The WWE has no clear rules regarding how they treat the deaths of former wrestlers or WWE personalities, and sometimes it seems that stars who many feel deserved some acknowledgement didn’t receive any at all. Mentions of wrestler deaths appear to be done on a case-by-case basis, with some decisions leaving people scratching their heads.
Wrestling faced a real epidemic at one point, with many wrestlers dying very young, usually as a direct consequence of drugs or the indirect impacts of painkillers, steroids, or human growth hormones. Acknowledging all the deaths that were occurring at the time would have meant broadcasting to the world that a real problem existed within the business. As a result, the last 15 years has caused the WWE to ignore the deaths of some people who, perhaps, deserved a little better.
One thing that should be noted is that the WWE has made great progress in improving the situation. Increased drug testing and policies surrounding the use of recreational or performance-enhancing drugs has kept current premature wrestler deaths to much lower rates than had been occurring not too long ago. The WWE also offers to pay for both former and current wrestlers to go to rehab to handle any drug or addiction problems that might be dealing with.
Not every member of this list is a wrestler who died due to drug or alcohol issues however; sometimes the WWE just felt it better to cut ties with the person all the way through death.
Andrew Martin, better known by the name Test, wrestled for the WWE from 1998-2004, and then again as part of the re-launch of the ECW brand in 2006-07.
Test debuted as a bodyguard for Motley Crue, who performed at a WWE event. In a planned event a fan tried to run on stage but Test manhandled them and threw the person off stage. This was the catalyst for Test to become a wrestler.
From there on, Test would go on to become a member of Vince McMahon’s Corporation, and be involved in a memorable angle where he was engaged to be married to Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie and Test were scheduled have their ceremony on air but just as the two were about to say their vows, Triple H interrupted and showed a video he made of him and an apparently drugged Stephanie getting married at a drive-thru chapel in Vegas.
Test died of an accidental overdose of oxycodone, during a period in wrestling’s history where a lot of wrestlers were dying young under similar circumstances. Test had just turned 34. You would think that the death of a performer who had once been such a focal point of the TV show would receive a lot of coverage from the WWE, but perhaps in an attempt to not put a spotlight on the trend of wrestlers dying young, the WWE chose to largely ignore Test’s death.
9. Crash Holly
In much the same way that ECW created the Dudleys, the WWE created the Hollys, a fictional family of hard-nosed, tough-as-nails wrestlers. “Hardcore” Bob Holly was the original Holly member in the WWE, but “Crash” Holly and the pair’s cousin Molly Holly later joined him. Each “Holly” had bleached blonde hair and did resemble each other to some degree, despite not actually being related to one another.
The Dudleys and the Hollys would be involved in a storyline together, when a romantic relationship developed between Molly Holly and Spike. The storyline developed into a Romeo and Juliet-esque drama with the love story involving two families that hated each other.
Crash was released from his WWE contract in 2003, and served with divorce papers from his wife that fall. He died as a result of choking on his own vomit after consuming prescription pills and alcohol, but his death was ruled a suicide.
8. Dino Bravo
Dino Bravo looked as though it was not possible to fit anymore muscle on a human.
His impressive physique, combined with his real-world toughness made Bravo a wrestler to watch all throughout his career. Bravo’s in-ring career spanned over 20 years, most notably a 7-year run with the WWF during a boom period for the business between 1985-92.
Often aligned with Jimmy “the Mouth of the South” Hart, as well as his fellow French Canadians the Rougeau Brothers, Bravo was a mid-card heel for pretty much his entire WWE run. Despite having a career that could be deemed worthy of the WWE Hall of Fame, the WWE largely ignored his death. The reason for the WWE’s choosing not to acknowledge his death or contributions to wrestling might very well be as a result of Bravo’s alleged connections with organized crime in Quebec.
Shortly after leaving the WWE Bravo was shot dead in his home in Laval, Quebec. It is rumored that a hit had been put on Bravo for an illegal cigarette smuggling operation, courtesy of the mafia. Bravo was also believed to be tied to the Cotroni crime family in Montreal.
7. Chris Kanyon
Other than a few shows he worked as a jobber, Kanyon made his WCW debut in 1997 as “Mortis,” a heel inspired by Mortal Kombat-style characters that was set to feud with “Glacier”, who many argue was a blatant rip-off of Sub-Zero.
After that program fizzled out Kanyon became involved in storylines revolving around Raven’s Flock. When WWE purchased WCW, Kanyon was one of the few wrestlers whose contract WWE decided to keep. Kanyon made his debut on WWE television as part of the WCW invasion angle.
Kanyon was homosexual, but did not come out publicly until after his full-time wrestling career was over. His autobiography, released in 2011, focuses a lot on what it was like to be a closeted gay man in the wrestling business. Along with Raven and Mike Sanders, Kanyon was involved in a failed lawsuit against the WWE, alleging the company mislabeled them as independent contractors and owed them health benefits.
In 2010, Kanyon committed suicide, leaving a note of apology for his family.
6. Lance Cade
Lance Cade was one of the first wrestlers trained by Shawn Michaels, when Michaels first opened a wrestling school in San Antonio following his initial (and temporary) retirement from the wrestling business. That first class of graduates from HBK’s wrestling school also included “The” Brian Kendrick (aka Spanky) and some guy named Daniel Bryan, who went on to main event WrestleMania 31.
Cade, easily the biggest of the three wrestlers who would make it to the WWE, was considered the crown jewel of the class by Michaels. He would achieve only limited success in the WWE, however, most notably as one half of a tag team with Trevor Murdoch. The pair would win the WWE World Tag Team titles on three occasions, but outside of their team Cade never really made much of a mark in WWE.
Sadly, the WWE made little mention of Cade’s death of heart failure in 2010. He was only 30 years old. A coroner would later rule that a variety of drugs in Cade’s system might have impacted an underlying heart condition.
Viscera was probably Nelson Frazier’s most recognizable ring-name in the WWE, but he also went by Big Daddy V, Mabel, and after having won the King of the Ring in 1995, he was known as King Mabel.
Frazier’s debut in the WWF came in 1993, less than a year after starting to wrestle professionally. The team of Men on a Mission would consist of Frazier (then known as Mabel), Mo and manager/team rapper Oscar. The pair would be dressed in all purple and the gigantic Mabel would wow the crowd by delivering vicious looking slams on his much smaller opponents. According to Kevin Nash, however, Frazier really was hurting some of his opponents.
In 1999, Frazier returned under the gimmick of Viscera, a dark brooding character that sported a mohawk, all black ring gear, and black lipstick. Viscera became a disciple of the Undertaker in his Ministry of Darkness stable. Viscera would also pop up in the WWE’s remake of ECW as Big Daddy V before leaving the company for a final time in 2008.
Frazier died in February of 2014 of a heart attack. He was 43 years old.
Despite being a former King of the Ring winner who wrestled for close to 10 years in the company (over three stints), the WWE made little mention of his death.
A year later his wife launched a wrongful death lawsuit against the WWE, claiming the WWE hid the long-term impacts of concussions.
Hercules Hernandez had a seven-year career with the WWF during the boom period of the mid to late 80s and early 90s. His career really started to take off when he was being managed by Bobby “the Brain” Heenan in the mid 80s. During that period Hercules received a WWF title match against Hulk Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event, getting pinned after the legdrop of doom of course, but still putting in a good showing.
Hercules was also featured on several WrestleMania cards during the period between 1985-92 as well, including working programs with Billy Jack Haynes, the Ultimate Warrior, King Haku and the Legion of Doom.
Near the end of his WWF run Hercules would team up with future 4-Horsemen member Paul Roma as the team “Power and Glory,” with their most notable match being a 1-minute squash match loss to the Legion of Doom at WrestleMania VII. It’s arguable that Hercules could be in the WWE Hall of Fame considering the career he had, but still the WWE didn’t do much in the way of paying tribute to him after his death in 2004 due to heart disease.
3. Doink the Clown (Matt Osborne)
The idea behind the Doink the Clown gimmick is that he was an evil clown that played mean tricks on fans and wrestlers. This is not quite like the evil clown gimmick we see in AAA Lucha Libre today, where the Psycho Circus of Murder Clown, Monster Clown, and Psycho Clown are all fan-favorites. The mischievous Doink the Clown was despised by fans.
Matt Osborne was the first to portray the Doink character, and would do so until he was fired from the company in 1993 due to ongoing substance problems. The Doink character would continue, being portrayed now by Ray Apollo, and would become a good guy, even bringing along a new friend named Dink to the mix. Osborne died in 2013 as a result of an accidental overdose of painkillers that was possibly affected by heart problems.
There was little mention of Osborne’s death despite his being such a focal point of the early Monday Night Raw shows.
2. Jack Tunney
Before WWE had general managers, there was the WWF President Jack Tunney – the figurehead of the WWF from the mid 80s to the mid 90s, presiding over the company for the entire boom period and Hulkamania.
Jack Tunney was a wrestling promoter in Toronto for the NWA before aligning himself with Vince McMahon in the mid 80s. Toronto has, on and off again, been a booming location for professional wrestling, culminating in the huge WrestleMania VI card at the Skydome. Tunney held various legitimate roles with the WWF during this time, mainly presiding over the company’s tours of Canada.
Tunney and WWF parted ways in the mid 90s under less than amicable terms, it seemed. There had been speculation and rumors regarding Tunney not backing Bret Hart as champion, and allegedly being willing to testify that Ron Garvin sexually harassed a WWF employee that may have led to Tunney’s split with the WWF. Despite being such a well-remembered character on WWF programming, there was little mention of Jack Tunney’s death in 2004 at the age of 69 (heart attack). Jack Tunney is also not in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Edward Smith Fatu’s death in 2009 went largely unannounced by WWE. A member of the prestigious Anoa’i family, Fatu’s first stint in the WWE was as a member of the largely forgettable team 3 Minute Warning, but his second gimmick was much better received.
The character of Umaga was a Samoan warrior that seemed to pay homage to the Samoan Swat Team and Headshrinker teams that his family was also associated with. Umaga rose high in the ranks of WWE between 2005-08, winning the Intercontinental Championship on two occasions, and even scoring a victory over The Rock.
The most high-profile match of Umaga’s career, however, was his WrestleMania 23 match against Bobby Lashley. The match was part of a storyline that involved McMahon and Donald Trump, which is hilarious to look back on. Trump and McMahon each picked a wrestler to represent them and whoever’s wrestler lost had to have their head shaved bald. Lashley would defeat Umaga, and ultimately it would be Vince McMahon who would lose his hair after the match.
Umaga failed a wellness policy test in 2009 and was fired for refusing to go to rehab. He died of a heart attack less than a year later, and it was revealed he had numerous substances in his system at the time of his death.