The world of professional wrestling – World Wrestling Entertainment in particular – has had a long and rough history with substance abuse. When Vince McMahon initially took his company national with the inaugural WrestleMania in 1985 the business was dominated by men with larger than life bodies, such as the face of the World Wrestling Federation, Hulk Hogan. Many of these men resorted to performance enhancing drugs to achieve their fitness goals and to help them remain in the spotlight as Superstars, which was the norm and completely acceptable for a long time.
In the early 1990s, Vince McMahon and the WWF came under investigation in the midst of a steroid scandal which nearly spelled the end for the company. It’s no wild conclusion to jump to when one considers that the wrestling industry may have completely collapsed without McMahon’s mainstream business keeping it in the public eye, but that never became an issue as the WWF managed to barely escape with itself intact. The company began cracking down on substance abuse, but little did anyone in the wrestling business know about the struggles they were yet to face.
Everything seemed mostly peachy until one fateful day in June of 2007 when Chris Benoit murdered his wife and child before committing suicide. The media exploded with accusations of “roid rage” being Benoit’s trigger and the pressure was back on, with WWE even being investigated by congress. Since then, a very strict “wellness policy” has been implemented to ensure controversy never strikes the company again, but there’s no doubt problems persist. Here are fifteen WWE Superstars who were released from the company for drug problems.
15. “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan
“Hacksaw” Jim Duggan was one of the most popular American hero acts in pro wrestling, and there were no shortage of those. Duggan was somewhat of a simpleton and became beloved for it; he carried around an American flag and a two by four block of wood which he would gladly smash over the backs of any wrestling heel who dared speak ill of his country. He was a man of few words, known affectionately for his rallying cry of, “Hoooo!” It was a basic idea for a character, but Duggan managed to go far with it and was ultimately inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2011.
According to Duggan himself, though, he could have been a lot bigger. In 1987, he and his on screen rival at the time, the Iron Sheik, were pulled over under suspicion of driving under the influence. Duggan was the driver in the incident and was charged with possession of marijuana and cocaine. He was released from the World Wrestling Federation soon after and although he soon made a return, Duggan says he lost all momentum he had previously built for himself.
14. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart
The Hart Foundation was one of the most successful tag teams of the 1980s, perhaps even of all time. Every wrestling fan knows the story of Bret “Hitman” Hart, one of the most legendary performers in the history of the business and responsible for some of the greatest wrestling matches of all time, but Bret got his foot in the door with the World Wrestling Federation by teaming with Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, his real life brother in law.
Jim Neidhart, whose daughter is longtime WWE Superstar Natalya, was renowned for his toughness and brawler style of wrestling, but he is also known for his substance abuse problems. In 1992, according to Bret Hart, Neidhart purposely avoided a drug test by WWE and the next day, in a fit of anger, threw a monitor backstage which injured the ankle of a fellow employee. This promptly got him fired for unprofessional conduct.
13. Brian Kendrick
As wrestling fans are no doubt aware, Brian Kendrick currently competes in WWE’s newly resurrected Cruiserweight division on Raw and has even managed to capture the Cruiserweight Championship. Years ago, Kendrick teamed with Paul London and the two enjoyed success with one of the longest WWE Tag Team Championship reigns of all time. Once that team ran its course, though, both men fell to the wayside.
Brian Kendrick is notorious for his numerous fines following failed drug tests due to his excessive use of marijuana. When he was released from his WWE contract in 2009 it was largely due to these repeated incidents. It came as a shock to fans as Brian, known then as “The Brian Kendrick,” had seemed to be in line for big singles successes once he broke out on his own. Thankfully, he and WWE have mended fences and Kendrick has a second chance with the company.
12. The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik is not likely to be too well remembered by younger or newer fans of professional wrestling. The Sheik was a huge star in the 1970s and 80s, though, and was even the WWE World Champion at one time. In fact, it was the Iron Sheik who fell victim to the “Immortal” Hulk Hogan with the Championship on the line at the beginning of the Hulkamania era. He later went on to much success in the tag team division alongside his partner Nikolai Volkoff and manager “Classy” Freddie Blassie, with that team enjoying a run with the WWE World Tag Team Championship.
The Iron Sheik was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005, recognized for his contributions to WWE and pro wrestling as a whole. Things weren’t always so peachy between the two parties, however, as the Sheik was eventually let go from the company after being pulled over with “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan by police and being caught with cocaine in his possession.
11. Evan Bourne
On the independent scene, Matt Sydal was a wrestling sensation with a massive fan following. When he was signed to WWE and joined the main roster in 2008, fans were elated to see him compete for the biggest wrestling company in the world. As Evan Bourne, he managed to pick up a reign with the WWE World Tag Team Championship alongside Kofi Kingston, but aside from that he unfortunately never reached his true potential under contract with Vince McMahon.
Two consecutive suspensions due to failures of the WWE Wellness Policy put a stop to all of Bourne’s momentum. It would prove impossible to get back, too, as he was soon sidelined with an injury following an automobile accident. He would never return to WWE television with the main roster and was eventually let go from his contract, after which he returned to the independent circuit under his original ring name.
Carlito was one of the most popular mid-card acts in WWE throughout the mid to late 2000s. Known for taking a bite out of an apple and spitting it into the face of opponents he didn’t deem as “cool,” Carlito was also one of the most athletic WWE Superstars of that time and frequently feuded with other popular rising stars Shelton Benjamin and Chris Masters.
Carlito captured the United States, Intercontinental and Tag Team Championships during his tenure, but in 2010, it all fell apart when he violated the company’s wellness program. Following the violation, Carlito refused to enter rehabilitation and WWE was forced to release him from his contract, shocking the entire WWE Universe. Carlito was undoubtedly a big star and would certainly have gone on to great things had he not lost it all, but many fans still hold hopes that the company will bring him back on board some day.
9. Billy Gunn
It’s no understatement to say that “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn is one of the most legendary tag team wrestlers in the history of WWE. He’s mostly known for his time as a member of the mega popular stable D-Generation X, but more specifically as one half of the New Age Outlaws with Road Dogg Jesse James. Gunn and James won many WWE Tag Team Championships, but Billy also once teamed with Chuck Palumbo in the controversially homoerotic tag team known simply as Billy & Chuck. Finally, Gunn’s singles career can’t be discarded as he’s also managed to capture the Intercontinental Championship and was one of the most identifiable faces of the famed Attitude era, during which time he was often referred to as “Mr. Ass.”
Billy Gunn and Road Dogg returned a few years ago and recaptured their former glory by winning the WWE Tag Team Championship, but Gunn was released in 2015 when he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
The Samoan wrestling family often referred to as the Anoa’i dynasty is spawned more than its fair share of memorable and legendary grapplers. From Yokozuna to The Rock and Roman Reigns, the list of popular stars who share that lineage is seemingly endless, but in the mid 2000s the family was represented in a major way by Umaga. Known as the “Samoan Bulldozer,” he was an extremely athletic big man who dominated throughout most of his run with WWE, winning the Intercontinental Championship and proving to be a threat to even the biggest of main event stars at the time.
In 2009, however, Umaga, whose real name was Eddie Fatu, violated WWE’s wellness policy and, because he refused to enter rehabilitation, he was subsequently released from the company. Sadly, only months later, news broke that Fatu had passed away due to “acute toxicity due to combined effects of hydrocodone, carisoprodol, and diazepam.”
7. The Ultimate Warrior
Few men can claim to have been able to compete with Hulk Hogan as the face of the World Wrestling Federation in the 1980s, but the Ultimate Warrior could do just that. Warrior’s colorful ring attire and eccentric personality led him to the Intercontinental and WWE World Championships in short order and he became one of the most popular WWE Superstars of all time. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2014, only two days before he passed away due to a heart attack.
Ultimate Warrior had more than his share of woes as it pertained to Vince McMahon and WWE over the course of his pro wrestling career, including one instance in 1992 when he was released from the company due to what Vince McMahon has noted as Warrior’s experimentation with growth hormones. This was not long before McMahon and his company were dealing with the steroid scandal of the early ‘90s.
Andrew “Test” Martin was a staple throughout the Attitude Era in the 1990s, playing a pivotal role in the evolution of the Stephanie McMahon character from that of an innocent girl next door to the villainous “Billion Dollar Princess.” Test famously feuded with Shane McMahon and the Mean Street Posse before moving on to a tag team with Albert known as T&A, which was managed by the up and coming future WWE Hall of Famer Trish Stratus.
Martin spent most of the 2000s wrestling for WWE, eventually embarking upon a solo career that sadly never turned into anything very meaningful. In 2007, while Test was a part of WWE’s revamped ECW roster, he violated the company’s wellness policy and was released from his contract days later. In 2009, Martin passed away due to an accidental overdose of oxycodone and was found to have suffered from the same type of brain damage as Chris Benoit at the time of Benoit’s death two years prior.
5. British Bulldog
In the 1980s, Davey Boy Smith was one half of the British Bulldogs alongside his cousin Dynamite Kid. Together, the Bulldogs were one of the hottest tag teams of the era, wrestling some of the company’s greatest Tag Team Championship matches of all time. Ultimately, Smith would branch out on a solo career and begin calling himself the British Bulldog. He was one of the most popular and naturally gifted pro wrestlers of the 1990s and stood toe to toe with the best, including Bret “Hitman” Hart and the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels.
In 2002, the former WWE European and Intercontinental Champion passed away due to a heart attack. Smith had a long track record of substance abuse, which caused him some professional woes. In 1992, ten years before his death, Smith was released from the World Wrestling Federation for being in possession of Human Growth Hormone from a UK pharmacy.
4. Road Dogg Jesse James
If “Bad Ass” Billy Gunn is one of the most decorated tag team wrestlers in WWE history, Road Dogg Jesse James has to be at least on par with him. James and Gunn have teamed off and on ever since the late 1990s when they came together as the New Age Outlaws and even continued to team during their time in TNA Wrestling. James is also known for his time in the corner of Jeff Jarrett before the onset of the Attitude era and eventually teaming with R-Truth when Truth was known as K-Kwik. That’s not to discredit James’ solo career, which saw him win the Hardcore and Intercontinental Championships.
In 2001, Road Dogg’s time in WWE’s Attitude era would come to a close when his troubles with substance abuse would get him fired from the company. James has said that his drug problems persisted for many years, even throughout his days in TNA Wrestling.
3. Jeff Hardy
One cannot talk about legendary tag teams without mentioning Jeff Hardy and his brother Matt. Known as the Hardy Boyz, the team tore through the late ‘90s and early 2000s alongside the teams of the Dudley Boyz and Edge & Christian in a series of ladder matches that made that style of match famous. Even in 2016 when there have been several ladder matches per year in WWE for over a decade, those matches involving Jeff and Matt hold up as the best ladder matches in the company’s long history.
Jeff has also had a solo career worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame, having been the WWE World Champion on several occasions and far outshining his brother in popularity. Jeff’s high flying daredevil style has been able to win over crowds wherever he’s wrestled, but he’s also battled drug problems for the duration of his career and gotten himself into plenty of trouble, including getting released from WWE in 2003 due to drug use and behavioral issues when his career was just starting to peak.
2. Kurt Angle
When Kurt Angle showed up in the World Wrestling Federation in the late 1990s he wasted no time making an impact on the business. His meteoric rise to the top of the card saw him quickly win the European and Intercontinental Championships and very soon after become the WWE World Champion. His past as an Olympic gold medalist gave him plenty to brag about as a heel character, but his pure amateur wrestling style won over the WWE Universe and he eventually became one of the most beloved and decorated Superstars of all time.
In 2006, when Kurt Angle was wrestling in WWE’s newly minted version of ECW in order to bring credibility to the brand, he was abruptly released from the company. WWE’s official reason was that Kurt Angle refused to enter a drug rehabilitation program, and Angle himself has admitted to an addiction to painkillers which went on for years.
1. Booker T
Few people in the pro wrestling industry are as respected as Booker T. He’s not only credited as one of the most iconic and successful black wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots, he’s simply one of the most decorated champions in the history of the business. Booker rose to fame in WCW, where he was a part of the legendary Harlem Heat tag team alongside his brother Stevie Ray and would go on to a wildly lucrative solo career which saw him win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on five separate occasions.
His successes would continue when he signed on with WWE after Vince McMahon bought WCW. Booker won a plethora of championships under WWE’s banner including the WWE World Championship. Despite his legendary career, Booker would not be immune to the wellness policy as he violated it in 2007 and was linked to Signature Pharmacy, a pharmacy which was distributing performance enhancing drugs to a slew of other WWE Superstars. Booker was subsequently released, but inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013.