Professional wrestling is not for the faint at heart. I mean that literally. The number of wrestlers who have suffered from heart problems over the years is large and continues to grow. Unfortunately, many of those with said problems shortened lives after succumbing to their conditions. Earlier this year, the wrestling world lost another one of its legends when The Ultimate Warrior passed away as the result of cardiovascular problems. Warrior was pronounced dead upon arriving at the hospital. This was a tragic shame considering he had just made peace with WWE.
Such is the physical toll the business takes on its men and women who decide to pursue this most unusual profession. The loss of a life is too often reported around the wrestling community. Too often and in most cases, too early.
On the other side of the coin, we find finance. Wrestling can lead to a huge payday if everything aligns properly. The top stars make the big dollars, that's no secret. If you're lucky enough to make it in WWE, you should see substantial monetary rewards. That's when its time to start saving those WWE paychecks which has proven to be a problem for a number of WWE superstars. Being young and on the road can lead to many vices which can lead to great expenses which can lead to misfortune.
This is where it comes full-circle and the issue again becomes the health and well-being of the superstars. If you can't stay clean, you will not be employed. If you get injured and have to miss time, you will lose money and maybe even your spot on the roster.
The ironic thing about staying healthy is that so many professional wrestlers partake in unhealthy activities to remain in top shape. It is a vicious pattern that is all too common in the wrestling world – a pattern that is sometimes ignored completely.
In this article we will take a look at some of the sad, somber, and sobering stories that have come out of success and stardom. This is the top 20 professional wrestlers who have lost their way …
20 Jeff Hardy
Always one of the most exciting performers around, Jeff Hardy established himself as an in-ring daredevil with an unorthodox style of wrestling all-his-own. Jeff and his brother Matt are one of the most well-known tag-teams of the modern era. However, Jeff has had his share of problems. In 2003, he was released from his WWE contract for the first time due to his erratic behavior and drug use. But Jeff was given a second chance and was re-hired in 2006 this time rising to main-event status as a singles competitor, even winning his first WWE championship. Eventually, in 2009, Hardy would once again leave WWE, this time in a supposed attempt to heal nagging injuries. Just a few weeks following this departure, Hardy was arrested on drug possession and trafficking charges. This would lead to a short jail stint, a fine, and probation for Hardy. These days, you can find Jeff Hardy in the minor-league system of professional wrestling, TNA, where he remains a star but does not shine as brightly as he once did in WWE. If Hardy had stayed clean and on the WWE roster, there is no telling where his career could have been today.
19 Sean O'Haire
The inclusion of Sean O'Haire in this list may be surprising to some as he is definitely not one of the biggest names in the business and to be quite honest, his wrestling career is somewhat forgettable. His retirement in 2006 took him down a few new paths in life such as mixed martial arts, kickboxing, and even hairdressing (weird). He is the most recent “too-soon” death to come out of the wrestling business having taken his own life a few weeks ago. It is reported that O'Haire had been suffering from depression and alcoholism and had spent time at a WWE-sponsored rehab facility on multiple-occasions. Unfortunately, O'Haire could not kick his habit. O'Haire's situation should be taken as a reminder of the mental anguish many professional wrestlers suffer through. Yes, what they do is fake but their emotions are real for they too are human.
18 Luna Vachon
The woman’s division of professional wrestling took on a whole new look when Luna Vachon debuted on the scene back in the early-nineties. Vachon was unlike most of the “Divas” you find nowadays. She looked different, she spoke differently, she presented herself in a way unlike the other women around. She was a unique talent with great intensity and passion for character with the ability to strike fear into any wrestling fan. Vachon suffered from bipolar disorder which strangely enough was noticeable in her character. In August of 2010, Luna Vachon was found dead at her Florida home from an overdose of prescription medication – to which she had become addicted.
17 Lex Luger
Lex Luger was once thought of as the next golden boy in WWE, especially following the departure of Hulk Hogan to WCW, but despite his popularity, Luger never could reach that plateau. His best days in the wrestling business are miniscule compared to his personal problems. Luger has been arrested for driving under the influence and most notably for possessing a number of controlled substances following the death of his girlfriend, Elizabeth Hulette (Miss Elizabeth). Luger is alive and somewhat well today as he has suffered from a spinal stroke. He also claims to be a born-again Christian, perhaps in hopes of erasing his past transgressions.
You may remember Virgil best for his role as the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase's personal assistant. Of course, in wrestling the inevitable break-up must happen and Virgil eventually turned on DiBiase leading to a feud with his former boss and turning Virgil babyface in the process. However, his wrestling career lost steam rather quickly and soon enough, burnt out. Following his retirement in 2000, Michael “Virgil” Jones became a math teacher at a Pittsburgh high school. In recent years he has been spotted selling photographs of himself at a New York City subway station, obviously strapped for cash and down-on-his-luck. The victim of mid-card circumstance.
15 The British Bulldogs
Widely regarded as one of the best tag-teams in the history of professional wrestling, The British Bulldogs consisted of cousins, Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid. The team would see its fair share of success in WWE with Smith putting together a viable singles run on his own. But, the years would take their toll on the British superstars. Davey Boy Smith a longtime user of anabolic steroids and human-growth hormones would pass away on May 18, 2002 at the age of thirty-nine, the result of a heart attack. The Dynamite Kid is alive today but in the worst of ways, having been disabled to the point where he will never walk again and recently suffering from stroke. The British Bulldogs are remembered fondly by their fans.
14 Jimmy Snuka
Wrestling fans may have “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka to thank for Mick Foley ever stepping foot into a ring. Foley has often stated that witnessing Snuka's flying body splash from the top of a steel cage on to Don Muraco in Madison Square Garden is what inspired him to become a wrestler. However great that may be, there is a dark side to Snuka's world. Superfly is not worth the amount of money one would think, even though he was as popular as he was back in his day. The obligatory wrestler on illegal substances story can apply to Snuka as well. And then there is the thirty-year-old case involving his girlfriend in which she died of traumatic brain injuries. The case has never been solved and Jimmy Snuka is the only suspect. Such a burden to carry for such a long time.
13 Joey Mercury
Joey Mercury is a former WWE Tag-Team Champion as a member of MNM, along with Johnny Nitro and manager Melina. He now works as a producer in WWE and has retired from in-ring competition. His life is currently on the right path but wasn't always. Mercury has admitted to using illegal substances since the age of fifteen. Although he went to rehab to deal with these issues, another one arose when he became addicted to pain killers following an injury sustained during a match. This is when his close friend, CM Punk, stepped in and helped him to overcome his addictions. Not only that but Punk helped his friend to get his house out of foreclosure. That is a pretty solid friendship right there.
12 Perry Saturn
Remember Perry Saturn's strange love-affair with “Moppy?” While this gimmick actually got over with the crowd, it remains as the final memory most people relate to Perry Saturn, who in his own right was a good wrestler. Nevertheless, the money made from this gimmick wasn't enough to last. Perry Saturn disappeared completely for a few years and when his family and friends where unable to locate him, speculation began to formulate that he was dead. When he was finally found, he revealed that he had become addicted to methamphetamine and was actually homeless for a few years. Fortunately, he has picked up the pieces of his life and is now seemingly well-adjusted.
11 Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig is best known for his time spent in WWE as “Mr. Perfect.” The tactical in-ring performer was one of the best wrestlers of his era and another one of those guys who was never awarded the WWE Championship, although he was well deserving of the honor. Hennig comes from a wrestling family having been the son of Larry “The Axe” Hennig. This tradition has been passed on to his own children as his son Joe is currently an active member of the WWE roster, performing under the ring-name “Curtis Axel,” which is an homage to his father and grandfather. In 2003, at the age of forty-four, Curt Hennig was found dead due to acute illegal substance overdose.
The transition from professional wrestler to adult entertainer is not a common career change but it sure was for Chyna. Following the release of her "tape" with fellow wrestler Sean Waltman (X-Pac) in 2004, a number of adult entertainment roles were lined up in her future. Aside from her newfound career, Chyna has long battled substance abuse and depression and has on at least one occasion attempted to commit suicide. She was also arrested for domestic assault following an alleged beating of Waltman. Chyna's life has taken a long hard fall since her days in WWE where she once dated Triple H and was the top female performer in the company.
9 Marty Jannetty
When Shawn Michaels superkicked Marty Jannetty and tossed him through the Barber Shop window, he effectively tossed Jannetty's career through that window as well. Jannetty's behavior and choices would lead to his release from WWE following this segment but he was eventually re-signed and brought back to feud with his former tag-team partner before being released again and re-signed, again! Jannetty was given chance after chance in WWE but continued to squander his opportunities. Jannetty's life was on a serious downward spiral as he was on the verge of suicide. That was until a phone call from his former partner and friend, Shawn Michaels changed everything. When Michaels learned of Jannetty's struggles, he came to his aid and re-baptized him as a born-again Christian. However, his clean living would only last for so long. In 2007, Jannetty was scheduled to re-sign with WWE yet again but the deal fell through when he failed his drug test, though he'd come back for a quick segment in 2009. This would ultimately be Jannetty's last chance with the company as it is reported that Vince McMahon has severed all ties with his former superstar.
8 Chris Kanyon
In the case of Chris Kanyon, his sexual orientation may have very well played a role in his downfall. This is a sad circumstance, but it is the way of the world in which we live. Total tolerance remains far from total truth and with Chris Kanyon, his long struggle as a closeted homosexual must have weighed heavy on his mind each and every day of his life. Kanyon was never a main-event performer but he was funny, had charisma, and possessed decent in-ring ability. Kanyon also suffered from bipolar disorder and spoke of taking his own life in the weeks leading up to his death. On April 2, 2010 his brother found him dead at his apartment in Queens, New York with an empty bottle of antidepressants and an apology letter addressed to his family.
7 Sean Waltman
Sean Waltman, best known as “X-Pac,” and a former member of the controversial group D-Generation X, has been down the dark road of suicide himself but has lived to discuss the manner. Waltman attempted to hang himself in Mexico while working for a local promotion. This incident occurred following an altercation with his girlfriend, Alicia Webb, whom he had struck. Waltman claims that the shame he felt following this led him to take a copious amount of Valium and rum, write a suicide note, and hang himself with a hose but Webb would find him just in time, on the brink of death. Waltman has since been helped out by Triple H and Kevin Nash, his longtime real life friends, and appears to be doing all right.
6 Scott Hall
Scott Hall is a walking example of poor choices with a career full of bad decisions to look back upon. The illegal substances, the drinking, the arrests. Incident after incident. Issue after issue. Scott Hall is a likable guy but the demons inside of this man are heavy and his personal problems seem neverending. Hall had a great gimmick in WWE as Razor Ramon and another great run in WCW as a founding member of the nWo. However, with the lifestyle that Hall has chosen to live for so many years, it is no wonder that his financial aspects are less-than-stellar to say the least. If Scott Hall had better judgment he could be living a healthy, happy, and financially stable life right now instead of living perpetually broken.
5 Jake Roberts
If you haven't seen the 1999 wrestling documentary, Beyond the Mat, then you definitely should. Jake Roberts is featured heavily in the film in which he discusses his past in a very disturbing manner. His account of drug use on the road is rather chilling and the inside look at his relationship with his daughter is hard to watch. Roberts of course claims that he was portrayed in a negative light but you have to expect that most addicted wrestlers would say the exact same thing. Roberts most recently overcame a cancer scare and is supposedly clean and sober. Hopefully, this is the true and “The Snake” is doing fine.
4 Miss Elizabeth
The first-lady of wrestling, Miss Elizabeth paved the way for many of the Divas we see today. While she was not technically an active wrestler, she was the woman in wrestling for many years. She rose to fame as the manager of her one time real life husband, “Macho Man,” Randy Savage. Miss Elizabeth was a natural beauty who fell victim to the ugliness of prescription drug use. In 2003, her untimely death was brought on by a toxic mixture of painkillers and vodka. This was a devastating loss for the wrestling world as it had lost their lady.
3 Kerry Von Erich
The Von Erich's are one of wrestling's most prominent families but their lineage is a troubled one which includes a string of suicides and heartache. Kerry Von Erich is among three Von Erich brothers who had decided to take their own lives. Kerry himself held a total of forty championships in various promotions over the course of his career. Kerry began his dissension following a motorcycle accident which lead to his right foot being amputated. This lead to Kerry's addiction to painkillers and two separate arrests. It was expected that Kerry would receive extensive jail time due to his legal problems but he was never sentenced. Kerry Von Erich shot himself in the heart on his father's ranch; ending another Von Erich life with tragic finality.
2 Hulk Hogan
In Hulk Hogan's autobiography, My Life Outside of the Ring, the immortal one discusses in great detail his thoughts of suicide and how he had placed a gun to his head. When I learned of this dark period in his life, I become disheartened. Before I discovered CM Punk as an adult or “Stone Cold' Steve Austin as a teenager, I was a full-fledged Hulkamaniac as a child. And suddenly, I was that child again – posing in the living room along with the Hulkster. I'm glad that Hogan decided otherwise and stuck around. Another problem for Hogan has been his well-publicized divorced. In the settlement, his ex-wife, Linda received seventy percent of Hogan's assets. Needless to say, Hogan's bank account has taken a pretty stiff shot. But, Hogan is back in the WWE, where in all reality, he belongs. Surely, his financial status will improve and hopefully, the Hulkster has found peace of mind.
1 Ric Flair
The greatest all-round performer in the history of professional wrestling has suffered a great deal of loss in his historic lifetime. The kiss stealin' Ric Flair has been married and divorced four times. Flair is also notorious for living a lavish lifestyle, one which runs a toll on the bankroll. On March 29, 2013, Flair lost his son Reid to an accidental overdose of heroin, muscle relaxer, and Xanax. The worst fear of a father come true when he outlives his boy. The kind of loss that cannot be fixed but only coped with on a daily basis. Ric Flair has lost a fortune through his divorce proceedings and wild-man living but none of that money can compare to the loss of his son. The “Nature Boy” has seen his share of ups and downs, good times and bad times, rises and falls, all while maintaining that kind of charm that can only come from The Natch. Throughout all his struggles, Ric Flair has always had the fans on his side, both young and old. This will never change.