Professional wrestlers are a rare breed. Of this there is no doubt. As a rule they are athletic men, quite often they are enormous, and also are often guys and gals who live a little bit on the wild side. After all, how could you possibly enter the world of professional wrestling if you were not a little crazy? The toll on the body and the mind has to be extreme, and the lifestyle is bizarre to say the least.
While most wrestlers live to a ripe old age, just like the rest of us, some of them die an early death. This is mostly for two reasons. One is that some of these dudes are simply enormous, and their bodies are not meant to last for the long term. The other reason is that many of these dudes are straight up nuts, and die from things ranging to drug overdoses to murder. Then of course there are a few that have died from tragic accidents.
What follows is a list of wrestlers that have died young. Some of them are famous, and their stories are well known, while others’ lives, and their deaths, were shrouded in mystery. One thing is for sure, though; when you are going to have a bunch of guys who are totally odd, and larger than life, a lot of them are going to die in really odd and larger than life ways too. You’ll see what I mean. Here are 15 wrestlers that died before the age of 50.
15. Bruiser Brody-42: Murder
Bruiser Brody, whose real name was Frank Goodish, was a well known wrestler in the NWA, The WWWF, and the WCCW, and was perhaps best known for his wild style of fighting, which often included tons of blood all over himself and his opponent, and fighting in the middle of the crowd. He had a long term feud with Abdullah the Butcher that was amazing in its intensity. Sadly Bruiser Brody was stabbed to death backstage after a show in Puerto Rico in 1988. He was talking backstage with José González, a Puerto Rican who wrestled as “Invader 1.” Self defense was claimed and Gonzalez was acquitted. Tony Atlas, who was there at the time of the stabbing, was never called to testify. Years later the house of Gonzalez caught fire. Whether it had anything to do with this is pure speculation.
14. Rick Rude-40: Drug Overdose
Rick Rude was one of the best heels ever in the world of wrestling. He was fantastic on the mic, arrogant, a womanizer, and a pretty darn good wrestler to boot. Many feel that he should be in the WWE Hall of Fame. He was a big name in the 80s and the 90s. In reality Rude was known as a good family man, who was devoted to his wife and three kids. Amazingly enough, his real name was Richard Rood. He won many titles over his career, including the WCW heavyweight championship and was known for his feud with the Ultimate Warrior. Sadly he suffered a neck injury and was never able to return to the ring, and had to forfeit his WCW titles. He died in 1999. His death was the result of mixing a number of medications.
13. Owen Hart-34: Accidental Fall
Probably the most tragic death in the history of wrestling is when Owen Hart passed away at just 34-years-old. Hart was a huge star; he had both the wrestling chops and personality that it takes to succeed. He was the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion, the WWF Intercontinental champion, won King of the Ring in 1994 , and the WWF World Tag Team Championship four times. In 1999 he was supposed to make a dramatic entrance to the ring from the rafters, being brought down to it suspended from a safety harness. The harness opened too early, and Hart tragically fell to his death. Even worse, the show continued on after Hart died. This was the worst tragedy in professional wrestling history and continues to be a huge stain on the industry.
12. Mr. Perfect-44: Drug Overdose
Curt Hennig, who was also known as Mr. Perfect, was one of the most popular wrestlers of his generation. For the most part he wrestled in the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. He wrestled for over 2o years and won numerous different titles, including the WWF Intercontinental Championship, but was known most for his totally awesome Mr. Perfect routine. Sadly he was found dead in a Florida hotel room; the death was attributed to a cocaine overdose. After his death Hennig’s father came out with the fact that his son was abusing steroids and prescription painkillers to add bulk to his body. This was truly a very sad death to a career that was pretty close to being as perfect as his name.
11. Junkyard Dog-44: Car Accident
There were not many wrestlers in his time better loved than The Junkyard Dog, whose real name was Sylvester Ritter. He used to be a football player in college, but then went to the Hart family’s wrestling school, and decided to make a go of wrestling full time. He was a very popular wrestler in the WWF and WCW, and was involved in numerous storylines until he retired in 1993. He rolled with a dog collar, with a huge gold chain attached, and would actually bark at opponents. It sounds stupid but when he did it, somehow it worked. When driving home after attending the high school graduation of his daughter, he fell asleep while driving, got in an accident, and died instantaneously. A very sad end for a beloved wrestler.
10. Giant Gonzalez-44: Heart Issues
Giant Gonzalez was absolutely enormous. He was 8′ tall and weighed 460 pounds, making him one of the biggest and tallest wrestlers ever. Well, I guess at 8′ tall, he would be one of the tallest anythings ever. One thing though, what the heck was with his outfit? Who thought of that? Did he really look that bad he had to wrestle in fake muscles? Gonzalez never made a lot of money wrestling in the WCW and the WWF and also could not continue to wrestle because of health problems. He never really received quality care because of his finances, and had diabetes and severe heart problems. He ended up in a wheelchair because he could not walk on his own. He eventually was admitted to the hospital where he died at age 44.
9. Dino Bravo-44: Murder
Adolfo Bresciano wrestled under the name Dino Bravo as a WWF personality in the 1970s and 1980s. He was well known and was once one of the WWF tag team champions with Dominic DeNucci. When Bravo retired from wrestling he struggled financially, so word is he became involved with the mob, and the world of smuggling. Apparently, at one point a deal went bad, and he made the mob angry. Not a good thing to do. One day he was watching a hockey game on television at his home. He was shot 17 times and died. There were no signs of a break in, so it was speculated that Bravo knew the person that shot him. While Bravo was not the most famous wrestler, he was a good one, and a good showman and it is sad he had to go that way. No one has ever been arrested for his death.
8. Davey Boy Smith-39: Heart Attack
Davey Boy Smith was also known as The British Bulldog. He was a very popular wrestler who teamed up with Bret Hart to win the NWA Stampede International Tag Team Championship He also won the WWF European Championship, and the WWF Hardcore Championship. Sadly, he became addicted to painkillers; this forced him to retire and also cost him his marriage. He was trying though, and had gone to rehab and was considering a return to the ring. Sadly, he died of a heart attack at the age of 39. An autopsy was done, and it revealed that even though Smith was now clean and sober, his past drug use had contributed to his death. This was a truly sad end for a good wrestler and an even better guy.
7. Chyna-46: Drug Overdose
Chyna, who was born as Joanie Laurer, was a legend in wrestling. She was the first woman to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship; she also was the first woman to compete in the King of the Ring and the Royal Rumble. Although Chyna was attractive if you liked her sort of vibe, she was not employed just for her looks- this chick was tough! She appeared in numerous adult films after leaving wrestling and also was on Celebrity Rehab. This is rumored to be why she was not in the WWE Hall of Fame. Sadly, Chyna struggled for a long time with alcohol and drugs and she died after mixing alcohol with a combination of, Oxycodone, Oxymorphone, Valium, Nordiazepam, and Temazepam. Such a sad way to go.
6. Buzz Sawyer-32: Drug Overdose
Although Buzz Sawyer is not one of the more famous wrestlers on this list, he has one of the most interesting stories. He wrestled everywhere in the 1980s, including the NWA, UWF, Mid-South, WCCW, WCW, and the WWF, where he was managed by Lou Albano. He was known for his drug addiction outside of the ring, and spent a lot of time moving around scamming wrestlers by taking money to train them, and then skipping town. He even did it to the Undertaker, who at the time was a teenager named Mark Calaway. He paid Sawyer two grand for a training session, but Sawyer skipped town the next day. This story is confirmed in the book Bodyslams!: Memoirs of a Wrestling Pitchman by Gary Michael Cappetta. Sawyer died of a drug overdose at the age of 32.
5. Big John Studd-47: Liver Disease
Big John Studd was one of the more successful WWF wrestlers in the 8os. He wrestled as Captain USA, Chuck O’Connor, the Executioner #2 and The Giant Stud, but without a doubt he is best known and remembered as Big John Studd. He was elected to both the WCW and WWE hall of fame. He was one of the main competitors for both Andre the Giant and for Hulk Hogan during this time. Sadly, because his career was in large part contingent on his size, he took a lot of human growth hormones. Later he developed Hodgkins disease, which is a form of cancer. The opinion of his doctors was that the growth hormones were the reason that he got cancer. He fought it for a long time, but he died in 1995.
4. Chris Benoit-40: Murder Suicide
Chris Benoit was a very successful wrestler, who was best known as a wrestler for competing in the WCW and the WWF. He held a remarkable 22 titles over his career, including the WWE tag team championship, which he won with Kurt Angle. Sadly, he is now not known best as a wrestler, but as a killer. After missing some shows, and his family not being heard from for awhile, police were sent to his house. There they found the bodies of Chris, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel. Chris had murdered Nancy and Daniel and then committed suicide by hanging himself on a weight machine. There has been a lot of speculation as to why he did this, but no one will ever know for sure. All we do know is that it is a huge tragedy.
3. Big Boss Man-41: Heart Attack
The Big Boss Man, whose real name was Raymond “Ray” W. Traylor, Jr., started his career with the WWF in the late 80s. His role was as kind of a cop/security guard hybrid, which was not too far from the truth, as the Big Boss Man used to be a prison guard in real life. He was quite light on his feet for a big guy and was known for his bouts with Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, and Macho Man Randy Savage. After a stint with the WCW, he returned to the WWF where he is perhaps best known for his ongoing feud with The Big Show. Sadly he died at the young age of 41 of a heart attack. He was found by his wife and there was no evidence of any drug use on his part. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016.
2. Bam Bam Bigelow-45: Drug Overdose
Scott Charles “Bam Bam” Bigelow was kind of a big deal in wrestling in the 90s. He was known as “The Beast from the East” and wrestled and won championships in the ECW and WCW. He may be best remembered for when he battled Lawrence Taylor in the headline bout of WrestleMania XI; I bet you forgot about that one. He also had big roles in SummerSlam, Survivor Series, King of the Ring and the Royal Rumble. After he retired from wrestling he stayed in the public eye by doing promotional appearances and opened a restaurant. Sadly, his life ended in 2007 when he was found dead by his girlfriend at his house in Florida. Cocaine was labeled as the cause of death. He had a history of drug and alcohol abuse that was well known to people in his life.
1. Andre the Giant-46: Heart Failure
What would this list be without mention of Andre the Giant? The story of Andre is well known. He was born in France, as Andre Rene Roussimoff, and he became one of the world’s best known and most loved wrestlers, and was an actor besides, who is well known for his role in The Princess Bride. He knew all along that he would probably die an early death, as doctors had diagnosed him with acromegaly, which resulted in him having excessive growth hormone. Doctors told him that he would have an early death. Because of that, Andre lived big; his eating exploits were legendary, as was his drinking. According to legend he once drank 117 beers in one sitting. He died of heart failure in a Paris hotel room in 1993. Andre truly leaves one of the largest legacies in professional wrestling, and will be remembered for decades, and maybe even centuries, to come.