple violations of WWE's Wellness Policy. Eventually, WWE had no choice but to fire him in 2007, just two years before he succumbed to an oxycodone overdose.
8 Giant Gonzalez
Few moments in WWE history remain as jarringly etched in fans' heads as when a Jim Cornette-escorted, spray painted bodysuit-adorned Jorge Gonzales, going by the name Giant Gonzalez, emerged at the Royal Rumble to attack and manhandle The Undertaker. By no means a small man in his own right, 'Taker looked the part of a rag doll next to the mammoth Gonzalez. But such staggering size - he was billed as eight feet tall during his WWF run, which may only have been a slight exaggeration - came at a cost. Like Andre the Giant before him, Gonzales' body simply couldn't keep up. He died of heart complications in 2010 at the age of 44.
7 Bam Bam Bigelow
As if a nearly 400-pound grappler with agility and athleticism doesn't stand out already, Bam Bam Bigelow drew plenty of attention for his tattooed head and flashy, flame-adorned ring attire. No wonder he starred as a fearsome competitor in WWE, WCW, ECW and Japan. The one-time ECW World Champion was best known for losing to football legend Lawrence Taylor in the main event of WrestleMania XI. Sadly, Bigelow died of a cocaine overdose in 2007 after a troubled post-wrestling life.
6 The Big Boss Man
Hulk Hogan was the WWE in the late 80s and early 90s, but one man did not a Federation make. Ray Traylor, better known as The Big Boss Man, was on a rung just below him among fan favorites of the day. Inspired by a real-life stint as a corrections officer, The Boss Man was known for a colorful police uniform and his trusty nightstick. His popularity waned through stints in WCW and an inevitable WEF return, leading to a number of heel turns and an infamous angle involving Big Show's deceased father. Traylor came to his own end in 2004 at the age of 41 as a result of a heart attack.
5 Crash Holly
The likable, scrappy underdog was mostly brought into the WWE as comic relief, serving as a diminutive sidekick to Hardcore Holly. However, Crash Holly soon developed a following of his own, leading to a whopping 22 Hardcore title reigns on account of the belt's 24/7 rule in which it was open to be challenged for at any time. Just months after being released from his contract in 2003, the real-life Mike Lockwood was found dead in Stevie Richards' Anaheim home after reportedly choking on his own vomit after overdosing in what was eventually ruled a suicide.
4 The British Bulldog
Davey Boy Smith never won a world title, but that was pretty well the only thing he didn't achieve during a decorated 22-year wrestling career. The strongman known as The British Bulldog, who was once married to Bret Hart's sister Diana, enjoyed multiple title reigns during numerous stints in WWE and WCW, including an Intercontinental Championship victory over Hart in the main event of SummerSlam 1992. Smith struggled with substance abuse throughout his career, ultimately leading to his death in 2002 from heart failure.
3 "Ravishing" Rick Rude
The chiseled "Ravishing" Rick Rude remained adored by swooning female fans even as he was reviled by wrestling crowds for his rule-breaking, arrogant ways. Rude oozed charisma and had in-ring talent to match, making him a bonafide superstar in both WWE and WCW. His wrestling career came to a premature end after seriously injuring his back during a WCW match against Sting, but his charisma kept him employed and even led to him being the only person to appear on Raw and Nitro on the same night. He died of an overdose in 1999 at the age of 40 in what was widely believed to be a suicide.
Few have ever enjoyed a more rapid rise up the WWE ladder than Yokozuna, who was billed as being a Japanese sumo champion despite actually being of Samoan American descent. The nearly 600-pound behemoth won the Royal Rumble and, later, the world title without suffering a defeat. During his WWE tenure, however, the real-life Rodney Anoa'i had been gaining weight at an alarming rate, which eventually led to the termination of his contract for health reasons. In 2000, Anoa'i died of a pulmonary edema while on an independent wrestling tour in Europe. His weight at the time of his death was 580 pounds.
1 Doink the Clown
Every few years, WWE continues to trot out Doink the Clown as a nostalgic nod to the gimmick's popular run in the 90s. However, don't be fooled by the man behind the face paint. The real, original Doink has, sadly, passed away. Matt Osborne played Doink in his original form as a villainous, prank-playing clown who engaged in feuds with wrestlers like Crush and Bret Hart. Fired for drug problems, Osborne reprised the role of Doink for the WrestleMania X-Seven Gimmick Battle Royal and on Raw's 15th Anniversary show in 2007. He died in 2013 of what was deemed to be an accidental overdose on morphine and hydrocodone.