In the wild world of professional wrestling, it’s not uncommon to hear about substance abuse issues among those that take bumps in the ring on a nightly basis. Not only do wrestlers put their bodies through bouts of torture to get the muscular look that fans have become accustomed to, but then most have to deal with pain on a regular basis due to the risks from just being in the ring and trying to entertain us.
Then there’s the wear and tear the competitors put themselves through being on the road half the year or more. During the territory days, it wasn’t uncommon for the top stars to be on the road for more than 300 days a year, as they traveled city to city to compete.
World Wrestling Entertainment, following the death of Eddie Guerrero in 2005, put together a plan to do what they could to clean up sports entertainment, and it was not usual to see a performer forced to sit for 30-60 days due to failing a drug test.
Sadly the sport of pro wrestling has seen way too many deaths of young performers due to the lifestyle, as well as the abuse of substances. Some have been lucky and have cleaned up after seeing too many of their friends pass away, but for the ones that have cleaned up, it took too many before them to pass away before they got clean.
Today we take a look at “15 Wrestlers that have Dealt with Substance Abuse Issues,” some of which are still with us, some of which sadly paid the price for their lifestyle.
15 Dynamite Kid
One of the great talents in wrestling, Tom Billington had to fight his way to being a top star, as at 5-foot-8 and 227 pounds, he was never the size of the stars of the '80s like Hulk Hogan or Andre the Giant. Billington found his greatest success with Davey Boy Smith, as part of the ‘British Bulldogs,’ a team that reached the top as WWE Tag Team Champions in 1986 at WrestleMania 2. Billington retired with major back and leg issues, and in his autobiography “Pure Dynamite,” he openly talks about his abuse of steroids and drugs. Now living in England, Billington has a paralyzed left leg and uses a wheelchair.
Andrew Martin was a perfect big man during wrestling’s boom in the late '90s and early 2000s. His claim to fame was his on-screen wedding to Vince McMahon’s daughter Stephanie, which was ruined by Triple H. Martin was let go by the WWE in 2004, and lived the lifestyle of an independent star until he was briefly brought back in 2006, but again was gone in 2007 after violating WWE’s Wellness Policy. The 33-year-old was found dead in his home in Florida in 2009 from an accidental overdose of pain medication, according to Bleacher Report.
Another great big man, Edward Smith Fatu, better known as Umaga, was an American-Samoan star who had a great run in the WWE, feuding with stars like John Cena and Bobby Lashely. Outside the ring was another story for Fatu, as he was exposed in 2007 for obtaining a growth hormone that the WWE outlawed and then eventually in 2009 he was let go by the WWE for violating the Wellness Policy. and refusing rehab The 36-year-old died in December of 2009 of a heart attack, but the death was eventually ruled as acute intoxication of carisoprodol, hydrocodone, and diazepam (Valium), according to InsidePulse.com.
12 The Iron Sheik
One of the great stories in all of pro wrestling, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri competed in the 1968 Olympic Games for Iran before he eventually made the move to the United States in 1972. Sheik will always be remembered as the man who beat Bob Backlund in 1983 for the WWE Heavyweight Title, and then lost it a month later to Hulk Hogan, starting the craze known as ‘Hulkamania.’ Sheik’s illegal substance use became nationally known in 1987 when he was pulled over with ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and was found with a highly illegal white substance, according to Bleacher Report. It took years for Sheik to overcome his abuse issues, and today at 71 years old, he’s still going strong with a twitter following of 460,000 fans.
11 Miss Elizabeth
Known throughout her career as “The First Lady of Wrestling,” Elizabeth Hulette's career was mostly connected to her first husband, Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, whom she was married to from 1984 to 1992. She left the WWE in 1992 and resurfaced in WCW, joining up with Savage, who she had actually divorced. Her post wrestling career saw her marry former WCW champion Lex Luger. On May 1st, 2003, Hulette died in the home she shared with Luger. A medical examiner ruled the death from "acute toxicity," brought on by a mix of painkillers and vodka, according to Deadspin.com.
10 Jeff Hardy
Hardy led a complicated career in and out of the ring, spending a number of years with the WWE and eventually TNA. Long known for his drug use, Hardy was consistently in trouble with the WWE during his tenure, but always seemed to get over as one of the more popular wrestlers in the company. His time with the WWE included suspensions and eventually he left the company in 2009. It was in 2009 that Hardy was arrested on charges of trafficking controlled prescription pills and for possession of steroids. According to TMZ, he was found carrying 262 Vicodin, 180 Soma and 555 milliliters of anabolic steroids, and a residual amount of an illegal powdered substance. He served mostly probation and paid a fine for the incident.
9 Lance Cade
This former WWE tag team champion (with Trevor Murdoch) had a great look and great talent, coming from Shawn Michaels’ wrestling school in Texas. He just never seemed to be able to take that next step, whether due to his inability to get over or the company not giving him a chance. He ended up leaving the WWE in late 2008 after having a seizure on a plane, and it was implied it was due to abuse of a substance, according to ProWrestling.net. Cade toiled around independents a few more years, and was set to head to Japan before passing away at the age of 29 in 2010, for intoxication from mixed drugs, which complicated a heart condition, according to Bleacher Report.
8 Kerry Von Erich
As part of the famous Von Erich family, Kerry was a star well before he ever appeared in a WWE ring under the name of ‘Texas Tornado.’ He was good looking, athletic, and had great in-ring ability that made him easy to like. He was a former WWE Intercontinental champion and spent two years with the company before leaving in 1992. Von Erich lost his left foot in 1986, and eventually found himself addicted to pain killers, along with the abuse of other drugs. He sadly took his own life in 1993, shooting himself in the heart on his father’s ranch.
7 Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts
The rampant drug use by Roberts was highly documented in the wrestling flick “Beyond the Mat,” but finally after years of use, Roberts is on the road to getting clean. Joining up with friend and former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, Roberts lives down in Atlanta with Page, and got clean through Page’s program “DDP Yoga.” While the ‘snake’ has had some health issues along the way, he’s been basically clean since moving in with Page in October 2012, and there’s even a movie out about his life turnaround, entitled ‘The Resurrection of Jake the Snake Roberts.’ Attending AA meetings and staying clean, Roberts’ story is one that other wrestlers with problems should learn from.
6 Eddie Guerrero
Guerrero was one of the most entertaining wrestlers of all time, and his death in 2005 shook the wrestling world to its core. It was after his death that the WWE put in place a strict substance abuse policy that saw a number of stars get suspended for taking illegal substances. Guerrero had overcome addictions to both alcohol and painkillers, and he turned his life around, developing a deep religious faith that he shared with a number of wrestlers over his final years. Sadly, his body never was able to fully recover and he died "natural causes related to arteriosclerotic heart disease," according to WrestleZone.com.
5 Davey Boy Smith
Smith had a long wrestling career, but still is probably best remembered as a memeber of the “British Bulldogs” with partner Dynamite Kid, who sadly is also on this list. Smith had a legendary match at SummerSlam in 1992 against Intercontinental champion, and brother-in-law, Bret Hart in front of over 80,000 fans. Sadly though, Smith suffered a back injury in 1998 in WCW, an injury that some say began his downward spiral. He had issues with prescription painkillers, and also was a long standing user of steroids and HGH. He died in 2002 of a heart attack while on vacation, and an autopsy showed that steroids played a part in the Smith’s death, according to USA Today.
4 Shawn Michaels
Many consider ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ as the greatest in-ring performer of all-time, but his career certainly had its ups and downs, some of which was self-inflicted due to addiction. Michaels admitted in 2013 that his substance abuse nearly killed him, and it wasn’t until he was away from the sport, due to injury, and raising his son with wife Rebecca that his life turned around. Michaels was a partier and he was known for taking pills, including painkillers and muscle relaxers. It took his young son saying something about his daddy being ‘tired’ all the time for Michaels to get right, along with finding God, and he finally cleaned up his act. HBK came back to the WWE in 2002 a changed man, and when he walked away in 2010, he did it clean and on his own terms.
3 Scott Hall
The WWE has been there to help their current and former wrestlers get clean, and it’s known that there is no wrestler the company spent more money on for rehab stints than Hall, as they admitted that in an interview with ESPN. The wrestler has spent years using and years trying to get clean, and finally it appears he’s somewhat on the right track. Hall, like fellow wrestler on the list Jake Roberts, moved in with Diamond Dallas Page in Atlanta in 2013, looking to get clean once and for all. From all accounts, Hall has been back and forth with trying to stay sober, at one point in 2014 unable to attend a wrestling show due to being in a ‘dark place’ and dealing with ‘personal problems.’
2 Curt Hennig
Another of the sports greats, Hennig passed away in 2003 at the age of 44 from Acute Cocaine Intoxication, according to DeadSpin.com. Following his death, his father, pro wrestler Larry Hennig, said that both painkillers and steroids contributed to his son’s death. Hennig had two incidents involving alcohol during his career, one being a drunken stuttering promo while with WCW, and another being the infamous ‘Plane Ride from Hell’ in WWE in 2002, where he got into a brawl with current WWE Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar. Hennig is always spoken of in high regard for his strong in-ring work, but out of the ring, he faced many demons much like many others before him.
1 Brian Pillman
“Flying” Brian Pillman struggled for years with a strong addiction to painkillers, alcohol and other substances that cut his career and life short at the age of 35. Pillman’s life was one of struggle, as he had over 30 surgeries due to throat cancer that hit him at the age of three. He overcame the odds, making it all the way to the NFL where he nearly made the Cincinnati Bengals roster in 1984. He started wrestling in 1986, and that April suffered an ankle injury after a car accident. Many say the addiction started from there, as he would try his hardest to find a way to acquire pain killers, and he also had a drinking addiction which made matters worse. Pillman died in his hotel room in Minnesota, the afternoon before‘Bad Blood’ on October 5th, 1997, leaving behind a wife and six children.