For decades, professional wrestling has been called fake and the athletes that compete inside the ring are called actors. While the latter is true and the former is true from the sense of the results being pre-determined, falling from 10 feet in the air into the ring has been proven to be dangerous for their health. Over the years, many of the most popular performers in the sport needed to retire for health reasons as a result of thousands of bumps. Bret Hart, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Edge immediately come to mind as three performers that needed to retire before professional wrestling fans were ready to see them go.
While Hart, Edge, and Austin were able to hang them up before they could become paralyzed, or even worse, dead, as a result of their chosen career path, dozens of other performers weren’t so lucky. The wrestling business has seen hundreds of their competitors die at an early age. Some passed away while they were still a heavy part of the wrestling business, while in other cases, these wrestlers died after they left the spotlight, but the fact still remains that the business has seen too many of its biggest names die too soon.
Some of these wrestlers were former champions while others were on their way, but didn’t have the time to get there. Some of these athletes died from overdoses, some from unrelated illnesses, while others passed away due to complications from years of their transgressions on the road.
It was impossible to include everyone that had an impact on the wrestling business on this list, but performers like Kanyon, Doink, Art Barr, and Sherri Martel, who didn’t make this list, should still be remembered. Who are the top 20 professional wrestlers that were gone too soon?
*For those who are curious, Chris Benoit was omitted from the list for obvious reasons.
20 Lance Cade, 29
During his career in WWE, Lance Cade (real name Lance McNaught), who also went by the name Garrison Cade, didn’t have the most success. Having trained under former WWE Champion and WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels, Cade was being built for success. The three-time World Tag Team Champion would go on to have a stellar career outside the promotion. At the time of his death – which reports say were from heart failure – he was going to headline a show in Japan with teammate Rene Dupree for the AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship.
19 Test, 33
Test (real name Andrew Martin) was a physical specimen that had a lengthy career with WWE and after his release from the company, ended up in TNA. Among his most notable moments in wrestling include being a part of T&A along with Trish Stratus and Albert, having an on-screen relationship with Stephanie McMahon, and being a member of The Un-Americans with Lance Storm and Christian. His death was ruled an accidental overdose of pain medication. Neighbors called police after they saw a body lying motionless and when police arrived, they found him dead on his balcony.
18 Crash Holly, 32
One of the funniest angles from the late 1990s and early 2000s was Crash Holly, who was playing the role of Hardcore Holly’s cousin. One never knew what kind of trouble Crash (real name Michael Lockwood) would get into and when he became the Hardcore Champion, he announced that he would defend the title 24-7. This storyline led to some of the best segments on the show each week, with matches occurring in hotels, airports, and just about anywhere else he would visit. In 2003, he died of an apparent suicide in the home of Stevie Richards after ingesting full bottles of prescription medication with alcohol.
17 Kerry Von Erich, 33
The famed Von Erich family has one of the greatest lineages in professional wrestling history. The family has featured several champions, but they have also been the family that has been forced to deal with the most tragedy. Among the tragedies they would suffer from would be the suicide of Kerry Von Erich in the ranch owned by his father. Von Erich (real name Kerry Adkisson) was just 33 when he shot himself in the heart. His suicide came after being arrested a second time, which likely would have resulted in jail time.
16 David Von Erich, 25
David Von Erich’s death was the first in the long history of tragedies for the Von Erich family. Von Erich (real name David Adkisson) was wrestling in Japan with New Japan Pro Wrestling when he was found dead in his hotel room. The details surrounding his death aren’t fully known, as the family has openly stated that it was because of a heart attack, while wrestling legend Ric Flair wrote in his autobiography that Bruiser Brody had removed the evidence of a illegal substance overdose. Regardless of how he died, it was a tragic day in the wrestling world that saw one of its brightest stars
15 Mike Awesome, 42
When Mike Awesome (real name Michael Alfonso) was competing in Japan, he quickly gained the reputation for being a hell-raiser that always put on memorable matches. Not many men his size were as athletic as the former ECW World Heavyweight Champion. When Awesome came to America to join Extreme Championship Wrestling, he quickly became a fan favorite, but when Awesome signed a contract to join World Championship Wrestling, while he was still the ECW champion, the fans turned on him and his promising career in the States was doomed. He would become “The Fat Chick Thrilla,” which fit with the times of terrible booking in WCW. In early 2007, Awesome hanged himself in his home in Tampa, Florida.
14 Umaga, 36
One of the biggest families in wrestling is the Anoa'i family, that also features superstars like the Wild Samoans, Yokozuna, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Edward Fatu, Jr. competed in World Wrestling Entertainment under different names, though his most popular character was Umaga. He would win the WWE Intercontinental title twice during his time in the WWE and pursued the WWE Championship, held by John Cena at the time. Umaga died in 2009 after being rushed to the hospital with an apparent heart attack. The medical examiner would determine that he passed away due to “acute toxicity due to combined effects of hydrocodone, carisoprodol, and diazepam.”
13 Bam Bam Bigelow, 45
Mike Awesome wasn’t the only big-man that could do miraculous things inside a wrestling ring. Bam Bam Bigelow (real name Scott Bigelow) did everything Awesome did, plus some. Bigelow is most popular with casual fans for losing to Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI, but he did more than just lose to a football player. He was one of the biggest stars in the history of Extreme Championship Wrestling as a member of Triple Threat with 'The Franchise' Shane Douglas, and another member of this list, Chris Candido. He was also the ECW Heavyweight Champion and ECW Television Champion. He was found dead in 2007 as a result of cardiovascular disease, which was aided by dangerous amounts of illegal substances and anti-anxiety medication.
12 Yokozuna, 34
The former WWE champion was larger than life. A member of the famed Anoa'i family, Yokozuna (Rodney Anoaʻi) actually won the sport’s greatest prize twice, first beating Bret Hart and then Hulk Hogan. He was 6’4” and weighed over 580 pounds, which would normally make for a boring match, but he was able to hold his own and took part in many memorable feuds, both as a solo superstar and in a tag team with another man on this list, Owen Hart. He passed away in 2000 as a result of fluid in his lungs.
11 Miss Elizabeth, 42
Miss Elizabeth (real name Elizabeth Hulette) was one of the pioneers for females in the wrestling business. She didn’t get her hands dirty in the ring often, but she was the top valet for quite a while. From her on-air relationship with the Macho Man at the start of her career to her run in World Championship Wrestling towards the end of her career, she always had a certain class about her that the other females didn’t have. Unfortunately, she passed away in 2003 at her and Lex Luger’s home. Autopsy report showed that she passed away due to an alcohol and prescription drug overdose.
10 Hawk, 46
A member of The Legion of Doom, Road Warrior Hawk (real name Michael Hegstrand) was found dead in the early morning hours after having a heart attack in 2003. During his life, Hawk fought through his demons and World Wrestling Entertainment even turned his real-life troubles into a storyline. Among the memorable moments from that angle included Hawk “falling” from the top of the Titan Tron. Alongside Road Warrior Animal, the Legion of Doom were arguably the greatest tag team in the history of the sport and were inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
9 ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, 40
During his career, Rick Rude (real name Richard Rood) made it easy to like a heel character. With a great physique and incredible in-ring talent, Rude became a star in the wrestling business with relative ease. He is the only wrestler to ever be able to say they appeared on programming for World Championship Wrestling, World Wrestling Entertainment, and Extreme Championship Wrestling in the same week. In 1999, he was found dead after his heart failed, which was attributed to an overdose from mixed medications.
8 Eddie Gilbert, 33
“Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert (real name Thomas Gilbert, Jr.) was one of the most talented performers in the history of professional wrestling. He competed in World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment, but passed away due to a heart attack. His father blames a car accident for the damage to his heart, while Gilbert also allegedly took many painkillers in his life. Again, regardless of the circumstances, he was just another performer that died too soon.
7 Mr. Perfect, 44
Mr. Perfect (real name Curt Hennig) was one of the best athletes to ever compete in the wrestling business. He is most remembered for his vignettes in the early 1990s that saw him play football, basketball, and golf, among other things, and be “perfect” at it. He never reached the world championship in his career, but he still had a solid run in World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment. He passed away in a Florida hotel room as a result of overuse of illegal substances. His son, Joe, who uses the ring name of Curtis Axel, won the Intercontinental Championship, making them the only father-and-son duo to hold that belt.
6 British Bulldog, 39
Known for his incredible physique and in-ring ability, The British Bulldog did many amazing things in the wrestling ring. When fans remember his matches, the one that is discussed first is his memorable match at the 1992 SummerSlam against his brother-in-law, Bret Hart. In front of a record-setting crown in his home country, Smith won the Intercontinental Championship in the main event. In 2002, he suffered a heart attack while on vacation. There was no official cause of death, but speculation was that anabolic steroid use played a factor.
5 Chris Candido, 33
Many fans will remember Chris Candido as Skip from the Bodydonnas. That terrible gimmick saw Candido (real name Chris Candito) even lose to the lifetime jobber, Barry Horowitz. When Candido and Sunny, or Tammy Lynn Sytch, left for Extreme Championship Wrestling, his career began to take off. Along with 'The Franchise' Shane Douglas and Bam Bam Bigelow, they formed The Triple Threat. In 2005, Candido suffered a broken tibia and fibula while wrestling in Total Nonstop Action and unexpectedly died from a blood clot due to complications from the surgery.
4 Andre the Giant, 46
When Andre the Giant (real name André Roussimoff) passed away in 1993, it was the end of a legendary life. Andre did it all in the WWE, winning both the WWE Championship and WWE Tag Team Title. His most famous feud came against Hulk Hogan and culminated in Hogan bodyslamming Andre at WrestleMania III. Andre, who was born in France, was visiting his home country to attend the funeral of his father. One night, in a hotel room, he passed away due to congestive heart failure. Following his death, he was immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame as the sole inductee in 1993.
3 Brian Pillman, 35
Brian Pillman was also known as The Loose Cannon. He lived up to this name every time he grabbed the microphone and got in front of a camera. The former professional football player entered the wrestling business and started to gain popularity as a member of the Hollywood Blonds with Steve Austin. He then became a popular singles performer and is remembered for his feud with Austin and his run in Extreme Championship Wrestling where he was able to do whatever he wanted to do. Pillman was found dead in his hotel room in 1997 on the morning he was supposed to wrestle Dude Love at Badd Blood: In Your House. Autopsy reports showed that Pillman died because of an undetected heart condition called arteriosclerotic heart disease.
2 Owen Hart, 34
The most memorable death in the professional wrestling business was that of Owen Hart. Competing as The Blue Blazer, Hart was set to make a memorable entrance into the ring at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City where he would propel down from the rafters. His harness broke and Hart fell to his death. According to reports, he was supposed to win the Intercontinental Championship that night from The Godfather, but instead, the wrestling business was mourning one of their brightest stars.
1 Eddie Guerrero, 38
The top wrestler that died too soon was “Latino Heat” Eddie Guerrero. Part of the famed Guerrero wrestling family, Eddie fought his demons throughout his professional career and had turned his life around at the time of his death. Guerrero passed away in November 2005 in a hotel room. Autopsy reports showed that Guerrero passed away because of heart failure, which his wife ,Vicki, attributed to his past abuse of illegal substances and alcohol. On the day his body was found, it was rumored that Guerrero was set to win the World Heavyweight Championship from his good friend, Batista.