The wrestling industry has been rocked by the premature deaths of many high profile people over the years. We could list so many different important performers, like Umaga, Curt Henning, Sherri Martel Paul Bearer, Crash Holly, Mike Awesome and Bam Bam Bigelow, who’ve died too soon. Unfortunately, the high numbers of wrestler funerals at times have led to a level of indifference.
Nelson Frazier Jr. died after working for the WWE off and on between 1993 and 2008, as Mabel, King Mabel, Viscera and Big Daddy V, and few people batted an eye. Even the lawsuit his widow hit the company with has resulted in little fanfare or attention. That isn’t always the case, however. Some deaths seemed to rock the WWE and its employees to their core.
10. Owen Hart
A storied prankster who loved his family more than anything in the world, memories of Owen brings smiles to the faces of nearly anyone who knew or watched him. A member of the Hart Family, alongside The British Bulldog who we also considered including on our list, Owen’s feud with his brother Bret was one of the best ever, let alone the early nineties. If his career in the WWE took place before your time, all you have to do is go back and watch his antics after he won two Slammy Awards to understand what made him so delightful.
Then one night, something went horribly wrong. Set to make an incredible entrance from the rafters, the gear that held him in place released and he fell in front of an arena of fans, which led to his death. The fact that the event continued was highly controversial but Vince and his higher ups couldn’t have possibly seen what happened coming made their situation impossible. Other wrestlers have died while under contract with the company but Owen Hart, the popular and hilarious Owen Hart, is the only man to die as a direct result of his employment by them. They continue to celebrate him to this day, despite his widow’s best efforts, because he was great and his death changed the company forever.
9. Miss Elizabeth
The former wife of a WWF main eventer, in our minds Elizabeth, is the classiest person to ever grace the WWF with her presence. Accompanying her husband to the ring, she eventually served as the catalyst for the implosion of the Mega-Powers and made everyone’s hearts swell when she got back together with Randy Savage.
In real life, however, her marriage to the Macho Man fell apart and by the time she left this Earth she was in a long-term relationship with Lex Luger. Dying due to a deadly mix of painkillers and alcohol, her death didn’t match the persona she’d crafted over the years. Liz may never have been the megastar people like Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin were, but we can’t help imagine her potential as a valuable company ambassador. The details of her end also have made her a difficult figure to add to the Hall of Fame, despite how obviously she deserves the honour.
8. Brian Pillman
Popular current WWE performer, Dean Ambrose, may be known as the lunatic fringe but his off-kilter persona seems positively pedestrian in comparison to that of Brian Pillman. At one time arguably the most talked about person in the wrestling world, he seemed poised to have a run for the ages. Then tragedy hit and after a car accident, he shattered his ankle, was in a coma for a week and once he came to, his in ring work was never the same.
Dying after a heart attack while in the midst of a high profile feud against Goldust, his absence clearly had to be explained to the audience he’d always entertained. When Vince McMahon interviewed his grieving widow on Raw, in one of the most disgusting moments in company history, the world had an example of exactly how you don’t handle a death. Always remembered for his tag team with Stone Cold Steve Austin, an incredible character and amazing aerial ability, Brian deserved so much better and his death insured other families got treated better.
7. Dusty Rhodes
Known as “The American Dream”, Dusty’s unorthodox charisma won the love of audiences wherever he went. Whether he was saddled with goofy polka dot ring gear or allowed to revel in his everyman persona, nothing could tarnish his sincere connection with the audience. A multiple time world champion and Hall of Famer, among many more accolades, his behind the scenes role was nearly as important as his time on camera.
Working for the WWE as a part of the creative team for years, by the time he died his biggest role was working with the talent in NXT. Leading promo classes, he helped to shepherd the latest generation on the mic and, more importantly, taught them to have confidence in themselves. The outpouring of anguish, appreciation and esteem that flowed from the NXT roster as a whole is a testament to how important he was and how much he is missed today. In fact, on a recent conference call, Triple H stated that they would likely need to employ multiple highly talented people to partially fill the hole he left.
6. The Ultimate Warrior
An imposing figure who truly embraced his so-called Warrior lifestyle, the man once known as James Hellwig is inarguably memorable. Massively muscled and balls to the wall from the moment his music hit, Warrior became one of the biggest stars in the company before disappearing again and again. Whatever the reason for his many departures from the WWF, his fans never forget him for a moment.
After a lackluster run in WCW, Warrior returned to the WWE in 2013 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame the following year. After giving a wonderful acceptance speech where he spoke about his career and the people behind the scenes that made it possible, he made one appearance on Raw and then was gone in an instant. A death that is rumoured to have hit Vince McMahon hard, the following year saw the company unveil a statue of him and set up The Warrior Award at the Hall of Fame ceremony. As of this moment, we haven’t had a second recipient announced but we know Warrior would love to be remembered for an award that celebrates extraordinary people.
5. Chris Benoit
An incredibly talented wrestler, who won 22 different championships in the WWE, WCW, ECW and NJPW combined, Chris isn’t remembered by most, for any of it. Killing his wife and child in the final days of his life before doing himself in, he reduced himself into a monster in a weekend. If you can enjoy his work despite his horrific actions, we are very happy for you but there are many people, including WWE’s hierarchy, who’d rather not.
A former WrestleMania main eventer, Royal Rumble Winner and world champion in both WCW and WWE, he was featured in a prominent role for years. Of course, you’d never know that if the WWE had their way. Never mentioned in promotional material for events he headlined or spoken about if it can be avoided, you can feel his death largely because you mostly can’t feel his career at all.
4. “Macho Man” Randy Savage
One of the most entertaining men to ever grace the wrestling world with his presence, Randy Savage had an amazing career. Snapping into Slim Jims for years, he was also a six-time world champion in a time when the belt didn’t change hands often. Magnificent on the mic and dazzling in the ring, there has simply never been anyone else like Randy in this or any other industry.
There was something really weird going on, though. Persona non grata with Vince McMahon and, as a result, the WWE as a whole, he never ever got his due from the company while he was alive. The biggest hole in the WWE Hall of Fame’s roster to many observers, he was only inducted once he was no longer amongst us. Macho Man’s career always influenced the WWE and its wrestlers but now that he died they are allowed to admit it. We’d love to have him on our list because of how great his achievements or that WrestleMania 3, Ricky Steamboat match was but we’re sad to say finally getting the credit he deserved earned his place here.
Despite portraying a Sumo wrestler, Yokozuna was in actuality of Samoan origin, who to this day is arguably the most successful blood member of the famed Anoaʻi wrestling family. A big man wrestler, by the time of his death, his weight had ballooned to the estimated weight of 760 lbs. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, had Yoko managed to stay healthy and most importantly alive, the impact he could have made on the company is daunting to consider. Amazing at playing the bad guy during his tenure, even as a racist caricature, he only left the WWE because his weight worried officials. An awful lot was left on the table.
Beloved by his family, as best evidenced by an interview Rikishi gave about him on Confidential, the current generation of his family has been impacted by his life and death as well. The Usos, Rikishi’s sons, have spoken about how important he and fellow deceased family member Umaga were in their lives, we can only assume Roman Reigns also would not be the same if they’d lived.
2. Andre The Giant
Everyone knows that Vince McMahon likes to promote large men and no man has ever fit that bill better than the man known as a giant. Memories and stories of Andre reached far past the world of wrestling fans and the world mourned his passing. If you haven’t heard stories of his legendary drinking prowess, for instance, we suggest you seek them out.
Amongst big wrestling fans, one of the best nights of the year is when the WWE inducts a new class into its Hall of Fame. Considering how well-known it is in wrestling circles how special a place in Vince McMahon’s heart Andre had, it may not come as a surprise that Andre inspired the entire concept. Roughly two months after his passing, Andre was announced as the sole inductee in the first year of the newly created Hall of Fame existence. Throw in the yearly WrestleMania battle royale, named in his honour, and you can feel the man’s gigantic fingerprints all over the current day WWE.
1. Eddie Guerrero
Eddie had all of the tools. The fact that he’d been in the ring since he was a toddler and had wrestled all over the world made his matches great, but that was just a fragment of what made him so outstanding. The mischievous smirk that became one of Eddie’s trademarks in the final part of his life and career made fans so fond of him that when he was gone it hit us hard. Seeing the reaction of his peers, men like Batista, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, made it clear he wasn’t only a good wrestler, he was a good man.
His demise and the attention it elicited inspired a massive change in WWE policy, which made the company adopt the wellness policy. The lack of suspensions in the last several years may be evidence of how good a job it has done or how little they adhere to it, depending on your point of view, but the company isn’t the same. Daniel Bryan, for instance, a huge fan favorite and WrestleMania headliner hasn’t wrestled in months due to the concussion protocols that are a part of the policy. No death changed the way the WWE does business more.