While the world of pro wrestling isn’t by nature seen as a world full of glitz and glamour, World Wrestling Entertainment has long stood as a golden path to glory for anyone in the industry. The biggest wrestling stars in the world have come through Vince McMahon’s global operation and many of them have become household names known to both followers and non-followers of the product. For instance, Dwayne Johnson is one of the most sought after men in all of Hollywood after having helped revolutionize WWE during The Attitude Era as The Rock.
But it’s not a guarantee of success and happiness for an athlete to have spent time working for the company. Even the biggest names in wrestling don’t receive a magic ticket to get out of the trials and tribulations life might throw at them, as evidenced by the troubles that have been thrown at the feet of the most popular wrestler to ever step into the ring, Hulk Hogan. But only a small fraction of wrestlers are even given the chance to see the big bucks roll in; there’s a famous misunderstanding that all WWE Superstars become millionaires overnight once signing on to work for the company.
In truth, many current and (especially) former WWE Superstars are faced with financial and personal woes every day, but it’s not an issue exclusive to Vince McMahon’s wrestling giant. In truth, all of professional wrestling has a notorious dark side and the likes of Chris Benoit lead the charge in that area, but the entire world knew who Benoit was following his downfall. What about the forgotten stars of yesterday? Plenty of them have been met with various unfortunate fates, from the moderately sad to the downright worst of the worst. Here are the forgotten stars of wrestling who hit rock bottom after retirement.
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15 Ken Patera
If the name Ken Patera doesn’t ring a bell, that’s perfectly normal. Since his pro wrestling career ended in the 1980s, there’s not even been a whisper of him from WWE, which is quite unfortunate as he was the second man to ever hold the Intercontinental Championship, winning the title from the inaugural champion Pat Patterson whose accomplishments are frequently lauded by the company.
Before beginning his wrestling career, Patera was an Olympic weightlifter, a fact that was used in the promotion of his wrestling character. He was highly respected at the peak of his career, but in 1984 it all started to go downhill when he was wrongfully accused of tossing a boulder through the window of a McDonald’s restaurant. When police arrived at his motel, he and fellow wrestler Masa Saito were arrested for getting into a physical altercation with the officers. Patera spent a year and a half in jail and, even though he attempted to make a comeback in wrestling, he never reclaimed his former glory.
14 Dynamite Kid
The British Bulldogs were a huge tag team sensation for the WWE in the mid 1980s. Many of the best tag team bouts from that decade involved the tandem, which consisted of Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid, and their pet bulldog Matilda. The two were cousins and it showed in their in ring chemistry, but for the younger fans the highlight of any British Bulldogs match was when Matilda would chase the villains around the ring, chasing after managers like Jimmy Hart and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and snapping at their ankles. The Bulldogs saw plenty of success during this time, becoming the WWE World Tag Team Champions, but the highs would eventually turn to lows for Dynamite Kid.
During his wrestling tenure, Dynamite Kid snorted cocaine frequently and used steroids in order to keep his size up. This, accompanied with financial woes resulting from his diminishing wrestling career due to injuries, led his first wife Michelle to divorce him. These days, Dynamite Kid is confined to a wheelchair and doctors have sadly told him he will never walk again.
13 Sean O’Haire
Sean O’Haire got his start in World Championship Wrestling not long before Vince McMahon bought the company and consolidated its roster of wrestlers with that of WWE. O’Hair was new to the sport, but he took to it quickly. He was a natural fighter, but hated the acting aspect of the business, so, when he attempted to find success in WWE’s highly demanding world of Superstars, he never truly caught on with the masses, even after being briefly aligned with one of wrestling’s most popular legends, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
His lack of success led the big man to eventually retire from the wrestling business in the mid 2000s and, in the years following, he had reportedly been to WWE sponsored rehab multiple times. In 2014, O’Haire’s body was tragically found by his father hanging from a bedpost in an apparent suicide and it was later revealed that he had suffered greatly from depression and alcohol addiction.
12 Tony Atlas
Former WWE Superstar Tony Atlas is frequently praised as one of the pioneers for black wrestlers due to his accomplishments in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1983, he and his tag team partner Rocky Johnson, who is the father to a man wrestling fans probably know as The Rock, became the first ever African American WWE World Tag Team Champions, paving the way for more modern teams like The New Day. Atlas was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 for his contributions to the wrestling industry.
Following his time on top of the wrestling world in the early ‘80s, some very hard times fell upon Tony Atlas. He became homeless in 1989, something Atlas himself attributes to drug use which ruined his growing career. A year and a half later, a woman found him sleeping on a park bench in the cold weather and took him into her home. Soon after, Vince McMahon offered him another job as the Saba Simba character and life began coming together again for the WWE legend.
11 Buff Bagwell
If you weren’t a wrestling fan in the 1990s, there’s a really good chance you’ve never heard of Buff Bagwell. The former World Championship Wrestling star was an overly muscled egomaniac in a top hat who wore sunglasses indoors; it may not sound like it, but he was actually a pretty big deal for WWE’s competition, WCW. Unfortunately, his somewhat decent in-ring skills were overshadowed by some of the wackiest storylines in wrestling’s history, such as the “Judy Bagwell on a Pole” match, which involved suspending Buff’s mother as a prize to be won in a wrestling contest.
Following Vince McMahon’s purchase of WCW in 2001, WWE welcomed a ton of former WCW wrestlers, including Buff Bagwell. However, Bagwell only had one match for the company before being released. Since then, he has wound up on the wrong side of the law several times and resorted to becoming a gigolo for income.
10 Perry Saturn
Perry Saturn made a name for himself throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s in all three of the major pro wrestling organizations. After working for Extreme Championship Wrestling, he then moved on to World Championship Wrestling where he became a member of the faction of wrestlers known as The Flock led by Raven. Eventually, he wound up in WWE, debuting for the company alongside other former WCW stars Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit, a group who called themselves The Radicalz.
While Saturn would be forever remembered for his love interest Moppy – a mop he would dress up, speak to and carry around with him – he would go on to become the least successful member of The Radicalz. After leaving wrestling he fell into hard times; while stopping a sexual assault he was shot during the altercation and became addicted to methamphetamine, becoming homeless for two and a half years and disappearing until his reemergence in 2010. He's since returned to wrestling and seems to have his life back in order, but it was a scary few years for Saturn.
9 “Gentleman” Chris Adams
Of all the forgotten professional wrestlers whose lives spiraled out of control after retirement, “Gentleman” Chris Adams might just be the most successful and decorated of them all. He initially made a very lucrative career in World Class Championship Wrestling, where he won a plethora of titles including the WCCW Television Championship and the NWA Texas Heavyweight Championship, but he also competed in a slew of other promotions including a brief stint in World Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s. Adams trained pro wrestling icon “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and was also the first wrestler to popularize the superkick, which is a move eventually mastered by Shawn Michaels as “Sweet Chin Music” and is now used by what seems to be half of all wrestlers in the industry.
Indeed, the career accomplishments of “Gentleman” Chris Adams were truly bountiful; however, he’s practically unheard of by fans of the wrestling business today. In 2000, as his wrestling career was coming to a close, he and his girlfriend overdosed on GHB and his girlfriend passed away. Adams was charged with manslaughter and was awaiting trial when he got into a brawl with a friend – that friend shot him dead, claiming self-defense.
8 Tyson Tomko
In the mid 2000s, Christian’s singles career was just beginning to surge after splitting from his tag team partner of several years, Edge. Christian was on fire, but WWE felt he needed a little something to make his cowardly, cocky heel persona a bit more threatening, thus Tyson Tomko was introduced as his bodyguard. Referred to by Christian as a “problem solver,” Tomko had a fairly successful run in WWE before leaving for brief stints in TNA, where he was also paired with Christian, and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
In 2011, Tomko robbed a CVS Pharmacy of large quantities of oxycodone then went to a nearby Chili’s restaurant and injected himself with the medicine. Police showed up at the scene and arrested him and Tomko reportedly told cops that he had a “severe drug problem.” He was released from jail and entered rehabilitation, which was paid for by WWE. Tomko has returned to the independent wrestling scene and we hope that he continues on this clean path!
7 Davey Boy Smith
As discussed earlier, Dynamite Kid has had a rough go of things ever since his wrestling career started to come to a close. As it turned out, his tag team partner Davey Boy Smith didn’t have it so good either. The British Bulldogs were one of the most popular tag teams in WWE during the 1980s and Davey was lucky enough to move on to a pretty lucrative singles career after the team had run its course. Smith was associated with the legendary Hart family through marriage, something that led to some big storylines for the former WWE Tag Team Champion. He held many titles during his various WWE tenures including the European and Intercontinental Championships.
Davey Boy bounced back and forth between WWE and WCW throughout the ‘90s, but, when he left WWE in 2000, it would be the final time he’d work with the company. In 2002, Davey Boy Smith passed away due to a heart attack, which an autopsy revealed was possibly brought on by steroid abuse.
6 Dino Bravo
Dino Bravo was a WWE regular throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s. He and fellow wrestler Dominic DeNucci were the WWE World Tag Team Champions in 1978 and Bravo participated in several of the earliest WrestleMania events, including competing for the WWE Championship in a tournament held at WrestleMania IV which involved many of the era’s biggest names such as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
After retiring from professional wrestling in 1992, things took a dark turn for Dino Bravo and he was murdered in his home, dying of multiple gunshot wounds. He was apparently involved in cigarette smuggling in Canada, which many believe caught the ire of the mafia. According to his colleagues, including WWE Hall of Famer Bret “Hitman” Hart, Dino expressed that he believed his life was in danger before his untimely passing came to be.
In the mid to late 2000s, a wild Samoan beast by the name of Umaga was tearing through WWE. Another in a long line of wrestlers to come out of the Anoa’i wrestling dynasty, the man known as the “Samoan Bulldozer” was on fire with two Intercontinental Championships on his resume and several feuds with many of WWE’s top Superstars. Umaga was dominant even after his initial winning streak came to an end and had a memorable rivalry with the high flying Jeff Hardy. Undoubtedly, Umaga was one of the most successful of the Anoa’i family members to come through WWE.
All of this success came at a price; when Umaga, real name Eddie Fatu, violated WWE’s wellness policy for the second time in June of 2009, he refused to enter rehab for his drug problem and was subsequently released from the company. Later that same year, he suffered a fatal heart attack brought on by “acute toxicity due to combined effects of hydrocodone, carisoprodol, and diazepam.”
Andrew Martin, better known to pro wrestling fans as Test, had varying levels of success during his tenure with WWE, which started in the late 1990s with The Attitude Era. At this time, he really rose to fame in a storyline where he and Vince McMahon’s daughter, a young Stephanie McMahon, fell in love and were engaged to be married. Ultimately, that on-screen wedding never happened, but Test’s wars with the McMahons, especially Shane McMahon, put him on the map. He held several Championships during his WWE years including the European and Intercontinental titles and memorably formed a tag team with Albert which was managed by the up and coming Trish Stratus.
Years later, Test would compete for WWE’s resurrected version of ECW for a less impressive run and he left the company in 2007 after violating the wellness program. Two years later, he was found dead in his home, a result of an accidental overdose of oxycodone. It was later revealed that Test had suffered from the same type of brain damage as Chris Benoit had.
3 Mike Awesome
Mike Awesome was one of the few very special wrestlers who had a prominent role in each of the big three wrestling companies of the 1990s: ECW, WCW, and WWE. He was perhaps most successful in ECW where he was one of the more popular ECW World Heavyweight Champions, but he left the company on less than great terms for World Championship Wrestling after a dispute over money with ECW owner Paul Heyman. In WCW he was known at one time as “That ‘70s Guy” and later, in WWE, he played a role in the ECW/WCW invasion angle after Vince McMahon bought those two companies out.
After leaving professional wrestling in the mid 2000s, Mike Awesome got into trouble after a domestic dispute landed him in jail and his wife left him. Soon after he was released, some friends found his dead body at his home, with Mike apparently having hanged himself.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Virgil played the role of personal assistant to a WWE Superstar known as “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. For the most part, Virgil stood around stone faced with his arms crossed, occasionally flaunting the actual physical money of DiBiase, but he did get involved in his boss’ matches in order to help him pick up victories. Eventually, Virgil turned on DiBiase and would embark upon a singles career, though he didn’t see a ton of success and would always be known as The Million Dollar Man’s bodyguard.
Virgil, who also had a run in World Championship Wrestling in the late 1990s as the head of security for the mega popular New World Order faction, would eventually see struggles to remain in the spotlight. He has become something of a famous internet meme in recent years referred to as “Lonely Virgil,” where people take photos of him sitting at his merchandise tables all by himself with not a single soul lined up to meet him. Virgil has also raised the ire of fans, as well as current and former wrestlers like CM Punk and Xavier Woods, through his strange rants on social media.
During the ‘80s and ‘90s, Kamala was at times one of wrestling’s most beloved stars, while at other times being feared. He was billed as The Ugandan Giant, speaking nothing but gibberish and painting his face and large belly. He was frequently accompanied to the ring by the masked Kim Chee, referred to as his handler, although he was also associated with well known managers Harvey Wippleman and Slick. Kamala may not have won any championships in WWE and has yet to be recognized for his contributions with an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, but he battled some of the “golden” era’s biggest stars, including Hulk Hogan himself.
After retirement, Kamala suffered from diabetes, which forced doctors to have to amputate both of his legs. He has stated in interviews that he struggles to make ends meet on his fixed income and cannot afford smaller expenses such as the repair of his air conditioning.
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