The wrestling world has been hit in recent years by a wave of former stars who died way before their time. The deaths have been occurring at an alarming rate, and the big question is “Why?” What is making these former wrestlers pass away at such a young age?
While many detractors claim that wrestling is scripted, fake, and not real fighting, they can’t deny the fact that the industry takes its toll on wrestlers’ bodies, mental state, and overall health. There are various reasons why wrestling has such an impact on health, including the physical contact — try getting slammed on the canvas on a regular basis, traveling constantly from city to city, and taking prescription drugs, painkillers and other substances to alleviate all the physical and mental demands of the business.
Wrestling also involves hours and hours of preparation. Wrestlers need to be alert and ready to entertain and do their jobs properly as that’s what they get paid to do. This is obviously very time-consuming, so it’s no surprise how difficult it must be to stay in peak condition to remain relevant and at the top of their game.
Having said all of that, it’s no surprise why so many have died way too soon. While we try to focus on 15 of the biggest names, we need to keep in mind that the list of greats who perished at a young age is much longer than we can imagine.
15. Andre The Giant
André René Roussimoff was a professional wrestler and actor who was born and raised in France. He was a WWF legend who most famously feuded with Hulk Hogan, which led to a WrestleMania III showdown. He was a WWF World heavyweight Champion and a WWF Tag-Team Champion. André was also the inaugural inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1993.
Andre was also famous for his role as Fezzik, a giant in The Princess Bride. “His size was a result of gigantism caused by excess growth hormone, which later resulted in acromegaly. It also led to him being called ‘The Eighth Wonder of the World.'”
The Giant died of congestive heart failure while he was sleeping on January 27, 1993. He was 46. He played a big part in the early days of WrestleMania and will never be forgotten — a true gentle giant.
Joan Marie Laurer was an American wrestler, model, bodybuilder, and actress from “the other industry.” Chyna was labeled “The Ninth Wonder of the World” when she made her WWF debut in 1997. When she left the industry, the WWE called her “the most dominant female competitor of all time.”
Chyna’s list of achievements is very impressive, holding at one time the WWF Intercontinental Championship and the WWF Women’s Championship. Chyna was found dead in her home in Redondo beach, California on April 20, 2016 at 46 years of age. According to her autopsy, she died of an overdose of alcohol, “combined with the anxiety drugs diazepam and nordiazepam, painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone, and sleeping aid temazepam.” (Wikipedia)
13. Chris Benoit
Christopher Michael Benoit was a Canadian wrestler from Montreal, Quebec. He wrestled in almost every major wrestling promotion including WWF/WWE, ECW, WCW, and even in Japan in the NJPW.
Benoit had an amazing 22 combined wrestling titles throughout his career, including being a one-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. According to Wikipedia, he was even “booked to win a third world championship at a WWE event on the night of his death.” He was also the 2004 Royal Rumble winner and a WWE Triple Crown Champion and “the second of five men in history to achieve both the WWE and WCW Triple Crown Championships.”
Sadly, Benoit murdered his wife and his son on June 22, 2007 and then hanged himself two days later. “Research suggests depression and brain damage from numerous concussions are likely contributing factors leading to the crime.” He was only 40 years old.
12. Owen Hart
Owen James Hart was another Canadian wrestler. Born in Calgary, Alberta, Owen also wrestled in several promotions but will mostly be remembered for his time in the WWF. He was the youngest of 12 children and was part of the Hart wrestling family.
Owen’s successful stint in the World Wrestling Federation included being a WWF Intercontinental Champion, a WWF World Tag Team Champion, and the 1994 WWF King of the Ring winner.
Tragically, Owen died on May 23rd, 1999, when there was an equipment malfunction during his entrance from the rafters of Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri at a WWF pay-per-view event. Many of his peers consider him to be one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time. He was only 34 years old when he passed.
11. The British Bulldog
Davey Boy Smith was a British wrestler from Golborne, Lancashire, England. He is best known for his three stints in the WWF and for being trained by Stu Hart and the Hart family in Alberta, Canada. He went on to marry Stu’s daughter (Owen and Bret Hart‘s sister) Diana. They had two children together, including Harry, who is now a professional wrestler.
Smith won titles over three separate decades in the WWF from the 80s to the 2000s. He headlined numerous pay-per-view events and challenged for the WWF Heavyweight title.
10. Ravishing Rick Rude
Richard Erwin Rood was an American wrestler from St. Peter, Minnesota. He fought in several promotions during his career and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 1, 2017.
Before his retirement in 1994 due to injury, Rude was a four-time world champion, including the WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship. He also challenged for the WWF World Heavyweight belt and the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. He wrestled with all the stars of his generation and did many pay-per-view events, as well. Rick famously co-founded the influential D-Generation X group, along with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna in 1997.
9. Dusty Rhodes
Virgil Riley Runnels, Jr., aka “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes was a former wrestler, booker, and trainer. He also made several on-air appearances for WWE following his retirement. Rhodes did it all.
Rhodes never had the typical wrestler physique and was labeled as “the son of a plumber,” identifying with “the common man.” Rhodes won so many world and regional titles that he is “one of six men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Halls of Fame.” (Wikipedia)
On June 11, 2015, Rhodes succumbed to his long battle with stomach cancer after falling down in his home in Orlando, Florida. Rhodes was honored with a ten-bell salute (twice) with the entire WWE organization on hand. He was 69 years old.
8. Junkyard Dog
Sylvester Ritter, known as JYD, was an American wrestler and former college football player. He took the WWF by storm and was labeled as “the first black wrestler to be made the undisputed top star of his promotion.”
With his trademark thick chain attached to a dog collar, he would always walk out to Queen’s hit song Another One Bites the Dust. He often headlined cards and sold out arenas across the country. His favorite finishing move, known as “thump,” was even displayed on his wrestling trunks. He wrestled the best of the best of his era and won the Wrestling Classic over Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
7. Big John Studd
John William Minton was another wrestling legend who passed away at an early age after a Hall of Fame career in the WWF. He famously feuded with other legends such as a young Hulk Hogan and his nemesis, Andre The Giant.
The 1989 Royal Rumble winner was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. He famously eliminated William “The Refrigerator” Perry in a battle royale shortly after the Bears won the Super Bowl in 1985. Andre The Giant went on to win it.
Studd was only 47 when he passed away on March 20, 1995 from liver cancer and Hodgkin’s disease. He had a long bout with cancer and underwent years of chemotherapy after a tumor was found in his armpit. Apparently, “doctors had told him his excessive use of human growth hormone, which had reshaped his skeleton as well as his muscles, may have sparked his tumors.” (Wikipedia)
6. Jimmy ‘Superfly’ Snuka
James Wiley Smith was a Fijian wrestler who had a big impact on the WWF during his prime. His high-flying, high-energy style and performances captivated audiences for many years. He was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996 after an electrifying career, which also included being the inaugural ECW Heavyweight Champion.
Unlike most of the other wrestlers on this list, Snuka managed to live until he was 73, but wrestling certainly had an impact on his health after his retirement from the industry.
Sadly, Superfly was arrested in 2015 on third-degree murder and involuntary manslaughter charges in relation to domestic violence accusations connected to the death of his girlfriend in 1983. Snuka pleaded not guilty and was “found unfit to stand trial in June 2016 due to being diagnosed with dementia.”. His health took another turn for the worse, and in December 2016, “his legal representative announced he had six months left to live due to his terminal illness. The charges were dismissed on January 3, 2017, when Snuka was deemed unfit to stand trial. He died twelve days later.” (Wikipedia)
5. Curt Hennig
We can still hear Ric Flair yelling “Hennig!” during his many rants. Curt used his original name for most of his career until he started using the moniker “Mr. Perfect” but eventually went back to simply using Curt Hennig as that’s what most wrestlers called him and how he was known to the public. When you don’t need a moniker and just use your regular name, you know that you’ve made it in the industry.
Curt is recognized by his peers as being “one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all-time.” All of the other wrestlers had nothing but respect for the Hall of Famer. His buddy Hulk Hogan even once said, “Everybody would check their egos at the door when they came to a building that Curt Hennig was in because you couldn’t out-work him, you couldn’t outshine him, and you couldn’t out-perform him. He was the best of the best.”
Tragedy struck on February 10, 2003 when Hennig was found deceased in a Tampa, Florida hotel room. He was only 44 years old. A cocaine overdose was attributed to his death; however, years of steroids and painkillers also took their toll on his health.
4. The Ultimate Warrior
James Brian Hellwig will always be remembered as The Ultimate Warrior. Wrestling fans will never forget the long hair with the face paint and his muscular physique, which always made him stand out.
During his career in the WWF, he was a two-time WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion and won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship when he famously managed to pin Hulk Hogan in the main event at WrestleMania VI, becoming the first wrestler to hold both titles at the same time. (Wikipedia)
Warrior died on April 8, 2014 at the age of 54. An autopsy revealed Warrior died of a heart attack after he clutched his chest and collapsed while walking to his car. He had just been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame three days before his death, appeared at WrestleMania XXX on April 6, “and made his first Raw appearance in almost 18 years on April 7, the day before his death.”
3. Eddie Guerrero
Another WWF legend who died way too soon, Eddie rose to fame using his real name and never needed a moniker as he came from the prestigious Guerrero wrestling family. His career included a WWF European Championship, a WWF Intercontinental Championship, a WWE Tag Team Championship and a WWE Championship, “his sole world championship at No Way Out 2004.” (Wikipedia)
On November 13, 2005, Guerrero was found unresponsive in his hotel room at The Marriott City Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Years of bouts with drugs and alcohol, along with a lengthy Hall of Fame wrestling career, took their toll on his health. He was 38.
2. Rowdy Roddy Piper
Roderick George Toombs was a Canadian wrestler who was a fan favorite for many years in the WWF/WWE. Although he was Canadian, he embraced his Scottish heritage and used that for his persona during his career. He always wore his kilt and would use bagpipe entrance music every time he came to the ring.
He was as good with a microphone as he was a wrestler and went toe-to-toe with the best of his generation. Piper was at the top of the pack and was a centerpiece in an era that had many legends and Hall of Famers.
Piper died in his sleep on July 31, 2015 in his Hollywood, California home at the age of 61. His death was attributed to cardiopulmonary arrest caused by hypertension. WWE CEO Vince McMahon said, “Roddy Piper was one of the most entertaining, controversial, and bombastic performers ever in WWE, beloved by millions of fans around the world.” (Wikipedia)
1. Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage
Oooooooh Yeah! The deep, raspy voice can still be heard in the heads of wrestling fans around the world. Randy Mario Poffo aka Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage, had everything. The wrestling, the personality, the attire and his wife by his side, Macho Man is regarded by everyone as “one of the greatest professional wrestlers in history, and a number of peers have ranked Savage among the industry’s top performers of all time.” (Wikipedia
He won a ridiculous 29 titles during a 32-year career and had as much drawing power as Hulk Hogan — a true WWF legend.
On May 20, 2011, Macho Man suffered a sudden heart attack while he was driving and crashed into a tree. He was 58 years old. An autopsy revealed he had prescription painkillers and a small amount of alcohol in his system. He will never be forgotten.