If there is one thing that gives professional wrestling a black eye, it is the number of professional wrestlers who died way too young. While things look to be improving, at one time there was rampant drug use, both recreational and pain killers, as well as partying done every night while touring. It took its toll on many wrestler's bodies and minds.
While there are many wrestlers who died young like Eddie Guerrero (38) and Ravishing Rick Rude (40), there are other tragic stories of wrestlers dying before they ever reached their 35th birthday, with a handful of stars dying before they turned 30. Here is a look at some of the biggest names in professional wrestling, WWE and otherwise, who died before they turned 35.
The most tragic story in professional wrestling is that of the Von Erich family. Fritz Von Erich was a star who pushed his sons into the wrestling business and at least two of them looked to be future world champions. David Von Erich was the best of them all but died in Japan at the age of 25.
Kerry Von Erich was moved into David's spot and actually won the world title from Ric Flair at a show in his brother's memory. Kerry died at the age of 33 when he took his own life. Two other brothers, neither of which were prepared to be wrestling stars, took their lives as well with Mike Von Erich (23) in 1987 and Chris Von Erich (21) in 1991. Kevin Von Erich is the only brother still alive.
In the '80s, there was a fantastic heel who looked like he was going to be a monster star. He was exactly what WWE was looking for years later, but at the time he was working in the territories, mostly becoming a star in World Class Championship Wrestling. "The Handsome Half-Breed" Gino Hernandez was an arrogant heel that shot to the top of the rankings in Texas.
He worked in a tag team in Southwest Championship Wrestling called the Dynamic Duo with Tully Blanchard and then later reformed the tag team with Chris Adams in World Class. The two were in a very hot feud with the Von Erich boys in 1985 and then Gino began to feud with Adams to open 1986 before he died of a drug overdose at the age of 28.
Lance Cade was trained to be a professional wrestler by Shawn Michaels and started working in Japan before he made his way to WWE. Most fans know him from his tag team on the main roster in 2005 with Trevor Murdoch where they portrayed rednecks -- Cade the smooth talker while Murdoch was patterned on the legendary Dick Murdoch.
The two won tag team titles in WWE three times while working their gimmick. The WWE released Cade in 2008. Two years later, Cade died from what reports indicate was a "mixed drug intoxication" that interacted harshly with a case of heart disease Cade contracted known as cardiomyopathy. Cade was 29.
Bob Holly had worked his way up from a comedy gimmick as Spark Plug to a hardcore brawler known as Hardcore Holly. In 1999, WWE brought up a developmental wrestler named Michael Lockwood and gave him the name Crash Holly, the fictional cousin of Hardcore Holly. Adding in another fictional relative named Molly Holly, a new family faction was born.
Crash Holly was a 22-time Hardcore champion in the era where the title could change hands anytime, anywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He also held the European title, Light Heavyweight title, and tag titles with Hardcore Holly. He took his own life in 2003 at the age of 32.
Chris Candido was a former WWE star who experienced a number of problems in his life, including struggling with drug addiction but cleaned up his life only to die due to complications following surgery. Candido was extremely successful, holding titles in WCW, WWE, ECW, and he was even the NWA world champion.
Candido was also married to former WWE Diva Sunny and the two of them worked together in various wrestling promotions. However, while working for TNA Impact Wrestling, Candido fractured his tibia and fibula and required surgery. He had the surgery but then fell ill three days later and died due to a blood clot that developed during the surgery. Candido was 33.
Adrian Adonis had an interesting career as a professional wrestler. In the AWA and early in his WWE career, Adonis was a rough, take-no-nonsense biker wrestler who wore leather and brawled with the best of them. However, WWE wanted to give him a new gimmick and they made him Adorable Adrian Adonis, had him wear pink, dye his hair blonde and wear tacky makeup.
He soon ballooned in weight to 350 pounds and shaved all his body hair to look soft, round and flabby. With WWE's fanbase at the time, he easily became a hated heel due to his look and actions. Sadly, Adonis was in a minivan headed to a show in Newfoundland when the driver swerved to avoid hitting a moose and the van fell into a creek, with Adonis dying at the age of 34.
Hot Stuff Eddie Gilbert was one of the hottest wrestlers in the territories in the '80s. He was not only a great wrestler, but he had a great mind for the business, worked as a manager and even started booking towards the end of his life, writing the storylines for Mid South Wrestling at one point.
Gilbert worked early in his career for WWE but then became a star in his feud with Jerry "The King" Lawler in Mid-Southern Wrestling, was a hated heel in Mid South where he introduced the world to the men who would become Sting and The Ultimate Warrior and even worked for a short time in ECW. Eddie Gilbert died in 1995 from a heart attack at the age of 33.
Fans from the Attitude Era likely remember Andrew Martin, who wrestled under the name Test. He got his start as part of The Corporation with Shane McMahon and worked as a powerhouse heel during that time. It looked like he was going to be a star when he entered into an angle with Stephanie McMahon in 1999 but Triple H entered the picture and the Test push ended as quickly as it started.
Test had a small angle later in the tag team T&A with Prince Albert, but that was mostly to introduce the world to the team's manager and new WWE superstar Trish Stratus. Later, Test worked with Stacy Keibler but a neck injury ended his WWE career in 2004. He retired completely in 2007 and then died in 2009 from a reported drug overdose at the age of 33.
While most deaths of young people are tragic, the death of Owen Hart seems even more senseless. At one point, Owen looked like he could be a major star in WWE with his brother Bret Hart as part of the Hart Foundation. However, after Bret left WWE, Owen drifted along and ended up in the Nation of Domination for a short time.
Then, WWE made him a superhero called the Blue Blazer, put him in a costume and had him wear a mask. At Over the Edge 1999, Hart was supposed to wrestle against The Godfather and WWE lowered him to the ring in a harness from the ceiling. The stunt went bad, Hart fell 78 feet to the ring and died. Owen Hart was 34.
Brian Pillman came to WWE after a strong career in WCW where he morphed from a high flying cruiserweight into a heel that blurred the lines between reality and fiction. His work with the Four Horsemen and then his crazy tenure in ECW set the table for his entrance to WWE.
Attitude Era fans remember well the angle where Stone Cold Steve Austin invaded Brian Pillman's home and Pillman aimed a gun at Austin in self-defense. It was the type of angle that the Attitude Era was known for. Sadly, Brian Pillman's life ended due to the same heart disease that took the life of his father. Pillman was 35.