Early and unexpected deaths in professional wrestling have long been a ghastly bi-product of the industry. So much strain is placed on the body and mind throughout a wrestling career. It isn’t uncommon for a pro wrestler to be in action almost every night of the year, traveling from coast to coast to put on a show in the squared circle. Forget family or sleeping in your own bed, this is all about entertainment, and the fans always come first. That’s not to say a word about the physical stress of the occupation, which includes anything from being repeatedly body slammed into the mat, to taking a full-on chair shot to the head.
How do wrestlers deal with the stress? Well one option is to take painkillers, and try to relieve some of the stress on their bodies. But painkillers are addictive, and in larger than recommended qualities, they possess some unhealthy side effects; much like prescription pills, another favorite of professional wrestlers. Another answer to reduce pain is alcohol with wrestlers hitting the bar after a show to drink the pain and loneliness away. Once again, in excessive quantities, this quickly adds to your problems instead of solving them.
It all becomes a lethal combination which can cause undetected heart conditions, depression, and all manner of other health problems. Still, despite all of this, the majority of wrestlers manage to handle this lifestyle, and maintain it sometimes for decades on end. Unfortunately, not all wrestlers fit into this category. Many are cut down in their prime, if not from the lifestyle itself then from an unrelated health problem, a car crash, some other accident or the bullet from a gun. Here’s 15 tragic wrestler deaths we never saw coming.
15. Louie Spicolli
A talented wrestler and witty commentator, Louie Spicolli publicly battled drug demons in a fast paced but ultimately tragic career. He was with the WWE in the mid 90s, but was released after a drug overdose. He had a stint in ECW before joining WCW, and decided to kick his drug habit for good over concerns for his health.
The saddest part of the Spicolli story was his relapse into drugs, sparked by news that his mother was terminally ill. He overdosed on soma and wine, choking to death in his sleep and predeceasing his mother who is now buried beside him.
14. Lance Cade
Lance Cade was taken far too early by heart failure, a cause of death not entirely uncommon in professional wrestlers. At the time of his death Cade was just 30. He was no longer with the WWE at the time, and had been wrestling on the independent circuit and with All Japan Pro Wrestling. Cade had previously spoken publicly about his battles with sleeping pills and painkillers, and had even been to rehab in early 2010. Sadly up until about a week prior to his death, Cade appeared in good health and was due to fight for the AJPW World Tag Team Championship.
13. Brian Pillman
Brian Pillman succumbed to an undetected heart condition at just 35 years of age back in 1997. That night at the Badd Blood pay-per-view, he was booked to wrestle Dude Love, one of the many alter egos of Mick Foley. When Pillman failed to arrive at the venue on time, a call was placed by promoter Jim Cornette to the hotel where the wrestler had been staying. Cornette was told Pillman had died of a heart attack earlier in the day. His career highlights in the ring included a WCW World Tag Team Championship alongside Stunning Steve Austin.
12. Adrian Adonis
Spent most of the 1980s in the WWE, wrestling in a tag team with Jesse Ventura before morphing into his Adorable Adrian Adonis gimmick. He was also a one time Tag Team Champion alongside Dick Murdoch. He left the WWE in 1987, and a year later tragedy struck on a wrestling tour in Newfoundland. He was one of four wrestlers in a minivan that crashed when driver William ‘Mike Kelly’ Arko swerved to avoid a moose. Viktor ‘Pat Kelly’ Arko and Dave ‘Wildman’ McKigney were also killed in the crash, while William Arko escaped with his life but suffered severe leg injuries.
11. Mr. Perfect
Mr. Perfect was one of the great technical wrestlers we’ve seen, and a man who enjoyed success in WCW and the WWE. Such was his grace and ease in the ring, many expected Mr. Perfect to wrestle well into his 50s. That didn’t materialize though, after a cocaine overdose took Mr. Perfect’s life away in 2003 at the age of just 44. He was booked to wrestle in Florida that night. His death was a big shock to the wrestling community given he appeared to be in very good health.
10. Davey Boy Smith
Davey Boy Smith was one of the most talented professional wrestlers the UK has produced, and many people’s elect as the best wrestler never to win a world title. He started with WWE in 1985, and had several successful stints with the company, most notably as one half of the British Bulldogs; he was equally as famous for his run in the Hart Foundation. He suffered a fatal heart attack while on vacation with his girlfriend, which the coroner attributed to likely steroid abuse after discovering microscopic scar tissue on Smith’s heart.
9. Junkyard Dog
One of the most famous African American professional wrestlers we’ve seen, Junkyard Dog was a man who spent decent years in both the WWE and WCW. His always entertaining and charismatic story was cut short in 1998, when the Junkyard Dog was taken from the world just 45 years of age. He was killed in a single vehicle car crash, having fallen asleep at the wheel, returning home from the high school graduation of his daughter LaToya. Thirteen years later the story became even sadder when LaToya also died at just 31.
8. Chris Adams
The man who trained Stone Cold Steve Austin and Scott Hall, was killed by a gunshot wound in 2001. Chris Adams was shot by his friend after a drunken brawl with the accused escaping punishment after claiming self defense. Adams’ friend, Brent Parnell, reportedly phoned 911 at roughly 1:00 am to report the shooting. Mr. Parnell surrendered easily to police when they arrived at the scene. Parnell stated that he and Adams had started ‘roughhousing’ with each other, and that he feared for his life moments before the shooting.
7. Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero’s death is shocking because he was seemingly in the best shape of his life when he left this world. It was even more tragic because the wrestling world had witnessed Guerrero battle, and almost beat, his addiction to alcohol and painkillers. The WWE sent him to rehab in 2001, and released him later that year after a drunk driving charge. He was back before long, and climbed the ladder all the way to its top rung winning the WWE Championship from Brock Lesnar in 2004.
After years of drug problems Guerrero had finally established himself as one of the industry’s finest and most charismatic stars. Less than two years later he suffered acute heart failure aged just 38. It was incredibly disheartening to lose Eddie, after having seen him beat his demons.
6. Randy Savage
You have been forgiven for thinking the ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage was invincible. He was one of the greats of the wrestling industry, with a career spanning 32 years and carrying success in the WWF and WCW. He was also an actor, and even released a rap album in 2003. But while driving his jeep on May 20, 2011, Savage suffered a heart attack, became unresponsive and crashed the vehicle into a tree. He was later pronounced dead at Largo Medical Center. An autopsy found Savage had been plagued by an undetected heart condition. Savage’s sudden death gained national attention, as he was one of the faces of wrestling in the 80s and 90s.
5. Chris Candido
Hardcore talent Chris Candido had only recently debuted in TNA before disaster struck. He broke his tibia and fibula in a tag team cage match and underwent surgery the following day, with doctors using titanium plates and screws to repair the sickening injury. A day after surgery he attended the next taping for TNA Impact, but two days later he fell ill and was rushed to hospital with pneumonia. He soon died of a blood clot caused by complications from the surgery. Less than a week earlier he’d been a healthy wrestler in the prime of his career.
4. The Von Erich brothers
No one in the world could’ve imagined the tragedy that befell wrestling’s Von Erich brothers. Patriarch Jack ‘Fritz Von Erich’ Adkisson fathered six sons and managed to outlive all but one. Of the six, Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike and Chris became wrestlers.
David wrestled with WCW but died of a heart attack in Japan aged just 25. Mike died at just 23, intentionally overdosing on sleeping pills and alcohol. Four and a half years later Chris lost his battle with depression and took his own life. Kerry lost a leg in 1986 after a car accident, but that didn’t prevent him winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship with a prosthetic limb. The car accident did, however, leave him addicted to painkillers which led to several brushes with the law and ultimately his suicide. A very sad ending to a very historic family.
3. The Ultimate Warrior
A wrestling legend who beat Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI to become the first superstar ever to hold the WWE Heavyweight Championship and the Intercontinental Championship at the same time. Warrior wrestled on and off with the company throughout the 1990s, and was deservedly inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 5th of 2014.
A day after his induction he attended that year’s WrestleMania, and a day after that he appeared on Raw for the first time in almost two decades. The following night he was dead after suffering a heart attack outside his hotel in Arizona. Maybe we should have seen it coming after his cryptic speech on Raw which included the phrases:
“Every man’s heart one day beats its final beat.”
“The spirit of Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”
2. Owen Hart
The horrific death of Owen Hart in 1999 remains arguably the WWE’s saddest night. Hart was being lowered into the ring at a Pay Per View in Kansas City, when his harness broke with the Superstar still about 80 feet in the air. The fall onto the ring ropes was far too traumatic for Hart’s body, and he shortly succumbed to internal injuries. He had already established himself as one of the industry’s best talents, and you get the feeling his best was all in front of him. Hart’s death was a monumental tragedy for the iconic Hart family, spectators who attended the Pay Per View, and wrestling fans across the world.
1. Chris Benoit
Chris Benoit’s death shook the wrestling world to its foundations in 2007. Not because the industry lost one of its most talented stars, but because Benoit murdered his wife and son in the lead up to his own hanging. After initially acknowledging Benoit’s death, the WWE has since distanced itself from the episode, and no longer mentions the former World Champion on its website. The company has also shied away from suggestions that his 22 year wrestling career, during which he took many chair shots to the head, led to the mental state which preceded his double murder suicide. No one saw this coming, and almost a decade later, the WWE is still feeling the effects of Benoit’s actions.
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