Professional wrestling is a physically, mentally and emotionally challenging career. Grapplers work in excess of 300 days annually inside the squared circle and are required to partake in various promotional events throughout the year outside of the ring. While paydays among competitors vary widely, all sports entertainers are subject to injuries and its raging lifestyle has overcome many performers. Notably, to name a few stars who succumbed to rasslin’s taxing nature, Chyna, Balls Mahoney, Eddie Guerrero, Mr. Perfect, Big Boss Man and Davey Boy Smith all passed away in their 30s and 40s.
Iconic showman “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is debatably the premier heel in professional wrestling history. Piper was a gifted genius on the microphone who also impressed onlookers with his in-ring abilities. Tragically, Piper lived a chaotic existence and died at the age of 61 on July 31, 2015. Somewhat eerily, Piper predicted his premature demise during an August 2003 interview on HBO’s “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel.” In the segment, Piper described a “non-stop,” 20-year cycle of abusing alcohol, cocaine, painkillers and performance-enhancing drugs.
“Wrestling has a tremendous entrance plan. You come in and it’s ‘Boy, here you are. It’s rock and roll, it’s wonderful.’ It’s got no exit plan,” said Piper, born Roderick George Toombs in Saskatchewan.
“What would you have me do at 49 when my pension plan, I can’t take out until I’m 65. I’m not gonna make 65 — let’s face facts, guys.”
The 14-year-old segment reported that 60 wrestlers died before the age of 45 and calculated that rate to be 400 percent higher than the general population.
“There’s no place to turn, and when you do turn, who cares? You’re just a dumb professional wrestler,” said Piper.
With the above stories in mind, let’s critique 15 wrestlers who haven’t aged gracefully.
15. PERRY SATURN
Perry Saturn was a formidable foe during the 1990s and into the mid-2000s. The 5-foot-10, 240-pound Saturn, a scrapper for ECW, WCW, WWF and TNA, was a muscleman with a menacing look. Sadly, an act of heroism in April 2004 forever altered Saturn’s life. Saturn intervened when he saw two thugs raping a woman. During the tussle, one of the lowlife’s shot Saturn in the back of the neck and in the right shoulder. The Army veteran never fully recovered from the incident, developed a vicious addiction to meth, and was homeless for nearly three years. Now deflated and marked with a facial tattoo, Saturn is penniless and battling traumatic brain injuries. To raise medical and living expenses, Saturn created a GoFundMe page in November 2016.
“[In] a week or two, I will be homeless. I have nothing left. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” wrote Saturn, 50.
14. TULLY BLANCHARD
Tully Blanchard, who entered the NWA Hall of Fame in 2009 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012, was an original member of The Four Horsemen. The 5-foot-10, 225-pound Blanchard, a tremendous overall athlete who played quarterback for West Texas State University, debuted as a professional wrestler in 1975. Blanchard was primarily a villainous character who excelled performing inside the squared circle. Following a five-year stint in the NWA, Blanchard and Arn Anderson ventured north to work in the WWF as a tandem called The Brain Busters. Per usual, Blanchard and Anderson dominated all adversaries and they memorably conquered Demolition for the WWE Tag Team Championship in July 1989.
Regrettably, roughly a year after emerging as a WWE star, Blanchard was indefinitely suspended after testing positive for cocaine in October 1989. Retired since March 2007, the 63-year-old Blanchard is frail, mainly bald, and appears a decade older than his actual age.
13. THE UNDERTAKER
The Undertaker is an all-time great and surefire future WWE Hall of Famer. The owner of a record 21 consecutive victories at WrestleMania, the 6-foot-10, 310-pound Undertaker lost to Roman Reigns via pinfall in a no holds barred match during April’s “Showcase of the Immortals.” Following only his second defeat at WrestleMania, the 52-year-old Undertaker left his gloves, coat and hat in the ring to presumably symbolize his retirement. Born Mark Calaway in Houston, The Undertaker debuted in June 1984 for the now-defunct World Class Championship Wrestling.
Hence, with 33 years worth of fighting inside the squared circle, it’s understandable that The Undertaker looks shopworn. The Undertaker, who is reportedly preparing to undergo a total hip replacement surgery, is graying, gimpy and his skin is noticeably wrinkling and sagging. Thankfully, The Undertaker has apparently shelved his boots.
12. BRUTUS ‘THE BARBER’ BEEFCAKE
Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake, born Edward Leslie in Tampa, Florida, was anything but an elite in-ring performer. However, to compensate for his lack of wrestling abilities, the 6-foot-3, 275-pound Beefcake was charismatic and he had a somewhat decent gimmick. In a 2004 incident that could have been a scene in the critically-acclaimed film “The Wrestler,” Leslie dropped cocaine at a Boston MBTA station where he was working and caused a massive anthrax scare.
“It was a real eye-opener for me to see what effect drugs and alcohol were having on people’s lives,’’ Leslie, 60, told Boston.com.
‘‘I’ve seen a lot of my friends die. They were foolish. They weren’t thinking about their families.’’
Gangrel was an indelible figure in the late 1990s during the WWE’s Attitude Era. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Gangrel was presnted as a vampire who formed a fpartnership with Edge and Christian called The Brood. The sinister trio was infamous for drenching their victims with blood after winning a scrap.
“The Attitude Era blew up in 1998 and has kept me flowing,” says Gangrel, 48.
“It was just so huge that there is still so much work for us. It really was a short run, but it was amazing. I always thought I was just very blessed to be working.”
The federation’s hierarchy terminated Gangrel in 2001 because of his ballooning weight. Born David William Heath, Gangrel is nearly 300 pounds and his forehead is hideously scarred due to years of blading.
10. LEX LUGER
Lex Luger had one of the most desirable physiques in the world for more than two decades. A flawlessly sculpted individual, the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Luger headlined countless cards while with the WCW and WWF. Alas, the demanding wrestling industry and its hectic climate ravaged Luger’s build, career and overall health.
“If you snort it, spray it, shoot it, inject it, I did it, buddy,” said Luger, 59, born Lawrence Wendell Pfohl.
“Or I was around it. That was my life. Alcohol? I abused it all, buddy. I took a lot of pills. I was a pill popper.”
Luger’s personal nadir occurred in May 2003 when his girlfriend, Elizabeth Hulette, fatally overdosed in his Marietta, Georgia-based townhouse. “The Total Package,” now a devout Christian, uses a walker and is extremely unsteady and gaunt due in part to a nerve impingement in his neck he suffered about 10 years ago.
Raven was an absurdly misused wrestling talent. The 6-foot-1, 235-pound Raven, a former WCW United States Heavyweight titleholder and WCW World Tag Team champ, has an IQ of 143. Raven used his advanced intelligence and keen psychological insights to consistently deliver masterful speeches. While in-ring skills are imperative, the ability to captivate onlookers with words is equally essential and few competitors could talk like Raven. In addition to cutting brilliant promos, Raven was a hardcore pioneer who amassed 27 belts with the ECW, WCW and WWE. But the frenetic rasslin’ environment pinned Raven, too.
“I did enough drugs,” said Raven, 52.
“I whored around. I did everything in life that I wanted to do and I wasn’t happy. It was time to make a change. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be a casualty.”
8. DAN SPIVEY
Dan Spivey was a solid sports entertainer throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s. The 6-foot-8, 290-pound Spivey, a stellar defensive end for the University of Georgia who was drafted by the New York Jets in 1975, gained prominence working for WCW, WWF and All Japan Pro Wrestling. Unfortunately, Spivey sustained a neck injury in 1986 that caused temporary paralysis in his arms. Like many of his peers, Spivey began relying on drugs and alcohol during this time.
“I had a neck fusion in 1986,” said Spivey, 64. “I ended up being a drug addict and an alcoholic.”
Spivey credits Vince McMahon for helping turnaround his life.
“They sent me to rehab three or four times,” says Spivey.
“All you have to do is call them and say, ‘I need help’ and they’ll send you to rehab. I don’t know any other corporation in the world that does that. It saved my life.”
7. AHMED JOHNSON
Ahmed Johnson defeated Goldust at the June 1996 King of the Ring to capture the Intercontinental Championship and become the WWF’s first African-American to hold a singles belt. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Johnson, a middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990 and 1991 seasons, explained why the triumph was bittersweet.
“That was a great achievement becoming the first African-American Intercontinental Champion in history,” said Johnson, 54.
“That was a great honor, but it was short lived. Someone scratched some racial words, ‘Congratulation N*****’, into my car and the treatment I got was pretty bad. I hadn’t experienced any racism in wrestling until I made it to the big leagues, the WWF.”
6. ABDULLAH THE BUTCHER
Abdullah the Butcher, an April 2011 WWE Hall of Fame inductee, was never exactly an Adonis. The 6-foot, 330-pound Butcher was a hardcore phenomenon who was notorious for blading to create bloodbaths in the squared circle. An unsightly, obese mess of a human being, Abdullah the Butcher allegedly contracted the Hepatitis C virus.
“For decades, Larry Shreve has played the blood-lusting Abdullah the Butcher, a maniac psychotic enough to qualify as a Canadian-born Hitler, another Fuehrer,” said Billy Graham.
“The Butcher, who is Hepatitis C positive, is currently facing allegations of negligence, assault and battery in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice stemming from an unsanitary blade assault in a 2007 professional wrestling match.”
Kamala was an abnormally agile and nimble performer for his massive size. The 6-foot-7, 375-pound Kamala was mainly scripted as an animalistic heel who was managed by “Classy” Freddie Blassie. Kamala who fought high blood pressure, was diagnosed with diabetes in 1992. Unwisely, the colossal Mississippian refused to accept dialysis treatment and that decision ultimately caused the amputation of both of his legs.
“I didn’t even want to look down at first,” says Kamala, 67.
“But when I came home (from the hospital), I would look down, and I’d cry a little. I’d think, ‘I’m not normal, am I? I’m not normal anymore. People are going to treat me like I’m not normal.’ But I made it through. I made it through.”
4. SEAN WALTMAN
X-Pac, born Sean Waltman in Minneapolis, was an intricate piece of the D-Generation X stable. The 6-foot, 212-pound X-Pac was an energetic talker and phenomenally acrobatic entertainer inside the squared circle. Regardless, it’s inarguable that much of X-Pac’s success stemmed from his unofficial “membership” in The Kliq. Waltman endured a troubled childhood and those experiences led to his longstanding drugs and alcohol addiction. Feeling worthless and unredeemable, X-Pac attempted to hang himself to death in 2008. Miraculously, X-Pac’s girlfriend, Alicia Webb, managed to lower him to the floor and then perform CPR.
“She got me down, which I don’t know how she did it,” said Waltman.
“She is like superwoman. I swear. She did CPR and all that. She kept me alive for 45 minutes until the ambulance arrived. Then I was really on life support for three days.”
3. THE SANDMAN
The Sandman, born James Fullington, is a hardcore icon who earned paychecks as an employee for ECW, WCW, TNA and WWE. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Sandman, who established a record by securing the ECW World Heavyweight Championship on five separate occasions, endured countless injuries as a grappler.
“I’m getting a new knee in a couple of months,” said Fullington, 54.
“I’m just waiting on this guy who is one of the best guys in the eastern side of the country who does them. I need a new right hip, I need two shoulder surgeries. My body’s totaled. Again, there were some rock star years in there, 10 very hard living years. But hey, I got through and I’m on the other side now.”
2. BRET HART
Bret “The Hitman” Hart is an extraordinarily accomplished grappler. The 6-foot, 235-pound Hart, who received almost every noteworthy accolade, mercifully retired in October 2000. Sadly, the business irreparably damaged Hart and he faintly mirrors the man who debuted in 1978.
“I’ve been fighting more since I retired than I ever did,” said Hart, 60, who suffered a stroke in June 2002 and was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February 2016.
“I’ve found out the hard way that all those bumps, all those hard falls, all those turnbuckles, all those body slams, there’s an incredible price to pay and you pay for it with your body.”
Hart struggles to walk without a gait and his long gray hair tacks many years onto his chronological age. Quite simply, “The Hitman” took far too many hits inside the squared circle and suffered from many personal tragedies outside of it.
Sunny was sunny strictly in name. Born Tamara Lynn Sytch in Matawan, New Jersey, Sunny was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2011 because she’s deemed the promotion’s first Diva. Sunny, who was trained by Kevin Sullivan, Jim Cornette and her late boyfriend, Chris Candido, also worked for ECW, WCW and Ring of Honor. Once an exceedingly ambitious woman who enrolled in a pre-medical program at the University of Tennessee, Sunny succumbed to drug and alcohol addiction. Sunny’s dependency became notorious and she had sexual relations with dozens of wrestlers in exchange for narcotics.
“There’s so many stories I could tell you about how she disrespected Chris (Candido),” said The Sandman.
“We were on the roof of a club in Miami where she was b****** Raven [while] she just had her hand out for pills.”
In stark contrast to her heyday, the 44-year-old Sunny is an overweight and terribly weathered slob.
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