The WWE has produced multiple megastars - “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, even John Cena - Who have ascended to major success both inside and outside of the ring. Movies, music, television - these wrestlers have made an impact on pop culture at large. But even if a wrestler don’t headline WrestleMania, and are just a solid worker that Vince McMahon likes, you’re likely made for life.
After their career inside the “squared circle” is through, many wrestlers simply transition into a backstage role, becoming agents or talent coordinators. There’s also the “Legends” program, where the WWE continues to pay retired wrestlers a certain stipend for promoted appearances and the use of their likenesses in their material. Mark Henry didn’t appear in-ring much throughout 2017, and was popularly assumed retired. In fact, he just signed an “Ambassador” contract, which means he will continue to appear as a public representative for the WWE.
Unfortunately, this lucrative ending is not in the cards for every wrestler. Today we’re going to be talking about some wrestlers who have had less financial success in their careers. Although they may have once experienced great popularity within the ring, their personal lives have taken a downturn. Whether it is due to drug addiction, alcoholism, or simply tragedy; these wrestlers have (for the most part) not seen the highs that so many others have seen in their twilight years. While many have gotten help and appear to be on the mend, some still struggle to this very day.
15 The Dynamite Kid
Thomas Billington, aka “The Dynamite Kid,” was seen as one of the most influential wrestlers of the 70s and early 80s, teaming with Davey Boy Smith to form the tag team The British Bulldogs. His innovative style made him inspire wrestlers such as Chris Benoit and Jay Lethal, who adopted a skillset similar to Billington.
Billington had a reputation for working injured and working stiff, notoriously coming to a tag team match against the Hart Foundation while still recovering from back surgery, and not being able to even walk on his own. Billington was equally fiery backstage, and made few friends with his aggressive attitude. In 1997, the constant toll on his body added up and he lost the use of his leg, confining him to a wheelchair. In 2013, Billington suffered a stroke, and in 2015 he decided to sue the WWE for concussion-based injuries.
14 Lex Luger
In the 90s, everyone wanted “The Total Package” Lex Luger. Gifted with an Adonis-like physique, Luger was essentially the ideal wrestler for wrestling promoters everywhere (actual technical wrestling skill notwithstanding). Luger became a top babyface in both companies, defeating Yokozuna and battling against the original iteration of the nWo.
Although he appeared onscreen as a babyface, Luger battled his personal demons throughout his heyday. Luger had issues with multiple addictions and after his semi-retirement in 2003, these problems came to light. Luger was charged with a misdemeanour battery charge after his girlfriend, Miss Elizabeth, was found with multiple injuries in their home. A couple days later, Luger was arrested after he rear-ended another vehicle and was found to be under the influence. In 2007, a neck injury temporarily paralyzed Luger, who cannot walk unassisted to this day. Luger has since become a born-again Christian, and lives a much simpler life.
13 Marty Jannetty
Along with Shawn Michaels, Jannetty was one half of the coolest late-80s/early 90s WWF tag team, The Rockers. Unfortunately for Jannetty though, Vince McMahon saw Michaels as the company’s new star, and dramatically broke up The Rockers in 1992.
Jannetty was sent off to a middling solo career, and was gone from the company by March. Maybe this was punishment for the Chuck Austin incident, wherein Jannetty performed a patented “Rocker Drop” on Austin at a house show. Austin didn’t take the move correctly, which instantly paralyzed him from the neck down. He sued The Rockers and the WWE, and eventually was paid $26.7 MILLION dollars from the company. Jannetty has since wrestled for various indie promotions, but is probably best-known recently for a curious Facebook post which implied he wanted to get with his own daughter.
The 1-2-3 Kid, Syxx, X-Pac - Whatever you call him, you know Sean Waltman was a staple of professional wrestling throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Even throughout his heyday, Waltman dealt with addiction issues, which he claims stemmed from traumatic experiences he had as a child.
After being released by the WWE in 2003, Waltman continued to descend into his addictions. He joined TNA for a time, performing as Syxx-Pac. He was brought back to the WWE in 2011, and has made sporadic appearances since then, oftentimes with his Kliq brethren. In 2013, he had major surgery due to a botched Bronco Buster, and in April of 2017 he was arrested in an airport for possession, charges he vehemently denied. Waltman is currently signed to a WWE “Legends” contract, and hosts a popular wrestling podcast, so hopefully things are on the mend for this once-fantastic performer.
Kamala worked in Jerry Lawler’s Memphis territory before being brought into the WWE during the 80s to be the latest monster in a string of big men that were meant to be defeated by Hulk Hogan. He feuded with Hogan, the Undertaker, and Jake “The Snake” Roberts (where it was revealed that Kamala’s one fear was, unsurprisingly, snakes).
This imposing, painted warrior jumped around from promotion to promotion until he had his last match at an indie show in 2010. A diabetic since the 90s, Harris’s left leg was amputated in 2011, with his right leg amputated the next year. He set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for the medical costs. In late 2017, Harris was put on life-support after an emergency surgery to remove fluid from his heart and lungs. While he is now able to breathe on his own, he remains in intensive care.
10 Justin Credible
Peter Polaco, initially floundered around the mid-card of the WWF as Aldo Montoya for many years before joining ECW in 1997. There, at the instruction of Paul Heyman, he adopted an attitude and became the celebrated “Justin Credible". The last match ever in the original ECW promotion was Justin Credible versus Sandman.
Polaco mainly appears at indy shows now, and was the subject of a viral video in December 2017. That video showed him intoxicated in the ring and shouting angrily at the crowd while being completely unable to work. Polaco immediately apologized to the promotion on social media, and revealed that he has struggled for the past fifteen years with prescription medicine addiction to help satiate the long-term buildup of the injuries he sustained in ECW. Polaco then announced his intentions to start working with Diamond Dallas Page, who has helped many other wrestlers on this list.
9 Scott Hall
In the 90s, there’s not a cooler guy in wrestling than Scott Hall. With an intimidating frame, Hall left his mark on WWF and WCW. But from the very beginning, he was plagued with the memories of taking a man's life outside of a nightclub. Despite his success in-ring and the high paycheques he was bringing in throughout his career, Hall reportedly spent much of it on drinking.
After being brought back into the WWE after it bought WCW, Hall was let go after having a few too many and becoming a public nuisance on a plane ride. In 2013, Hall moved in with Diamond Dallas Page to begin sober living. Page had to fundraise over $100,000 dollars to pay for hip replacement surgery for Hall. Since then, Hall has admitted to multiple missteps on his track to sober living.
8 Joey Mercury
Joey Mercury, real name Adam Birch, was brought into the WWE in 2004, where he was joined by Johnny Nitro and manager Melina to form the tag team MNM. Throughout the mid-2000’s they racked up wins, eventually becoming 3-time Tag Team Champions. But Mercury was also a long-time substance abuser.
He received an unprotected ladder shot to the face, breaking numerous bones and forcing him to receive thirty stitches, and regrettably, leading to an addiction to prescription pain medication. It wasn’t until personal intervention from Vince McMahon himself that Mercury left again, intent on getting clean. After bouncing around various indy promotions, Mercury found support in the form of CM Punk, who introduced him to the straight edge way of living. Punk even bought Mercury’s house when it was being foreclosed on to save Mercury from homelessness.
7 Perry Saturn
Perry Saturn racked up impressive runs in ECW, WCW, and the WWF throughout the 90's and early 2000's. His compact frame, tattooed body, and hard-hitting move-set set him apart from the cruiser-weights and high-flyers.
The course of Saturn's life changed in April 2004, when he happened upon two men attacking a woman. He fought off the two men, but in the process was shot in the neck and the shoulder. To deal with the shooting, Saturn develops addictions that led to him becoming losing everything around him, including his home. Saturn lived on the streets for many years, with not even close friends and family members aware of his whereabouts. He has set up a GoFundMe page for help paying his numerous medical bills, and a film crew is raising money to make a documentary about Saturn's life and career, entitled "The Rings of Saturn."
Tammy Lynn Sytch, more commonly known as “Sunny,” made an absolutely spectacular impression when she entered the company in 1995. A long time wrestling fan who teamed with her boyfriend Chris Candido to form the “fitness freaks” team The Bodydonnas, Sunny paired her exceptional skills on the mic with her good looks to become the driving force of the tag team division for much of the mid-90s.
Sunny had problems from day one though, and was considered a problem backstage. She had attitude, and allegedly had affairs with multiple high-profile wrestlers at the time, oftentimes in exchange for pain medication, which she was addicted to. Since then, she has been arrested multiple times for disorderly conduct, burglary, and driving under the influence. Sytch currently uses her infamy to continue to make money from fans online and through intimate autograph sessions.
5 Abdullah The Butcher
An early adapter of the hardcore style, Abdullah the Butcher (real name Lawrence Shreve) matches always promised one thing - blood, and lots of it. With his patented fork trick and trademark head scars from excessive blading, Abdullah made his way through the territories and around the world for over forty years, cutting anyone who entered the ring with him.
Alas, that proved to be an issue for Abdullah in 2014, when a Canadian wrestler named Devon Nicholson sued Abdullah, claiming he bladed him without his consent in the ring, and infected him with hepatitis C. The courts sided with Nicholson, and Abdullah was forced to pay Nicholson $2.3 million dollars in damages. Since the court case, Abdullah's appearances have dried up, with most promotions reticent to work with someone so dangerous and careless with others.
4 Luna Vachon
An adopted member of the Vachon wrestling family, Luna wanted to follow in the footsteps of her step-father, Paul "The Butcher," and uncle, Maurice the "Mad Dog." Because of her talents and original look, Luna worked with the WWE on-and-off for many years, oftentimes in a managerial role.
In 2007, Luna announced her retirement from wrestling and took up tow-truck driving, and had also been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. In December 2009, Luna's house burned down, destroying all her possessions and wrestling memorabilia. She moved back in with her parents. Mick Foley took up the charge, and tried to raise money for Luna and buy many of the things she had lost in the fire, going so far as to offer Luna a manager role in TNA. Luna refused, insisting she was retired. Less than a year later, she passed away from an overdose. She was only 48.
3 Jake "The Snake" Roberts
A list of wrestlers that have gone broke due to personal issues would be remiss if it didn't include Jake Roberts. Jake Roberts innovated wrestling, with a soft-spoken promo style, and one of the best finishers of all time, the DDT. It also didn't hurt that he brought gigantic snakes into the ring with him and scared all the massive heels.This culminated in Jake's appearance on the failed "Heroes of Wrestling" PPV, where a completely intoxicated and out-of-shape Jake cuts a confusing, slurred promo before entering the ring with one of his snakes.
Jake went on to be the main influence on Mickey Rourke's character in the 2008 film "The Wrestler." Most assumed Jake a lost cause, before he joined with DDP in 2012 to begin sober living. During this time, DDP has crowdfunded various operations for Jake, including shoulder surgery and cancer treatments.
Virgil seemed like the most made man in wrestling during the 80's and 90's - He was Ted DiBiase's right-hand manservant, and even a member of the nWo during it's height in 1997 - without ever doing much wrestling. He brought in a consistent paycheque for the better part of 15 years, even showing up in the WWE for a storyline with Ted DiBiase Jr. in 2010, which makes Virgil's current status all the more confusing.
Virgil is known for his frequent wrestling and comic book convention appearances, where he overcharges for simple autographs ($20?!) and recounts stories that may not be true. Fans have recounted odd and uncomfortable encounters with him, and pictures of Virgil alone at his convention tables have led to the "Lonely Virgil" meme. Stories of Virgil appearing at grand openings, flea markets, and subway stations have popped up online.
1 Ric Flair
Sometimes it's hard to tell where the "Limousine riding, jet flyin', diamond-ring wearing" character of Ric Flair ends and the man begins, but a look at the actual Flair's finances and legal issues give us a glimpse into the disparity between how he presents himself on screen and who he really is.
Flair has had issues with the IRS (the real one, not the WWF wrestler) for most of his career, and has been on the hook for hundreds of thousands in back taxes to the state of North Carolina. This also doesn't count the various arrests he's had, as well as as filing for bankruptcy in 2008. He also recently had a serious health scare that could have been the end. Riding the wave of "Naitch" nostalgia, Flair can hopefully bring himself back into the green again. WOO!