The wrestling industry is one that is never short of bizarre and at times shocking story lines. Even now, in a time where the ability to shock people seems to have been substantially reduced because of the media and current events, superstars of the wrestling world still seem to make headlines. The wrestling industry has always been closely examined, for a number of reasons, but more so because of the large amount of tragic incidents it’s associated with, ones that have included some of the biggest names in the business.
We’ve all heard that professional wrestling is fake, have we not? The only thing fake about wrestling are the outrageous, but entertaining characters and antics we see them portray on TV from time to time. However; what isn’t fake are the injuries and abuse that professional wrestlers suffer from. They sacrifice their bodies, day after day and night after night, not to mention the excessive traveling, lack of sleep and mental and emotional stress. It’s no wonder that through the decades we have seen so many tragic stories ripple through the wrestling world.
Here is 15 of Wrestling’s greatest tragedies:
15. Bruiser Brody
Bruiser Brody, had a violent style that his opponents feared and he was probably one of the most savage competitors to ever compete in a wrestling ring. At 6’8 and close to 300lbs he was massive, towering over most of his opponents. On July 16, 1988 Brody was in the locker room before his match against Dan Spivey. Fellow wrestler Jose Huertas Gonzalez approached Brody to “discuss business” in the shower room. The two of them walked off and a few minutes later Gonzalez stabbed Brody in the stomach. Due to the size of Brody, paramedics were unable to lift him into the ambulance. Fellow wrestler Tony Atlas then carried him down to the ambulance. Brody’s last words, according to Atlas were, “Tell my little son I love him, and tell my wife I love her, too.” He later died in the hospital. Gonzalez has always maintained his innocence, claiming self-defense.
14. Mike Awesome
Awesome was an American professional wrestler whose career started in independent promotions and ECW, eventually making his way into WCW and WWE. Awesome was one of the most impressive and commanding young wrestlers in the wrestling world of the’90s. The problem was that after leaving WCW and ECW he found himself stuck with awful gimmicks and he never really was able to utilize his powerful abilities. It’s been said that he was one of the most wasted talents in the history of wrestling. Discouraged with the outcome of his career, and trying to cope with severe clinical depression, Awesome committed suicide in 2007.
13. Adrian Adonis
At the height of his career, Adonis was one of the most respectable mid-card wrestlers in the AWA and WWE. Adonis was always an incredibly hard worker, putting on a great show, making way for the rising superstars in the main event. Sadly, he was killed on July 4, 1988 in Lewisporte, Newfoundland in a car accident. Adonis and a few fellow wrestlers were traveling to a show, and the van he was riding in swerved to try and avoid hitting a Moose. Their van landed in a nearby lake.
12. Junkyard Dog
The 280 lb former professional football player-turned wrestler was one of the most well-liked superstars in the wrestling world. Known for entering the ring with his trademark chain and dog collar around his neck, and blaring his entrance music of Queen’s “Another One Bites The dust”, Junkyard Dog ensured his spot as one of the top draws, especially during his peak in the ’80s. On June 2, 1998 Junkyard Dog died in a single-car accident. He was returning from his daughter’s high school graduation when he fell asleep at the wheel.
11. Bret Hart
A Canadian and second-generation professional wrestler, to say that Bret Hart excelled in his career would be an understatement. In over 30 years from 1978 to 2010, “The Hit Man” held 32 championships, 17 of them being during his time with the WWE and WCW. During Starrcade in 1999, in a disqualification match against Bill Goldberg, Hart was injured due to a kick to the head from Goldberg. He later discovered that he had a serious concussion. Three years later Hart suffered a stroke after hitting his head in a motorcycle accident. He suffered paralysis on his left side, which required months of physical therapy to recover from. Bret has since retired and is now a published author.
10. Dino Bravo
In the wrestling world Dino Bravo was known as “Canada’s Strongest Man.” He debuted in 1970 and wrestled for many of North America’s biggest promotions, but in the world of organized crime his title was irrelevant and he was soon in the business of smuggling cigarettes, which created unwanted attention. Dino’s story is yet another tale of a pro wrestler mixed up with the mob and paying for it with his life. After Dino retired in 1992, he moved back home to Montreal and opened a wrestling school. In March 1993, Bravo was found dead in his home with seven bullets in his head and ten in his torso. It is believed that it was a Mafia hit in retaliation of Bravo’s cigarette smuggling business.
9. Brian Pillman
Brian Pillman was a professional wrestler and football player, and it wasn’t until the end of his football career that he decided to transition into wrestling and soon began training under Stu Hart and his sons. His wrestling debut was in November 1986 in Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary, and later went on to appear in top organizations like ECW, WCW and WWE. Pillman had a legacy as “The Loose Cannon” as he was always extremely energetic and agile in the ring. On October 5, 1997 Pillman was scheduled to wrestle Dude Love at the WWE pay-per-view Badd Blood: In Your House. He never showed… It was discovered that maids had found him dead earlier that day in his hotel room. The cause of death was a result of a previously undetected heart condition called arteriosclerosis heart disease. Pillman was 35.
8. Chris Candido
Chris Candido, was introduced to wrestling at a young age, his grandfather being “Popeye” Chuck Richards, a wrestler for WWE. Candido started training at the age of 14, and throughout his career he was a solid mid-card performer in almost every wrestling organization in North America. In April 2005, after enduring injuries in a TNA cage match, he had surgery to have plates placed in his leg. An infection developed in his leg and caused a blood clot. A few days later he developed pneumonia and while under surgery to have his lungs drained, he passed away.
7. Dynamite Kid
Kid is a retired professional wrestler. He competed in the World Wrestling Federation, Stampede Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling in the ’80s. His cousin was Davey Boy Smith, otherwise known as “The British Bulldog”, and together they were the tag team the British Bulldogs. Kid was well known for carrying out numerous diving head butts in his career and most likely they were the source of his medical issues. His problems started with a number of back and leg injuries. He is now disabled and uses a wheelchair, and has been told that he will never walk again. Dynamite Kid retired in 1996, his last match was the Legends of High-Flying in a 6-man tag. After his match, while waiting at the airport to go home, he had a seizure. Less than a year later he lost the use of his left leg before the total paralysis took over his body.
6. Andre The Giant
The extraordinary Andre the Giant, achieved astronomical heights of notoriety and fame in the WWE. He was known as the friendly giant and liked by everyone. Andre Rene Rousimoff started his career in the ’60s, and it wasn’t until 1972 that he changed his name to Andre the Giant and was signed by Vince McMahon Sr. to perform in the WWE. For the next decade, he wrestled his way into the hearts of everyone watching. Andre was born in 1946, with a condition called acromegaly, which was the reason for his large size. His physique was around 7’4 and 450 lbs, leading to countless health problems. In 1993, while in Paris for his father’s funeral, he died in his sleep. Not long after his death the WWE created The Hall of Fame, and Andre was the only person inducted in the inaugural class.
5. Eddie Guerrero
Despite his struggles with drugs and alcohol, Guerrero reached the top of the wrestling world, eventually becoming the world champion. It was well known that he had battled with substance abuse over the years, which nearly cost him his career, his family and his own life. In 2005, things appeared to be going well for him, as he was at his best physical shape and at the height of his career. On November 13th of that year he was scheduled to wrestle for the championship, but earlier that morning he was found dead from heart failure.
4. The Von Erich Family
The Von Erich family are one of the most recognizable wrestling families in the history of the sport. Some people have said that there was a curse on the Von Erichs, perhaps in the same way that people refer to the Kennedy’s being plagued with a curse, since both families have been surrounded by an immense amount of tragedy.
Out of the five wrestling brothers only one remains – Kevin Von Erich. The first of these brothers to pass away was David. Despite complaining of severe stomach pains, David went ahead and traveled to Japan for a wrestling event. However, after one of his matches, upon returning to his hotel room, David died in his sleep in February of 1984.
Three years later David’s brother Mike committed suicide by overdosing on tranquilizers. Before his suicide, he had suffered a shoulder injury and endured complications from surgery which left him with Toxic Shock Syndrome. He was treated successfully but it left him very weak, and as a result he was unable to come to terms with the fact that his wrestling career was now over.
In 1991, four years after Mike’s suicide, his brother Chris also committed suicide, but unlike his brothers, he didn’t achieve success in wrestling like they had, and because of all of his hard work not paying off he became severely depressed and shot himself. He was only 21.
The last brother of the Erich family to pass away was Kerry, who had a successful career as a wrestler but had an unfortunate motorcycle accident and ended up losing a foot. In spite of this, he still continued to wrestle, with a prosthetic limb. But his life soon became chaotic as he became addicted to painkillers, his marriage fell apart and he was arrested, which eventually lead him to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest in February of 1993.
3. Darren Drozdov
In 1999, Darren Drozdov was 30 years old and in his prime. He was an incredible athlete, a former defensive tackle who had a brief NFL career and later went on to become one of WWE’s highly anticipated up-and-coming wrestlers. Drozdov had a bright and promising future in professional wrestling. However, on October 5 of that year, at a WWE taping, the 6’3, 280lb wrestler’s life changed in a blink of an eye. A power bomb that was delivered to him by D’Lo Brown went horribly wrong, leaving Drozov with no feeling below his neck. He is now a quadriplegic.
2. Owen Hart
The heartbreaking death of Owen Hart is probably one of the best known wrestling tragedies, mainly because it is quite rare for a wrestler to die while performing. Hart was regarded as one of the WWE’s greatest professional wrestlers. At the Over the Edge pay-per-view on May 23, 1999, he was scheduled to compete against The Godfather. It was arranged for Hart to enter the ring in an unforgettable style, by being lowered down to the ground on a line suspended from the rafters of the arena. Unfortunately, he accidentally triggered the release too early, leaving him to fall 78 feet into the ring below. His injuries were severe, and he died of internal bleeding. Hart was 34.
1. Chris Benoit
It’s safe to say that the Benoit tragedy was probably the most shocking, so for that reason alone it is number one on our list. Benoit was an extremely talented and successful wrestler in both the WCW and WWE, winning numerous championships through the years. He was well respected by both his fans and his peers, and could very have been listed as one of the top wrestlers of all time. On June 23, of 2007 he was scheduled to appear at a Smackdown live show, but prior to the event Benoit left a voicemail to a fellow wrestler saying he would be late because he missed his flight.
The story then changed, with Benoit saying he was stressed because of his wife and son were sick with food poisoning. Eventually he said he wouldn’t be able to make it to Smackdown because of a family emergency. After a series of odd text messages sent from Benoit’s and his wife’s phone, the WWE contacted the police. The officers that arrived at the wrestler’s home found the bodies of his wife Nancy, their son Daniel and Benoit. There was a bible beside each body.
It was pieced together that Benoit strangled Nancy, suffocated his son and then hung himself from one of his weight machines. No one will ever be able to truly understand why Benoit murdered his family and took his own life. However, what we do know is that he was a known steroid abuser and many have concluded that he suffered from “roid rage.” Autopsy results showed that Benoit’s brain resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient, damage that came as a result of multiple untreated concussions over the years.