While the wrestling business is so often championed as being full of moments of joy and happiness – well, except when the WWE is constantly trying to force-feed Roman Reigns to its reluctant fan base – there’s also so many tales of tragedy and torment attached to the industry over the decades.
Much like in life as a whole, you never know what’s just around the corner in the wrestling business, and so often those tragic moments are clearly ones that you don’t see coming. And it’s because of that, that now and then you come across a chilling, eerie picture or photo that’s been taken just before something horrible is going to happen. It’s just at the time, nobody knew what lay ahead.
We all know about the spate of wrestler deaths that have occurred over the years, and these have all happened for a variety of different reasons – sometimes shocking accidents, other times due to acts of atrocity.
So here, from the depths of the ever-expanding online world, are 15 images of wrestlers that were taken just before said wrestlers sadly took their final breaths. And it’s with these pictures, that you can fully appreciate the notion that you really don’t know what’s waiting around the corner for you – even if you happen to be a larger-than-life hero or villain from the wrestling world.
15. Davey Boy Smith
Like so many in the wrestling business, poor Davey Boy Smith had spent years battling one demon or another. But one of the biggest problems for the British Bulldog was his pain pills and morphine addiction.
Davey injured his back during WCW’s Fall Brawl ’98 show, taking a bump onto a trapdoor that was put into the ring so that the Ultimate Warrior could make a grandstand entrance later in the PPV. For Smith, the injury led to spinal paralysis and a six-month stint in hospital. Oh, and his WCW release, because Ted Turner’s company were obviously kind and considerate in how they’d fire a wrestler due to an injury suffered in their ring…
Anyway, to the point of the picture. The one shown on the right is Davey Boy in his prime, but the one on the left was sadly taken just before his passing in 2002.
Just the weekend before he suffered a fatal heart attack, the Bulldog had actually wrestled some tag team bouts with his young son, Harry. Some say the picture featured here was taken over that weekend, but we’ll ultimately never know for sure.
The story of Joanie Laurer, aka Chyna, is a sad and tragic one that saw the former Intercontinental Champion slip into a life of drugs, drink, and even adult entertainment.
Despite having her good days and getting her life back on track, it seemed that poor Joanie was always struggling to battle the demons that had haunted her since she departed the then-WWF in 2001.
While there were regular claims of a newfound sobriety, sadly Chyna’s final days were dotted with incoherent video messages and worrying social media posts. As such, the above image is one of the last times that we ever saw Joanie before she passed away in April 2016.
Following an autopsy, it was revealed that this game-changing superstar had overdosed – seemingly accidentally – on alcohol combined with painkillers, anxiety drugs, and sleeping pills.
If you ever heard her full story, Joanie Laurer had a tough, troubled life way before she ever entered a wrestling ring, and it sadly felt as if she could never truly find the peace that she so sought.
13. Jimmy Snuka
Groundbreaking grappler Jimmy Snuka passed away earlier this year, but the life of Superfly is one that’s certainly shrouded in a black cloud.
Despite the WWE praising Snuka following the news of his death – and the Superfly really was a huge, huge star and a true revolutionary of the wrestling business – Vince McMahon’s company chose to ignore certain elements of the Fijian’s life.
Now this isn’t the platform to delve too much into the situation or to make definitive statements, but for those unaware, have a Google search for Nancy Argentino – the girlfriend of Snuka who died in 1983. While Snuka was deemed a free man at the time of Nancy’s death, 2015 saw Superfly arrested for third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter when the case was reopened.
Ultimately, Snuka would be labelled unfit for trial on January 3rd this year due to dementia and his ever-deteriorating health. He’d pass away just 12 twelve days later on January 15th.
The picture here is one of the last ever taken of Jimmy Snuka, and it was taken during one of said court appearances. How Superfly is viewed in the aftermath of his death varies on your viewpoint, but it’s advisable to do some digging and making your own mind up, regardless of what the WWE wants to tell you.
12. Eddie Guerrero
While many of those listed in this article passed away long after their wrestling careers were over or during hiatuses from the business, the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero took place while Eddie was still performing and was arguably at the peak of his career.
And so, that’s why the last images of Latino Heat are from a SmackDown match where he battled Mr. Kennedy. That match would air on November 11th, 2005, and Eddie would sadly pass away just two days after that.
Having battled drink and drug problems earlier in life, Guerrero had gotten his life back on track in the years prior to his death, even making it to the top of the mountain and toppling Brock Lesnar to become the WWE Champion. In fact, the date of his death originally had a match booked between Guerrero, Randy Orton, and Batista, with rumours speculating that Eddie was going to take Batista’s World Championship.
11. Curt Hennig
There’s absolutely no doubt that Curt Hennig is seen as one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time for valid reason. As smooth as they come in the ring, and overflowing with charisma, Hennig was one of those rare performers who really are the total package.
By the time of his death in 2003, though, Hennig’s battles with his demons had firmly taken hold. Having turned up in TNA, you could see that the legendary Mr. Perfect was feeling the effects of years of punishing his body, both in the ring and out of it.
This two-time Intercontinental Champion and superstar of yesteryear was reduced to wrestling David Flair in a bizarre “Axehandle on a Pole” bout in what would prove to be his last official match. The match was luckily a short one, but it was still a sad way to remember one of the all-time greats of the game.
That match took place on January 8, 2003, and Hennig would sadly be found dead on February 10, 2003 at the age of 44. With his death officially ruled as a cocaine overdose, it was revealed by his father, Larry “The Axe”, that Curt had also been taking painkillers and steroids in the lead up to his death.
10. Randy Savage
What’s so chilling about the last photos of “Macho Man” Randy Savage is that finally, after decades of living the dizzy life of the circus that is wrestling, Savage had now managed to find some semblance of normality and happiness.
The photo shown is from Randy’s last Thanksgiving, with him pictured alongside his brother, Lanny Poffo. Having decided to grow old gracefully and enjoy the simple things in life, Savage had stopped wearing a hat to conceal his thinning hair, and he’d even stopped dying his hair and beard in order to let them be their natural white. Added to this, Randy had spent his time doing the everyday things that he so often missed out on over the years – things like taking his mother for breakfast, or helping take the family to appointments.
It was also in his final years that Randy once again found love, this time with an old sweetheart, Lynn, who he’d dated for 3 years back in the early 1970s and before he ever became the Macho Man.
At the age of 58, Savage passed away in May 2011 after losing consciousness at the wheel of his vehicle. Contrary to belief, the cause of death wasn’t the impact of his vehicle crashing, but he’d suffered a heart attack and was found to have atherosclerotic heart disease.
9. Chris Candido
Chris Candido was one of those wrestlers who could simply do it all when he stepped between the ropes. Sure, he may have been diminutive in stature and he may not have been able to talk people into buildings ala The Rock, but, as his nickname said, this was “No Gimmicks Needed” Chris Candido. The made could go in the ring, and that’s why he’s so fondly remembered by so many.
After spells across the globe and having taken in stints in the then-WWF, ECW, and WCW, Candido turned up in TNA in 2005 as he looked to relaunch his career. Unfortunately for the talented New Jersey native, his death was sadly just around the corner.
At just 33 years of age, Chris Candido passed away on April 28th, 2005. The above (grainy) image is one of the last shots of Chris, taken from the TNA Lockdown show that took place on April 24th. In that cage match, Candido would fracture his tibia and fibula, and dislocate his ankle.
Initially, it was reported that Candido died due to a blood clot as a result of the surgery for these injuries, although his brother Johnny claimed in 2016 that it was actually acute pneumonia that took the life of this hugely popular in-ring technician.
8. Rick Rude
The image to the left is one of the last ever photographs of “Ravishing” Rick Rude, and is believed to be the final ever promo photograph that was ever taken of this iconic grappler. On the right, of course, is Rude in his WWF heyday as the Intercontinental Champion.
What makes the picture so tragic and chilling is that Rude and his longtime pal Curt Hennig were getting the chance to work together once more, and things were looking up as Rude was actually preparing to make a long-anticipated comeback to the ring.
Having retired from action in 1994 after suffering a back injury, Rude had flirted with the idea of a comeback over the years, but it was only just before his death that he was finally seriously stepping up his plans to pull on the tights and boots once more.
7. Bruiser Brody
Frank “Bruiser Brody” Goodish is revered by many as one of the greatest big men in the history of the wrestling business. And while this is indeed true and something to be celebrated, Brody is also remembered by many for his infamous death.
On July 16th, 1988, Brody was due to battle Dan Spivey in Puerto Rico. Before the match, booker Jose Gonzalez, also known as Super Invader I, took Frank to the showers to talk business. It was there that Gonzalez fatally stabbed Brody with a knife that he was hiding under a towel.
Of course, Gonzalez would be acquitted due to the weak legal system that was in place in Puerto Rico, but those present that day, including Tony Atlas and Dutch Mantell, know what happened. Gonzalez claimed he killed Brody in self-defense, although it is more likely that he instead harboured a longstanding grudge against Brody from their previous matches in which Brody was hard to work with or worked extra-stiff with Gonzalez.
6. Owen Hart
1999’s Over The Edge PPV was one of the darkest days of the wrestling business. For those not familiar with May 23rd, 1999, that was the day that Owen Hart tragically died.
The picture above? That’s the very last interview that Owen ever carried out. Doing his usual tongue-in-cheek, over-the-top Blue Blazer shtick, Owen was getting ready to challenge The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship. Unfortunately, that match would never happen.
We all know what followed this interview by this point, with Owen falling to his death during a planned elaborate entrance from the rafters. It really is one of the most tragic moments of a business that’s so often filled with tragedy, and it still feels as fresh today, 18 years on, as it did back then.
5. Ultimate Warrior
While there are a few fan photos out there that seem to be from the actual day of his death, this picture of the Ultimate Warrior and Vince McMahon is one that only adds further to the tragedy surrounding Warrior’s passing.
For decades, the Parts Unknown native was on a list of people who could simply never, ever see bridges rebuilt where his relationship with Vince and the WWE were concerned. But then, as is so often the case in the wrestling business, never say never – for Warrior and the WWE made their peace, largely down to the olive branch being extended to the former World Champion by Triple H.
So, after 18 years out of the WWE, 18 years of bad blood between the two parties, 18 years of pot shots at the Warrior (just check out the WWE-produced The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior DVD), all was seemingly finally well between the WWE and the real-life Jim Hellwig.
Capturing the true rebuilding of this relationship, the Warrior was put into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014, and he’d even appear on the following night’s Raw – which is where this picture of him finally at peace with Vince was taken.
4. Andre The Giant
Seeing the legendary Andre the Giant on a WCW broadcast felt strange enough, but it feels even more not right now due to this actually being the last US television appearance by the iconic Frenchman.
While Andre appeared on WCW’s Clash of Champions XX show in September 1992, he’d sadly pass away just months later. While in Paris for his father’s funeral, the 46-year-old Andre would die in his sleep from heart failure on January, 27th, 1993.
For those who weren’t around to see Andre in his heyday, it really is impossible to sum up his stature in the wrestling business and his place in the history of the industry. There really was nobody like Andre. Billed at 7’4” and 520 lbs, this was somebody who really was larger than life.
But it was the sheer size and mass of Andre that ultimately had a part in his death, with it not being easy to carry around such a hulking frame. And so, during his last few years of life, it was a sad sight to see how much pain and suffering he was going through, and this was certainly the case when Andre appeared briefly in WCW.
3. Roddy Piper
Not to position one person’s death as more important than any other, but the loss of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is one that’s still sore to this day.
Piper was, and forever will be, a true icon in every sense of the word. Larger than life, able to make you want to rip his head off or cheer him on at the mere blink of an eye, Roddy was one of the true greats of the wrestling business. When RP talked, you made sure to listen.
So when Piper passed away in his sleep on July 31st, 2015, the wrestling world – hell, the entertainment world as a whole – was left reeling at the loss of this legend.
Fear not, though, for even after his wrestling career had come to a close, Piper was still able to bring his chaotic enthusiasm and erratic antics to fans, and the creepy image above left shows him in horror thriller The Chair, which was completed during the final months of Piper’s life and released after his passing. And as is ever the case with Roddy Piper, he was always the very best of villains.
2. Ludvig Borga
You may know him for his WWF run as uber-heel Ludvig Borga between 1993 and 1994, but the real-life Tony Halme had a life full of chaos at every turn.
From the WWF and the wrestling business, Halme then turned his attention to MMA, which was then followed up by a career in politics in his native Finland, which then saw him run into issues with gun possession, drugs, and battles with mental illness and memory issues.
For the tormented Halme, he brought his life to an end with a fatal self-inflicted gunshot wound on January 8th, 2010, just three days after turning 47 years of age.
The picture above was taken towards the back end of 2009, just before Halme took his own life, and seems to suggest a calm, measured, and content man. Little did we all know what was just around the corner for the once-hulking Finn.
1. Chris Benoit
While so many of the pictures in this article show a wrestler unaware of what tragedy lay just around the corner, with Chris Benoit it’s obviously a whole different ballgame.
This picture was reportedly taken at Benoit’s psychologist’s office on June 22nd, 2007 – the very same day that the former World Champion killed his wife, Nancy. From looking at the picture, all seems fine and normal, and you’d struggle to think that the man shown was about to murder his wife later that day, then proceed to kill his son and himself over the following days. Some say that the picture was actually taken a few days before the horrible events of that weekend started, but either way it’s the last photograph of a man who was about to carry out something truly heinous.
The Benoit Tragedy is still a horrible subject to tackle to this day, and it’s still something that’s hard to get your head around. Seeing pictures like this, it just further continues to baffle as to why this whole horrible tragedy occurred.
There’s no doubt that Chris Benoit was one of the very finest in-ring workers to lace up a pair of boots. But there’s similarly no doubt that his final days saw him turn into a monster who committed some absolutely awful acts.