Everyone knows the wrestling industry has shown an unfortunate trend of beloved performers dying young. The constant death toll of 2016 may be over, but science still hasn’t found any secret to immortality, so chances are wrestlers will continue to pass away before their time into 2017. Certain wrestlers in particular have either been suffering from worsening diseases or exhibiting poor behavior for some time now, and thus are making fans start to show concern over their prolonged health.
Let us be clear from the start in that we hope this list proves to be entirely incorrect. It is our sincere wish that all the wrestlers we’re about to discuss live for a long time to come. The truth is, though, everyone has a limited amount of time on this planet. The wrestlers on our list have been showing signs of ailing health sometimes for years now. Others are consuming drugs at a rate that almost makes it surprising they’re still alive today.
The saddest part of this list will certainly be the few wrestlers who find themselves on it through their own admission. Multiple wrestlers have acknowledged lately that due to their lifestyles and the toll long careers in wrestling put on their bodies, they themselves fear for the worst, and don’t expect to live much longer. Again, we can’t stress enough that we want everyone we’re about to mention to beat the odds, find the treatment or help they need, and manage to survive 2017 and plenty years to come after that. With all of that in mind, keep reading to learn 15 pro wrestlers we’re worried might not have much time left.
15. Masa Saito
Masanori Saito was born in Tokyo on February 1, 1942. He competed in the 1964 Summer Olympics, placing seventh in freestyle wrestling for his native Japan, and decided to transition to pro wrestling the next year. Saito was decently successful in his home country, and he became an even bigger star when he came to America in 1968. He won dozens of regional NWA championships as both a tag team and solo wrestler throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, and was also one of the final AWA World Champions. Saito’s biggest accomplishment without the WWE Universe was winning the Tag Team Championships with Mr. Fuji, who’s 2016 death only plays a small role in why we’re worried Saito might not live much longer either. Saito has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease since the year 2000, and recently his friends Brock Lesnar and Brad Rheingans went out of their way to visit him in Japan. Early reports indicated the visit may have related to Saito’s increasingly poor health, and even if not, 17 years is a long time for a 74 year old to survive Parkinson’s.
Jim Harris was born on May 28, 1950 in Senatobia, Mississippi. He survived an impoverished childhood and was ultimately saved by wrestling, making his debut in 1974 after meeting Bobo Brazil. Harris wrestled throughout dozens of independent companies with names like “Sugar Bear” Harris, “Big” Jim Harris, and The Mississippi Mauler, until Jerry “The King” Lawler created the Ugandan Savage gimmick Kamala in the early 1980s. Despite the racist undertones that are impossible to ignore today, Kamala became a wildly successful heel in his era, terrifying fans throughout Lawler’s Memphis territories, and then the NWA, WCW, and even the WWE Universe. Harris has been suffering from diabetes since his last WWE run ended in 1992, and for a long time, he refused dialysis in order to continue his wrestling career. This ultimately became impossible when he was forced to amputate his legs in 2011, and he’s been relying on fan assistance to cover his medical expenses ever since. Sad though it is, it might not be long before the generosity of his fans is no longer enough, medicine proves unhelpful, or his diabetes simply gets worse.
Americo Sebastiano Constantino was born October 1, 1961 in Las Vegas, Nevada. After entertaining brief careers as both a police officer and then an American Gladiator, not to mention appearing in two films, Rico started training to become a wrestler with the Empire Wrestling Federation in 1998. He was almost instantly signed by WWE, though it took about four years in developmental before he made his main roster debut as the flamboyant manager of multi-time WWE Tag Team Champions Billy and Chuck. Rico soon started wrestling as well, eventually becoming a two time Tag Team Champion himself. Rico was suddenly released by WWE in 2004 and has mostly left the wrestling business since, only making a handful of appearances for an independent promotion in 2012 before retiring outright. In September 2016, Rico’s old manager Kenny Bolin alerted fans the exotic superstar was in rapidly declining health, related to unclear heart issues and a series of concussions suffered throughout his wrestling career. Fan donations have helped Rico survive this long, but in a situation like this, it’s hard to gauge whether or not Rico is truly in the clear—or if he ever again will be.
12. Jim Neidhart
James Neidhart was born in Tampa, Florida on February 8, 1955. He practiced with the Dallas Cowboys, but never made it to the big leagues, and decided to travel towards Canada and train with the legendary Stu Hart when he realized his football career was over. Nicknamed “The Anvil,” Neidhart married in to the Hart family during his training, getting hitched with Stu’s daughter, Ellie. He also became good friends with his brother-in-laws Bret and Owen, following them to WWE where they all took the Hart family name to varying heights. For Neidhart’s part, he twice held the WWE Tag Team Championships with Bret, and served as the enforcer to the enlarged Hart Foundation that feuded with Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin in 1997. Neidhart is the father of current WWE superstar Natalya, and it is because of videos he’s released with her that fans have started worrying about his health. The Anvil regularly appears to be on some sort of drugs, if not suffering from symptoms of withdrawal, or some other unclear ailment. He has been known to struggle with drug abuse in the past, getting arrested in 2010 for possession of controlled substances and taking dozens of pills at the scene when he was caught.
11. Lex Luger
Lawrence Pfohl was born in Buffalo, New York on June 2, 1958. He started his career in sports playing football for the University of Miami, spending a short time playing pro in the CFL for the Montreal Alouettes, and then signing with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers. Luger never made the field, ultimately finishing his football career with USFL teams the Tampa Bay Bandits, Memphis Showboats, and Jacksonville Bulls. He met Bob Roop shortly thereafter, and Roop convinced him to try out wrestling. Renaming himself Lex Luger after Lex Luthor, Pfohl quickly proved he was “The Total Package,” winning championships in dozens of NWA territories before starting a legendary run in WCW where he was a two time World Champion. Luger also held the WCW United States, Television, and Tag Team Championships, also enjoying a short run in WWE where he won the 1994 Royal Rumble. In recent appearances, Luger has noticeably lost an incredible amount of body mass, and until recently was confined to a wheelchair. In 2007, he suffered a nerve impingement in his neck that lead to temporarily paralysis. He gradually recovered to the point he could again walk with a cane, though latest reports indicate he’s back in the chair and with increasingly limited mobility.
10. Marty Jannetty
Frederick Jannetty was born in Columbus, Georgia on February 3, 1960. He made his wrestling debut for the NWA in Kansas City, typically teaming with fellow rookies like Tommy Rogers, Dave Peterson, “Bulldog” Brown, and Shawn Michaels. The last team clicked, so to speak, and they soon became one of the most popular teams in wrestling as The Midnight Rockers. Jannetty and Michaels won the AWA World Tag Team Championships twice, soon making their way to WWE, dropping the Midnight from their name but only reaching greater heights. The Rockers didn’t win any WWE championships as a team, but both became significant solo stars after they broke up, at least at first. Michaels and Jannetty feuded over the Intercontinental Championship in 1993, both proving extremely talented and popular on their own, but Jannetty’s personal problems eventually grew so uncontrollable he was forced out of the company. Jannetty tried a number of comebacks with other partners like The 1-2-3 Kid and Leif Cassidy, but never again came near his success with Michaels. Outside of a complaint directed at Stephanie McMahon for insulting him, the wrestling world hasn’t had an update on Jannetty in some time. The last we heard, his substance issues had yet to get completely under control, and could likely only be getting worse.
9. Jerry “The King” Lawler
“The King of Wrestling” Jerry Lawler was born in Memphis, Tennessee on November 29, 1949. His personality as a DJ caught the attention of wrestling promoter Aubrey Griffith, who eventually agreed to train Lawler in exchange for free publicity on his radio show. Lawler trained with Griffith and Jackie Fargo until he was ready to make his 1970 debut, soon feuding against Fargo and usurping his throne as The King. He kept dominating Memphis for decades as both a top heel and face, reaching international prominence during his 1982 war with Andy Kaufman. Lawler made his way to WWE in 1993, where he’s remained ever since. He suffered a heart attack while filming a live episode of Raw in 2012, only surviving with the help of WWE medics on hand at the event. Lawler’s role in WWE has gradually decreased since, but he hasn’t slowed down his at home wrestling schedule much in Memphis, or done much to show he’s taking better care of his body. His company might be trying to make sure he doesn’t have another heart attack on the air, but maybe it would be better if they took away the cheeseburgers and helped him hit the gym in a safe way for his age and condition.
8. Terry Funk
Terrence Funk was born in Hammond, Indiana on June 30, 1944. His father Dory Funk was a legendary promoter and wrestler throughout the state of Texas, and as soon as they were of age to do so, Dory promoted Terry and his brother Dory, Jr. as the top stars of his company. Both Terry and Dory, Jr. would go on to become NWA World Champions, the only brothers to have held the prize. Terry in particular has also earned a worldwide reputation as the preeminent icon of hardcore wrestling, with his performances in I Quit and Death Matches more-or-less defining the genres. He continued wrestling well into his 70s, achieving varying success in ECW, WCW, and WWE back when he was merely in his 50s, finally retiring for what appeared to be the last time in September of 2016. The nature of Funk’s last retirement is also what has fans heavily concerned over his health, considering Terry Funk retirements have been a dime a dozen to wrestling fans over the decades. This time, though, Funk seemed especially emotional, noticing doctors even instructed him not to take the plane ride to the arena in his condition. Hopefully, Funk’s been following his physician’s advice and laying low since then, and he’ll get to enjoy this last retirement for a good long time.
7. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
Raymond Heenan was born on November 1, 1944 in Chicago, Illinois. He was a fan of wrestling from childhood, getting his big break in the industry as a heel manager named “Pretty Boy” Bobby Heenan in 1965. Before long, it was clear his smarts were even more impressive than his looks, and he rebranded himself as The Brain. Heenan used his cunning to form a number of Heenan Families in various wrestling territories, most famously the AWA and WWE. Heenan’s greatest client was arguably Andre The Giant, who he managed against Hulk Hogan in front of one of wrestling’s biggest ever crowds at WrestleMania III. Heenan left WWE for WCW in 1994 due to the promise of a reduced travel schedule, endearing himself to an entirely new class of fans for his often hilarious and always brilliant performances on the commentary desk. In one of time’s cruelest tricks on wrestling, The Brain’s constant wit was silenced in 2002 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. The cancer has since spread to his tongue, as well, and the varying surgeries and treatments have left him completely unable to talk, and in exponentially ailing health.
6. The Iron Sheik
On March 15, 1942, Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri was born in Tehran, Iran. He competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics, vying for a sport on the Iranian Greco-Roman wrestling team, moving to America and becoming a coach when his Olympic dreams didn’t pan out. Verne Gagne met Vaziri and asked him to become a wrestler in 1972, sending him to Billy Robinson’s training school along with future legends like Ric Flair. First as The Great Hossein Arab and then more famously as The Iron Sheik, Vaziri turned into one of the top heels of his era, inspiring rage in wrestling fans with his incessant cry that Iran was number one, and he was out to prove it. Sheik became the WWE World Champion by defeating Bob Backlund in December 1983, though he lost it weeks later to Hulk Hogan, overcoming his villainy no doubt a big piece of what made Hulkamania the hit that it was. Sheik has also been well known for experimenting with substance abuse his entire career, outright bragging that he’s tried every drug under the sun. His increasingly erratic personal behavior might be funny, but it’s also a sign his drug use may never have ended, which could be a dangerous gamble for a man in his mid 70s.
5. “Superstar” Billy Graham
Eldridge Coleman was born in Phoenix, Arizona on June 7, 1943. Excelling in whatever sports relied on power, Coleman was a shot put star in high school, did well as an amateur and professional boxer, was a world-class bodybuilder, and played a couple of games for the Montreal Alouettes while also working as a bouncer. An injury made him decide to focus on wrestling, training with Stu Hart and starting his career in Canada before moving to the NWA’s California territories. He changed his name to Billy Graham in honor of the famous preacher, adding the moniker of “Superstar” to match his wild personal style, often covered in tie-dye and predating the constantly exuding charisma of men like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and The Rock by decades. Graham found his biggest fame like so many others while in WWE, where he became the World Champion under the guidance of manager The Grand Wizard. Graham’s career fizzled out almost instantly once he lost the title to Bob Backlund, though he would make several more appearances in both WWE and the NWA with diminishing returns. He’s been suffering from severe liver issues since 2002, when he required his first transplant. He has needed another transplant since 2011, once claiming he had less than a year to live, though he has thus far beaten all expectations.
4. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka
James Wiley Smith was born in Fiji on May 18, 1943. He experienced some success as a professional bodybuilder, but eventually decided the real money was in wrestling, training for a career in the ring and then making his debut in 1970. Snuka was capable of achieving great heights as both a heel and face, with his bug-eyed expressions instilling fear and high-flying move set exciting fans who had never seen anything like that in the days the Superfly flew around the ring. Snuka used his unique capabilities to become a star in a number of NWA territories, ECW, and especially WWE. In 1982, Snuka leapt off the top of a cage at Madison Square Garden, inspiring decades of hardcore and high flying superstars to try and one up his antics. He also holds distinction as the first ECW Champion, although his reign is often written out of the extreme canon. On the negative side, Snuka’s entire career has been rife with controversy since 1983, when he was accused of murdering his girlfriend, Nancy Argentino. He was finally arrested and charged in 2015, though judges found him unfit to stand trial. The decision was related to Snuka apparently suffering from dementia, which as of December 2016 causes him to require constant hospice care along with anti-psychosis medication.
Tammy Lynn Sytch was born in Matawan, New Jersey on December 7, 1972. The youngest person on our list and thus perhaps the most tragic story, Tammy traveled to Smoky Mountain Wrestling with her real-life boyfriend Chris Candido in 1992, becoming his manager and valet. The couple soon made their way to the WWE Universe as Skip and Sunny, known collectively as the Bodydonnas. Sunny gradually slid away from Skip on screen and off, etching her way into history as one of the highest profile female managers in WWE history, not to mention the only female manager whatsoever at the time. Sunny controlled a number of Tag Team Champions, and in the solo division, she’s responsible for introducing Ron Simmons to the WWE Universe. Substance abuse was unfortunately always part of her life, though, causing her to lose her job with WWE in 1998. She then attempted runs in ECW and WCW to no avail. Though she seemed to be turning her life around circa her 2011 WWE Hall of Fame induction, things have once again turned south for Sunny, getting arrested for a number of DUIs and turning to the adult film industry to make ends meet.
2. Razor Ramon
Scott Hall was born in St. Mary’s County, Maryland in 1958. He began his career in the NWA’s Florida territory where his star potential was instantly recognized, getting him thrown into a top feud with the legendary Dusty Rhodes. Over the next few years, Hall formed tag teams with Dan Spivey, Curt Hennig, and “Diamond” Dallas Page, all to varying success, finally breaking out as a star when Vince McMahon hired him to compete as Razor Ramon in 1992. Razor was one of the standout superstars of the New Generation, winning the Intercontinental Championship four times and feuding with a number of World Championships, though he never earned the belt himself. Hall jumped to WCW in 1996, firing the first blows of the Monday Night War by announcing the arrival of the nWo. Unfortunately, his career highlight was undercut by WCW allowing him to dig into his vices and exponentially worsen his substance abuse, demons it sadly looks like Hall still hasn’t beaten to this day. Hall has been receiving much needed help from his old friend “Diamond” Dallas Page, but a 2016 relapse once again has fans gravely concerned over his health.
1. Big Van Vader
Leon White was born in Lynwood, California on May 14, 1955. He was a star football player in high school, graduating to a brief career with the Los Angeles Rams that included playing in Super Bowl XIV. Injuries meant his time in football didn’t last long, though, and several years later he decided to switch to pro wrestling. He spent a few years in the AWA, but his star didn’t truly start to shine until he headed to Japan, where he was renamed Big Van Vader and given a terrifying black mask. Vader became one of the most dominant gaijin superstars in Japanese wrestling history, and his success continued when he returned to America in 1990. Vader won the WCW World Championship three times, jumping to WWE in early 1996. He wasn’t as successful in WWE as he was in WCW, but he remained a main event level talent, competing against WWE World Champions like Bret Hart, The Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels at a number of Pay-Per-Views. While his career has gradually been slowing down since he left WWE in 1998, he has wrestled the occasional match as recently as 2016. In November, Vader took to Twitter and announced doctors told him he suffered congestive heart failure that meant he had at most two years left to live.
One more time, we hope all of the wrestlers mentioned on this list outlive our morbid predictions for many years to come. If nothing else, hopefully their fans will be inspired to give them the love and attention they deserve while they’re still around, and maybe even help them out in whatever small way they can.
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