In the constantly changing, wholly unique, and, at times, utterly bizarre WWE Universe, it’s rare for any two given sports entertainment fans finding themselves in complete agreement on the subject of wrestling. There are, however, a few facts that almost all of the audience has come to understand. Some of these things are positive, like the fact that the Attitude Era was both the most popular and financially successful time period of the company. Though not everyone liked it on a personal level, the unbeatable financial and attendance records truly say it all.
On the other hand, another fact all wrestling fans need to acclimate themselves with is the terrible trend of former pro wrestlers dying at shockingly young ages. The WWE newsletter may as well have an obituary section with how often the superstars of yesterday are meeting their demise, usually at young ages and for avoidable reasons a wrestler may or may not have contributed to.
The Attitude Era ended circa 2001, meaning more than 16 years have passed since WWE was at its peak. What this also means is that there has been more than enough time for plenty of Attitude Era stars to meet their unfortunate ends. Most wrestling fans are aware that icons like Eddie Guerrero and “Macho Man” Randy Savage are no longer with us, but some of the smaller wrestler deaths may have fallen through the cracks, shocking fans to this day with the news they’re no longer with us. To end the confusion, keep reading for 15 Attitude Era wrestlers you didn’t hear passed away.
15. Pitbull #2
Big, mean, and carrying a mountain of muscle, it could be argued that Anthony Durante, aka “Pitbull #2,” was far more deserving of the moniker than Gary Wolfe or Pitbull #1. Regardless of this fact, both fit the role perfectly during their run in ECW, where they were one of the most brutal and popular tag teams Philadelphia had ever seen. Well before going hardcore, the Pitbulls actually wrestled a few matches for WWE in the late ‘80s, but it was the undying attitude created by Paul Heyman that slowly turned them into stars. Both members of the Pitbulls earned reigns as ECW Television Champion, and together, they also reigned as ECW Tag Team Champions, earning that latter honor by defeating Raven and Stevie Richards in one of the company’s greatest wars. The Pitbulls started fading away from ECW in the late ‘90s, and for whatever reason, neither WWE nor WCW seemed at all interested. He passed away in 2003 due to a drug overdose.
14. Chris Candido
Truly a prodigious talent in the sport of pro wrestling, Chris Candido started his in-ring career at the age of 14. By the time he was 22, Candido was the youngest NWA World Champion of the modern era, although granted, this was well after the NWA started wavering in the respect category. Even so, this attention quickly earned Candido a job with WWE, where he performed as Skip of the Bodydonnas and once held the WWE Tag Team Championships. From there, Candido’s success continued in both ECW and WCW, winning those promotions’ Tag Team and Cruiserweight Championships, respectively. Next up was a stint in Total Nonstop Action, where Candido’s career unfortunately came to an end. In 2005, shortly after a steel cage match that broke his leg, Candido suddenly passed away at the age of 33. While it was initially believed his death was due to a blood clot during surgery, his brother later revealed the true cause had been pneumonia.
13. Brian Hildebrand
In the end, not everyone is cut out to be a wrestler, although this doesn’t mean they’ll avoid the wrestling industry altogether if it was their lifelong dream. This was the case with Brian Hildebrand, who was trained in all styles of pro wrestling by Dominic DeNucci, who also taught Hildebrand’s friend, Mick Foley. However, Hildebrand was also a pretty small guy at 5’6, so he decided that instead of being a wrestler, he’d serve as their referee. Hildebrand performed this role to great acclaim in WCW, ECW, and SMW, also occasionally wrestling in that last company as a Ninja Turtle parody character named “Kowabunga.” Sadly, Hildebrand was diagnosed with stomach and bowel cancer in late 1997. Though he kept working for WCW over the next year, he soon became too weak to continue working, succumbing to his disease not long after that in 1999.
12. The Wall
Near the end of WCW’s run, the company had almost entirely gone off the rails and were basically throwing the proverbial spaghetti at the ceiling and hoping something would stick. Quite randomly, this once included giving newcomer The Wall a chance at a mini-feud against the legendary Hulk Hogan, which was easily Jerry Tuite’s highest-profile moment in the business. Prior to that big moment, The Wall had entered WCW as the bodyguard to Berlyn/Alex Wright, and he also made a handful of minor ECW appearances under the name “Hell Raiser.” The program with Hogan fizzled out almost immediately, yet The Wall nonetheless stuck around Ted Turner’s dying company in prominent roles, at one point, changing his name to “Sgt. A.W.O.L.” so he could join the Misfits in Action. After WCW went out of business, Tuite again changed his name, reappearing in the newly founded NWA: TNA as “Malice” and challenging for the NWA World Championship. Before he could ever win it, though, Malice suddenly suffered a fatal heart attack in 2003.
11. Marianna Komlos
With all due respect to the deceased, some things are better left forgotten, and perhaps, it would be better not to shine a spotlight on the brief wrestling career of bodybuilder Marianna Komlos. In all fairness to the woman, though, there were many, many problems with her time in WWE, none of them necessarily her fault. Instead, the people to blame were the WWE writers, who introduced her by way of an utterly ridiculous gimmick where she was the “mother” to Beaver Cleavage, a new character portrayed by the former Headbanger Mosh. Appearing in promos filled with gross sexual innuendos, the Cleavage family was a huge bomb from day one, leading to a quick revamp where Mosh again changed his name to Chaz, and his “mother” became his girlfriend, going by her real name. Marianna then pretended Chaz beat her in another horribly tasteless and inexplicable angle. In any event, none of this changes the fact her death was tragic, having occurred in 2004 due to breast cancer.
10. Luna Vachon
For all WWE says about how the company/industry recently underwent a women’s wrestling revolution, anyone paying attention to females in the sport would be aware grapplers like Luna Vachon didn’t need a revolution to take over the world. Wild, loud, and out of control, Luna was unlike any other female grappler in history, screaming her way through violent promos and threatening to eviscerate her pretty little opponents. This was back in the early ‘90s, when she was typically one of only two or three females in WWE, so one might think her unique skills translated to some sort of championship success. Unfortunately, WWE never saw cause to reward Luna for her talents, either in the New Generation or after she resurfaced in the Attitude Era, meaner and more ready to cause pain than ever. Despite WWE ignoring her, Luna nonetheless earned many fans for her alternative style, all of whom were heartbroken to learn she had passed away in 2010 after a drug overdose.
9. Nicole Bass
And you thought Luna Vachon had a unique look… Based solely on the above picture, it should be no surprise that prior to entering the wrestling business, Nicole Bass was also a championship-winning bodybuilder. Even with a few other female weightlifters having populated their roster over time, the WWE Universe has never seen a woman as large, powerful, and domineering as Bass, though the truth is, she didn’t use any of these qualities to become a great wrestler. Despite a number of appearances in both ECW and WWE, Bass only stepped into the ring for a small handful of matches, never once challenging for the WWE Women’s Championship or any other equivalent. This could be because her time in WWE was extremely brief, appearing as Sable’s bodyguard at WrestleMania XV and then fading away from the company before 1999 was over. Bass remained in the spotlight outside of wrestling by making regular appearances on the Howard Stern radio show until she passed away due to a stroke in 2017.
8. Chris Duffy
Out of all the names on this list, Chris Duffy is probably the most obscure. Even a diehard wrestling fan may not recognize him, as he only wrestled a handful of matches for WWE under his real name and always as a jobber. Some of his much higher-profile opponents included Bret Hart, Jake Roberts, and The Undertaker, yet losing to them in under three minutes did nothing to raise his very low profile. However, there was one particularly iconic moment where Duffy played the central role, albeit under a different name: “Santa Claus.” Back in 1997, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was on an irascible tear through the authority of WWE, hitting Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Ross, and even Vince McMahon, with his vicious Stone Cold Stunner. When Jolly Old Saint Nick made an appearance on Monday Night Raw, he instantly became Austin’s next target. Sadly, that was his one chance in the spotlight, as Duffy passed away three years later after suffering a seizure.
7. The Public Enemy
Leave it to ECW to take the idea of an early death to the extreme, doubling down on this list by way of both members in a once extremely popular tag team. Prior to teaming up, neither Rocco Rock nor Johnny Grunge was able to find much success in pro wrestling, competing on the independent scene as The Cheetah Kid and Johnny Rotten, respectively. However, once Paul Heyman noticed the two had similar personalities as street toughs who were more afraid of living than dying, a minor pop-culture phenomenon was born. Before long, The Public Enemy was the most popular act in ECW by far, with fans raising the roof every time they hit the ring. This led to four reigns as ECW Tag Team Champions, plus one quick run with the WCW Tag Team gold when they jumped ship to the big leagues. Things didn’t turn out quite as great for PE during their trip to WWE, yet they forever remained ECW legends. Rocco Rock passed away of a heart attack in 2002, and Grunge followed him to the beyond in 2007 due to drug-induced sleep apnea.
Critics of pro wrestling have a whole lot of complaints about Nelson Frazier, who competed in the WWE Universe as Mabel, Viscera, and Big Daddy V, not to mention a short run as “The World’s Largest Love Machine.” However, while the haters are gonna hate, the sheer number of names Frazier used while in wrestling speaks volumes on his versatility as a performer. Let’s face it, the hip-hop, friendly grape that was Mabel in Men on a Mission was nothing like the dark, brooding Viscera or the sexualized Love Machine he later became. Hell, Mabel the tag team wrestler was significantly different from King Mabel, the main-event threat, although the fact fans didn’t want to see that second one might do a little to damage the point, so we’ll digress. Regardless of how people felt about him, Viscera was indeed a huge presence in WWE from the New Generation throughout the Attitude Era, winning the WWE Tag Team and Hardcore Championships at various points in time. Always having struggled with his weight throughout his life, Frazier passed away due to a heart attack in 2014.
5. Louie Spicolli
Quite frankly, the whole point of this list is that none of the sadly deceased wrestlers were particularly big stars, or else, more fans would be aware they passed on. That said, no one listed here came closer to becoming famous than Louie Spicolli, who met his earthly end less than a week before what could’ve been a career-making match. After making a name for himself in ECW during a great feud against Tommy Dreamer, Spicolli jumped to WCW and soon started standing out as Scott Hall’s protégé/lackey. This led to a war against commentator/defender of tradition Larry Zbyszko, whom Spicolli regularly outclassed on the microphone with his hilarious jokes and cocky personality. Before Spicolli and the future WWE Hall of Famer could square off at Souled Out 1998, though, Spicolli unfortunately relapsed to his past behavior as a drug addict and overdosed on Soma and wine.
4. The Renegade
If it isn’t clear already, we should point out that in no way are we necessarily blaming the wrestling industry for causing any of the deaths on this list. Perhaps, a lifetime of getting hit in the head with chairs could’ve contributed to some of these wrestlers’ issues, but there was really no research on how dangerous this was until recently, so no one can be blamed for promoting it. That said, if the wrestling industry is actually responsible for killing any of these people, it’s probably The Renegade.
From the very beginning, WCW was playing with Rick Wilson’s emotions in a major way, promising him bright lights and superstardom while everyone else in the world knew damn well his character was just a pale imitation of The Ultimate Warrior. Worse than that, he wasn’t even that great a wrestler, making it impossible for Wilson to stand out in the role. He did briefly win the WCW Television Championship and form a team with Hulk Hogan, but both successes were short-lived, leading the emotionally unstable Renegade to become genuinely depressed. Cutting their losses, WCW gave up and fired the guy in 1998. Three months later, he killed himself due to the depression caused by the death of his dreams.
3. Bobby Duncum, Jr.
Typically, the WWE Universe and pro wrestling, in general, go hog wild for a second generation superstar, assuming that any talent held by the father will inevitably pass down to the son. Despite this, Vince McMahon never showed any interest in Bobby Duncum, Jr., whose father, Bobby Duncum, Sr., had been a regular rival of past champions like Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund. Luckily for the junior Duncum, ECW and WCW were both at least a little bit interested, leading to short stints in both companies. While Bobby was in and out of ECW so fast he couldn’t really do anything, WCW started to give the kid a bit of a push as one of the West Texas Rednecks, alongside future WWE Hall of Famers Curt Hennig and Barry Windham. The rub didn’t do much to help his career, though, as shortly into their alliance, Duncum suffered a rotator cuff injury and was put on the sidelines. Tragically, this led to an addiction to painkillers that took Duncum, Jr.’s life in the year 2000.
2. Crash Holly
Speaking of pro wrestling’s infatuation with families, the trend doesn’t work that well if things are faked, like when Crash Holly debuted as Hardcore Bob Holly’s goofy little cousin — unless, of course, the fake relative happens to have some considerable talents unrelated to the family name, allowing him to eventually differentiate himself from the lineage and stand on his own two feet. Crash certainly had this by way of his comedic skills, which were strong enough to earn him a short run as a WWE Tag Team Champion. More important than that, Crash’s trademark humor also turned him into the “Houdini of Hardcore” after winning the Hardcore Championship and deciding he would defend it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. On top of his incredible 22 reigns with the hardcore gold, Crash also had a cup of coffee with the European Championship, making him one of the more decorated performers of the Attitude Era. Despite all the success, Crash became extremely depressed after leaving WWE, mostly due to an impending divorce with his wife. Seeing no other options, he committed suicide in 2003.
Had things just gone a little bit differently in 1999, the career of Test could be much more fondly remembered than it is today. Believe it or not, for a few short months in the summer of that year, Test was amongst the most popular athletes in all of wrestling due to his relationship with Stephanie McMahon. Once it ended by way of Triple H swooping in and stealing Test’s beloved, he was more ready than ever to become a massive star, only for WWE to repeatedly drop the ball on his push. Granted, Test did receive a number of consolation prizes of sorts, reigning as WWE Intercontinental, European, and Hardcore Champion twice, and then teaming with Booker T to win both WWE and WCW’s Tag Team belts. For whatever reason, though, Test’s upward momentum halted in a major way around 2002, after which he was a perennial mid-carder with no real upside. A brief stint in TNA did nothing to change his prospects, and it looked like Test was prepared for an early retirement. Unfortunately, that dream soon dissipated when he passed away due to a drug overdose in 2009.
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