One of the saddest parts about being a wrestling fan these days is the fact former idols are dying at a rapid rate, often at ages far too young. So many wrestlers have died young there was a jaunty pop song written about it, and the sad fact is, after a while it started to get pretty easy to guess which wrestlers might go down that same path. A tragic number of wrestlers have shown a pattern of drug abuse or generally distressing behavior, and either their friends and fans or the wrestlers themselves have predicted their own deaths. In some cases, those close to the wrestlers attempted to get them help in some way, but they were generally too far gone to be saved by the time people noticed the problem.
To prevent any controversy in regards to stepping over the lines of bad taste, we ignored people of a certain age and people with emotional problems, barring noteworthy examples. People who suffered from cancer were completely kept off the list. The main focus is on drugs and general lifestyle issues, with many of these wrestlers succumbing to accidental overdoses of one kind or another. If you don’t think it’s too morbid, keep reading and learn about 15 wrestlers whose deaths many people unfortunately saw coming.
15. Yokozuna – Pulmonary Edema
Following in Calhoun’s footsteps, Yokozuna is the last true superheavyweight to become a WWE World Champion. The Big Show might be bigger, but his size is proportional and all encompassing, while Yoko was another in a long line of guys who were simply too big to be beaten. The WWE Hall of Famer was billed from anywhere between 500 and 600 pounds, and it’s said his actual weight at times reached near 800. While Yokozuna’s weight was the attraction that drew fans towards him in the first place, it eventually was starting to kill him, and even his bosses in WWE asked him to take time off and try to lose weight. Yokozuna instead left the company and attempted to gain even more weight on the independent scene, until he eventually died due to pulmonary edema in 2000. He was 34 years old.
14. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – Heart Attack
At 61, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is the oldest out of any wrestler on our list to die. Sixty-one isn’t exactly young, but it’s still pre-retirement age, and Roddy makes the cut regardless because he himself accurately predicted his own death within just a few years. Piper was a guest on Real Sports with Bob Costas in 2003, and was discussing the idea of wrestlers reaching retirement age and whether or not Piper felt they were properly prepared. Piper said he wasn’t prepared—he had a pension, but he couldn’t touch it until he was 65, and in his own words “I’m not gonna make 65—let’s face facts, guys.” Piper’s guess was based on his years of hard living as a wrestler, doing an impossible to remember combination of drugs every night. and causing his own heart to race through his chest with adrenaline for several decades. Piper died in July 2015.
13. Kerry Von Erich – Suicide
We considered keeping Kerry Von Erich off the list because it feels disrespectful to say anyone saw a person committing suicide coming, but several of Kerry’s friends have gone on the record to say exactly that, so we were helpless but to report the facts. Kerry was the fourth Von Erich brother to die young and the second to commit suicide, and personal problems such as these tend to run in the family. Making matters worse, several of the Von Erich brothers also suffered terrible drug addictions, and that certainly included Kerry, too. Kerry’s friend and wrestling legend Bret Hart claimed in his autobiography Kerry would regularly tell people of his plans to “join his brothers” in death, and most people following Kerry’s downward spiral throughout his life weren’t surprised to hear that. Von Erich’s drug problems were also incredibly well known, although he was decently good at hiding it. Kerry committed suicide in 1993.
12. Gino Hernandez – Overdose
Gino Hernandez faded out of wrestling history by way of never appearing in WWE, but he was well on his way to becoming a legend in World Class Championship Wrestling when he met his untimely early demise. “The Handsome Half-breed” was the favorite of many female fans, while his feuds with the Von Erich brothers and his former partner Chris Adams earned him unrivaled vitriol from the men. Unfortunately, during Gino’s time as a wrestler he also developed a powerful addiction to cocaine. Gary Hart, one of the main figures in WCCW, and Gino’s manager, has gone on record to say he tried to get Gino to drop the habit countless times, fearing for the worst, which indeed came to pass in February of 1986 when Gino was only 28 years old. While some wrestlers have introduced a theory Gino may have been murdered, others including Brutus Beefcake instantly dismiss that given the fact Gino was such a big party animal and an OD seemed completely possible, if not likely.
11. Haystacks Calhoun – Weight Outgrew Him
Haystacks Calhoun was wrestling’s first popular superheavyweight of the TV era. Weighing in excess of over 600 pounds, Calhoun was instantly recognizable anywhere he went thanks largely to his massive girth. Calhoun’s weight not only made him noteworthy, but incredibly popular, with his happy-go-lucky Southern boy demeanor making him a huge hit with 1950’s wrestling fans. Still, any doctor could see he wasn’t exactly a healthy man, and allegedly his own doctor told him just that near the beginning of his career. Calhoun was advised early on that if he didn’t change his diet and his lifestyle he wouldn’t be long for this world, but that didn’t slow down the giant in the slightest, and his weight and popularity continued to grow. It eventually caught up to him and he was forced to retire in his early 40’s, and was diagnosed with diabetes shortly thereafter. Calhoun passed away in 1989, aged 55.
10. Johnny Grunge – “Sleep Apnea”
Johnny Grunge was half of ECW’s first megastar tag team, The Public Enemy. His partner Rocco Rock also died young, and Rocco even died a few years before Johnny, but it was Grunge who family members could tell had a problem. While his official cause of death was sleep apnea, he also did a large number of drugs in the days leading to his death, which his ex-wife and various others have speculated contributed to his death. Grunge’s ex-wife and certain journalists have even called for a criminal investigation into his doctor, who they feel was a blatant drug dealer who essentially killed her former husband. It’s worth noting Grunge had the same doctor as Chris Benoit. Grunge passed away in 2006.
9. Chyna – A Cocktail Of Pills
Chyna was arguably the most famous female wrestler in WWE history. She may not have stayed at her ultimate height for very long, but she was the first female to compete in the Royal Rumble or King of the Ring, not to mention her being the only woman to ever hold the WWE Intercontinental Champion. However, she was also a deeply troubled and controversial woman, and both her friends and loved ones had been increasingly aware of this for years before her death. While what exactly is to blame for her departure from WWE remains up for debate, her appearances on The Surreal Life and Celebrity Rehab started to paint the picture of a woman who desperately needed and was refusing help. Until her dying days, Chyna’s manager was attempting to work out a deal for Chyna to appear on yet another reality TV show, Intervention, to hopefully stop her pill problem, but it was too little too late as she was found dead in April of 2016.
8. The British Bulldog – Heart Attack
Davey Boy Smith is arguably the most famous British professional wrestler in American wrestling history. Davey was unquestionably talented, but anyone who gave even one look at his body could tell he was one of the biggest steroid abusers in WWE history. Members of Davey’s own family knew he had a problem, with his brother-in-law Bruce Hart attributing Davey’s death to an obvious combination of “steroid cocktails and HGH.” Exacerbating the heart problems caused by steroids, Davey also became heavily addicted to morphine after taking a particularly bad bump in WCW, and he was released from his final WWE contract after failing to complete rehab. His family made repeated attempts to get him to at least stop taking drugs and prevent the damage from getting worse, but Davey suffered a fatal heart attack in 2002.
7. Jeep Swenson – Heart Attack
Jeep Swenson was more of an actor than a wrestler, but he did wrestle in a few matches for WCW, and anybody who took one look at his shoulder muscles could immediately tell the man was going to have a heart attack. Swenson wrestled as The Ultimate Solution, and is arguably better known as an actor for his role as Bane in Batman & Robin. Before gaining notoriety as either an actor or wrestler, he combined the two professions by appearing in No Holds Barred. Jeep wasn’t a very good wrestler or actor, but he was a great big pile of muscles, which he openly admitted he grew by taking an incredible amount of steroids. After his death, Swenson’s wife told The Mirror UK about his lifelong addiction to steroids, clearly blaming them for his death from a heart attack in 1997.
6. Road Warrior Hawk – Heart Attack At 46
The Road Warriors were big, tough, and indestructible, so the idea of one of them dying young sent shockwaves through the wrestling world. It really shouldn’t have, though, considering WWE ran a tasteless angle about just how many drugs he was doing only a few years before his death. Hawk died in 2003, only 5 years after Droz “killed him” by pushing him off the Titantron when Hawk was “drunk and strung out on drugs”—quotation marks included for TV technicality, although it’s possible Hawk actually was in that state at the time. It didn’t take long before WWE saw just how bad an idea it was to mock a performer’s real drug problem, when Hawk’s mixed medications lead to a massive life-ending heart attack when he was 46. Hawk’s partner Animal was far less shocked at the death than the duo’s fans, acknowledging that if someone mixes uppers and downers at the level Hawk freely mixed them, it’s an open recipe for their heart to eventually explode.
5. Luna Vachon – Overdosed On Combination Of Pills
Luna Vachon was one of the greatest and most feared female wrestlers of the 1990s. She made appearances in ECW, WWE, WCW and AWA. Vachon engaged in major feuds with women like Madusa and Sable, and her gravelly rasp both terrified and engaged fans and fellow wrestlers alike. Somewhere along her career Luna became good friends with Mick Foley, and after Luna’s unfortunate death in 2010, Mick immediately accurately guessed that she succumbed to a drug problem. Like so many other wrestlers, Luna was addicted to painkillers, and a trip to rehab sponsored by WWE probably prolonged her life by several years, but it wasn’t enough to save her. Luna was 48 years old when she overdosed on a combination of oxycodone and benzodiazepine.
4. The Ultimate Warrior – Heart Attack
The immediate circumstances surrounding the Ultimate Warrior’s death were unquestionably a shock. He had appeared on Raw less than 24 hours prior to suffering a sudden heart attack, and his life had seemed to be back on the upswing after years of a downward spiral. However, we absolutely can’t forget that downward spiral, nor can we forget the fact Warrior clearly abused anabolic steroids and a mess of other drugs earlier in his life. Warrior was fired from WWE for failing a steroid related drug test in 1992, and later testified in court that he had been taking the drugs since at least 1984. The court tried to prove Vince McMahon forced Warrior to do this, but he was obviously acting on his own, as even Vince McMahon wouldn’t force Warrior to take the amounts of drugs it would take to turn out the way he did. Warrior passed away in 2014.
3. Rick Rude – Heart Stopped At 40
Rick Rude’s initial claim to fame in the wrestling world was his out-of-this-world physique, which ultimately may have been his personal downfall when his looks started to falter due to age and injury. Rude worked out like a machine, developing quirky personal habits while he did so, but given the era and the fact his muscles had muscles in places most people didn’t even have muscles in the first place, it’s hard to ignore the possibility Rude was using chemical substances to enhance his work outs. Whether or not he did so in the 80’s, he certainly was doing so near his death, when he was actually desperately training for a return to the WWE he felt could rejuvenate his career and take the wrestling world by storm. Smaller and not as well defined as he was during his first run, Rude intended to bulk up before earnestly beginning his comeback, and his poor ravishing heart simply couldn’t take the onslaught he gave it. Rude was reported as using HGH and steroids and working out virtually nonstop, until his heart eventually stopped in 1999 when he was 40 years old.
2. Louie Spicolli – Fatal Combination Of Pills And Alcohol
Louie Spicolli was poised to either become a huge star or a tragic story from the very beginning, and unfortunately his life took the direction of the tragic story. Spicolli didn’t have the natural physique of an average wrestler, but he was incredibly talented and creative for his age, not to mention the fact he was a pretty fun-loving and comedic personality when allowed to act naturally. He started wrestling in his late teens as a WWE jobber, and eventually started to make a serious name for himself in ECW in the mid 90’s before getting signed to WCW in 1997. Days after starting a high profile angle with Scott Hall and Larry Zbyszko, Spicolli died of a drug overdose when he was only 27. He had apparently been abusing prescription pills and alcohol nearly every day for years, but friends weren’t exactly trying to stop him. A fatal combination of those pills and wine finally ended Spicolli’s life in early 1998.
1. Axl Rotten – Heroin Overdose
Axl Rotten lived a hard and fast life, with many friends and fans surprised he even lasted as long as he did. Axl himself was reported to make jokes about how he was ruining various wrestling death pools by staying alive every year, until he finally met his unfortunate end in February of 2016. Axl was addicted to a variety of painkillers and cocaine, and this made him a big hit in the party friendly ECW locker room, but even his extreme co-workers thought Axl was going too far when he started using heroin. Rotten tried to kick the habit more than once, but none of his friends were surprised when he was found unresponsive in a McDonald’s bathroom. They were even less surprised when the news broke Axl died of a heroin overdose.