The world of professional wrestling has never been a place of sunshine, rainbows and lollipops. Many people come out of the business broken, both physically and mentally. There are stories of some having developed drug abuse problems, addictions to alcohol and those who have made other negative choices in their personal lives. It can be hard for many of them to transition to another career after years of touring around the world with hundreds of shows per year, experiencing about ten times more bumps and bruises than actual matches.
There has been a focus placed on professional wrestling as many former superstars from the past have struggled outside the ring. Many of them try to survive by taking a fraction of what they made in the past on the independent circuit. Their post-wrestling lives can often involve different substances that consume their lives before they fall apart and become yet another example of big stars falling into darkness.
The following are the top 20 superstars who left the spotlight of professional wrestling and fell into some type of lifestyle that led their lives to fall into disarray. Only a few have ever come out stronger, but most of them were unable to rebuild and reclaim what they had lost.
Maybe Virgil didn’t have some of the drug problems that others on the list have had, but he’s definitely fallen from grace after his days in professional wrestling ended. He was best known as being a hired talent under “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in the World Wrestling Federation and then as a lesser-known Vincent of the New World Order in World Championship Wrestling.
Since then, he’s struggled to attract lines at various conventions and he’s even been seen selling autographs in subway stations. He was even featured on one of the more popular internet memes, with a table set up and an empty line. Apparently, there’s not a big demand for meeting the guy who once carried the Million Dollar Championship. Virgil has even tried to start an online fundraising campaign to help him become a real “million dollar man.”
Unfortunately, the GoFundMe page only raised close to $1,200. The signs are pointing towards Virgil having a financial fall after leaving WWE and WCW.
19 Chris Kanyon
Known best for his time competing in WCW during the 1990s, Chris Kanyon had the catchphrase asking people “Who Better than Kanyon?” But after WWE bought WCW, he would make a failed transition to the WWE and spent a few years between TNA and the independent circuit before retiring from professional wrestling in 2007. Kanyon would then announce he was gay and initially claimed that was the reason he was released from WWE, a statement he later retracted.
Kanyon’s post wrestling career was filled with depression and he was battling with bipolar disorder with regular threats about suicide in early 2010. He even admitted to have attempted suicide in 2003 while doing an interview on CNN about the Chris Benoit scandal. Unfortunately, Kanyon was successful in a second attempt in April 2010 when his brother found him dead of an apparent overdose of prescribed antidepressants. He had apparently made comments the week before he took his life. He also left an apology letter to his family that was also found near his body.
18 Matt Osborne (Doink)
While he was semi-retired, Matt Osborne apparently had a lot of demons during his time on the independent wrestling circuit between 1994 and 2013. The name might not ring a bell for many fans, but he’s best known for portraying Doink the Clown in the WWE back in the 1990s before going to a much darker version of the character in ECW and then beyond. But Osborne apparently had developed addictions to multiple substances that led to declining health as he continued to be on a limited, semi-retired schedule.
Osborne was found dead at 56 in his apartment in June 2013 and investigations would find that he accidentally overdosed on a combination of morphine and hydrocodone. It also didn’t help that he was dealing with heart troubles at the time. His family would later sue the WWE for the brain trauma he suffered during his career having an impact in his declining health that led to his death.
17 Giant Gonzalez
While he was definitely a tall man, Jorge Gonzalez – who portrayed “El Gigante” in WCW and the “Giant Gonzalez” in WWE during the 1990s – was not able to perform well in the squared circle. The Argentinian giant was certainly worth trying out considering he was standing at about 7-foot-7, which made him one of the biggest in the history of both professional wrestling and professional basketball. But he had to retire shortly after working in Japan in 1995 due to increasing health problems.
The years after competing in a wrestling ring were hard on Gonzalez, who struggled with diabetes and other heart problems. He would spend the last 10 years of his life confined to a wheelchair and on constant dialysis before passing away at age 44. He and his family were taken care of by the Argentina Basketball Federation during his final years, which was definitely needed since he wasn’t able to work in athletics or acting.
16 Sean O’Haire
At one point, the WWE looked like they were going to give a huge push to Sean O’Haire with a gimmick that he was just telling you “what you already know.” But his career fizzled out in 2004 with WWE, even with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper helping him as a manager. After stops in Japan and with a number of independent promotions, O’Haire would continue on to mixed martial arts, where he struggled again.
There were a number of legal problems that included assault and battery after he choked his then-girlfriend in 2009. But he dealt with addiction to alcohol and suffered from depression in the later years of life that eventually led to his suicide in September 2014. His father found him hanging in his South Carolina home. Sadly, after his death, there were a number of reports that he had went into rehabilitation, sponsored by the WWE, on multiple occasions.
15 Perry Saturn
There was a period of time between 2004 and 2009 when no one knew where Perry Saturn was until he finally wrestled for the first time since his 2004 retirement during a show in Virginia in 2011. But what happened after he was last seen working for New Japan Pro Wrestling in 2004? In April 2004, he was injured from an effort to stop a rape attempt that involved being shot in the back of his neck and shoulder.
Saturn would reveal in an interview with John Pollock that he had developed a drug addiction that eventually escalated to the use of methamphetamines. He would disappear into the homeless community for nearly three years before finally going into rehabilitation. After a few admitted relapses, Saturn was able to make a change for the better. But it was quite the fall from grace for a moderately successful superstar with time spent in ECW, WCW and WWE.
Kamala was one of the more unique characters in professional wrestling history, known best for his time in the WWE. Billed from Uganda, he was considered a savage beast who legitimately scared younger wrestling fans back in the 1980s and 1990s. He looked like he came straight from Uganda as he came to the ring in a loin cloth, the body paint and a tribal mask. But after his time in professional wrestling, James Harris has had a number of medical problems.
His constant struggles with high blood pressure and diabetes led to not only his left leg being amputated in November 2011, but also his right leg about five months later. Harris has since tried to make a living by selling wooden chairs he makes by hand and through disability checks he receives. Harris’ name has recently made the news as he is part of the class action lawsuit against WWE by former employees claiming the company knowingly withheld the risks of brain injuries from wrestlers.
13 Tammy Lynn Sytch
Tammy Stych has had one of the more unique runs in the world of professional wrestling that started with the height of her popularity in the 1990s as Sunny in the WWE. She would also work for both ECW and WCW in her career before picking up various jobs on the independent circuit since 2000. But she has had a number of personal problems that have included five arrests in a four-week span back in 2012.
Sytch has since struggled to obviously keep out of trouble outside of the wrestling world. This includes a recent guilty plea for driving with a suspended license after having been charged multiple times with driving under the influence in 2015. One of those charges included her reportedly having up to a dozen bottles of beer in her car, with one of them open. She apparently has some financial problems too, as she had signed a deal to shoot an adult film with Vivid Entertainment.
12 Bam Bam Bigelow
One of the best big men in the world of professional wrestling was definitely a force to be reckoned with in the 1980s and 1990s between various U.S. promotions that included the WWE and WCW. He was even making decent money in his final years with the independent circuit until 2006, but he had a number of issues that led to him leaving the wrestling ring, including a motorcycle accident that sent him 50 feet forward and caused severe injuries all over his body.
After a failed diner and other ventures having gone wrong, Bigelow would disappear to Florida in 2004. He had problems with his back, as well as heart and cardiovascular diseases. At age 45, he was found dead in his home with an autopsy finding several drugs in his body, including high levels of cocaine. Mike Mooneyham included him as part of a large article about how many wrestlers and former superstars die younger than normal.
11 Luna Vachon
Luna Vachon definitely stood out within women’s wrestling between her time in WWE and WCW during the 1990s and into 2000. There was even a stretch where she was partnered with Goldust and even had a singles match with Goldberg. Her career took her throughout the world on the independent circuit for various promotions before she retired from in-ring action in 2007.
Only months after she was honored by the Cauliflower Alley Club, her house was destroyed in a fire that destroyed all of her possessions and forced her to move in with her mother. Many members of the wrestling community wanted to bring her back to help her with her situation, but she declined a chance to manage Tommy Dreamer in TNA. Almost a year later, she was found dead by her mom in August 2010 with the autopsy showing she overdosed on oxycodone and benzodiazepine. These were substances she was addicted to and for which she received rehabilitation thanks to WWE’s program in 2009.
10 Dynamite Kid
Formerly a part of a WWE Tag Team Championship team with Davey Boy Smith, Tom Billington wrestled as the Dynamite Kid. He was one of the more popular wrestling superstars in the 1980s. But his career struggled near the 1990s when his body was starting to fail due to the steroid and drug use, leading to his body looking almost like a skeleton while wrestling in Japan. He would suffer from a seizure that eventually led to the end of his career in 1996.
His current condition eventually made him unable to walk and led to him living in public housing in England. He blames wrestling for his current physical condition and made statements against companies like WWE during a 2007 interview with CNN as part of the coverage of the industry after the murder-suicide of Chris Benoit. One could probably link the recent changes to WWE’s Talent Wellness Program to not only the Benoit incident, but former wrestlers like Billington who has been public about his past.
9 The Von Erichs (Kerry, Mike and Chris)
It is a violation of the natural order whenever parents have to bury their children, but Fritz Von Erich unfortunately saw five of his six children pass away in his lifetime. Three of them – Kerry, Mike and Chris – all died through suicide. The first of the three brothers to commit suicide was Mike Von Erich in April 1987, after having dealt with a number of injuries and a car accident that led to him developing severe depression. He would be found dead with a suicide note after apparently overdosing on sleeping pills.
Four years later, Chris Von Erich died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after years of drug addiction and depression following Mike’s suicide. Kerry would also go down a similar road with a statement that his brothers were calling him; he would shoot himself in 1993. One could only imagine how hard life was for their father Fritz, who would pass away at age 68 after battling cancer.
8 Lex Luger
There are many who believe that Lex Luger’s drug abuse was a big factor in the death of former wrestling valet Miss Elizabeth. It was part of a sad post-wrestling life for someone who was a champion bodybuilder and former world champion in WCW and WWE. The “Total Package” once had it all as a very successful wrestler, but had a history with heavy steroid use and alcoholic tendencies. Before the investigation of Elizabeth’s death, he was arrested for driving under the influence and even having a handgun in the vehicle.
But things became worse for Luger as there was a period of time where he was temporarily paralyzed after a nerve impingement in 2007. For years, he struggled to work his way to walking again but was finally able to walk more regularly, and even begin driving again, in 2010. It was quite the fall from having been a six-foot-four, 270-pound powerhouse in wrestling with an annual salary worth millions of dollars.
Wrestling fans who grew up during the Attitude Era can recall Chyna being one of the most influential women at the time, with an impressive career that included winning the Intercontinental Championship from Jeff Jarrett. But long after her time of being the “Ninth Wonder of the World” in WWE, she had a bumpy road in her personal life that included a very well-documented, abusive relationship with Sean “X-Pac” Waltman and a career in adult films.
During a 2008 interview with Steve Gerweck, she talked about having a difficult life filled with substance addictions. But she had received help from a number of rehabilitative efforts, some covered by WWE through a program that helps former talents. There was a point where it looked like she was heading down the right path, but she would pass away at age 46 in April of this year. Her manager made a public statement that she had misused her prescription medications that led to her suffering from an accidental overdose.
6 Jimmy Snuka
Once known for his giant leap from the top of a steel cage back in 1982 at Madison Square Garden, it is believed that Jimmy Snuka is currently in the middle of his biggest fall of his life. After having competed for just about every U.S. wrestling promotion you could imagine at the time, Snuka was involved with the mysterious murder of his former girlfriend Nancy Argentino. The former wrestling superstar is now standing trial for the 1983 cold case.
After a WWE television taping in Allentown, Pa., Snuka called for an ambulance. Paramedics found Argentino with trauma to the head believed to be caused by striking against something stationary. The case has recently been reopened as there is new evidence that makes it feel more like a homicide. Now at age 73, Snuka likely is facing new charges and could possibly spend the rest of his life in prison.
5 Ultimate Warrior
Based on popular belief, there may have been something wrong with Jim Hellwig – known better as the Ultimate Warrior who was one of the biggest stars of the WWE in the 1980s and 1990s. His issues with Vince McMahon and the company are well documented, but his retirement after a failed stint with WCW in 1998 led to an interesting post-wrestling life.
For one, Hellwig was not happy with the WWE and was involved in a number of lawsuits against the WWE over the years over the right to the “Ultimate Warrior” character. He even had his name legally changed to “Warrior” in 1993.
There was also a controversial speaking event at the University of Connecticut, where he made a number of anti-homosexual comments in 2005.
There was also a video rant wherein he called out McMahon, Hulk Hogan and others. Somehow, the hatchet was buried as he was brought back to the WWE in 2014 to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame – just days before he passed away from cardiovascular disease.
4 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
Several of today’s professional wrestlers have often cited Jake “the Snake” Roberts for being an inspiration to their characters, especially when it came to the art of the wrestling promo. However, Roberts had plenty of demons that not only affected his career in the ring, but also his personal life. There were reports in 2007 about Roberts taking the WWE up on their offer of the new drug rehabilitation program for former superstars.
His addiction hit a turning point in 2012, when he finally decided to move in with Diamond Dallas Page as a way of combating his deteriorating health. At the time, he weighed more than 300 pounds and was unable to walk without being short of breath. In less than two years, he had lost more than 50 pounds and was able to move better.
There have been some struggles with health issues like the flu and cancer found in his knee, but he doesn’t seem to have fallen back into those old drug habits since working with Page, fortunately.
3 Scott Hall
The former Razor Ramon was one-third of one of the biggest factions in professional wrestling history when Scott Hall, Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan formed the New World Order in WCW back in the 1990s. He was the bad guy in the world of wrestling for several years, but it turned out that he had that “bad guy” lifestyle well after the prime of his wrestling career. Drugs have been a big factor in his poor decisions that involved incidents while intoxicated.
The poor decisions led to several health problems that include, but are not limited to, cases of double pneumonia, epilepsy and various heart issues. ESPN did a special E:60 feature on him that showed Stephanie McMahon saying the company has spent the most money on his rehabilitation efforts over recent years. But like Jake “the Snake” Roberts, former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page invited Hall to his home back in 2013 in an effort to change his life for the better.
2 Hulk Hogan
Any wrestling fan who watched wrestling during the 1980s and 1990s can tell tales of how great the leader of Hulkamania was in the prime of his career. He was a star for both the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. His name supersedes professional wrestling and has been one of the biggest pop culture icons for multiple decades. Unfortunately, his most recent tenure with WWE ended in 2015 after reports that Hogan has went on a racially insensitive rant.
The rant apparently appeared as part of the leaked sex tape; on it, he was heard repeatedly using a negative racial slur. This has led to Hogan losing millions of dollars in merchandise, with Mattel ceasing production of his action figures and several stores taking them off the shelves. Hogan does have somewhat of a happy ending as he was awarded $115 million from suing Gawker media for their publication of the sex tape that led to all of Hogan’s recent problems.
1 Shawn Michaels
After sifting through all of the negative news stories on this list, it’s good to end on a positive note. Shawn Michaels did have a great ending to his career on his second run with the WWE. But his life definitely had some bumps in the road after his first retirement, as many fans who read his recent autobiography Wrestling for my Life would know. After suffering a serious back injury in 1998 that led to him having to step away from the world of wrestling, he revealed in his book that he had an addiction to pain-killers in an effort to numb the physical pain from having competed all around the world. Michaels said his addiction was so bad that he was taking more than 30 pills per day and was unable to recall things. always seeming to be in a mental fog.
He wrote that when his son, who was two years old at the time, made the comment “daddy’s tired,” he felt inspired to change his life. After admittedly hitting rock bottom, he would become a born-again Christian to help him put his life back in the right direction. Unlike many of the other wrestlers on this list, Michaels was able to make the right decisions to save himself.