The only thing fake about the in-ring action of professional wrestling is that the outcome of the matches are scripted. Those who compete in sports entertainment put their bodies on the line each time they step out from behind the curtain, and they endure real physical pain whenever they take bumps on the mat or outside of the ring on unforgiving surfaces. Every body can only take so much before it begins to crumble, but some wrestlers who desire to continue to pursue or live the dream of being successful put their careers ahead of their own physical well-being, taking measures that ultimately shorten their lives.
Physical pain is not all that pro wrestlers have to deal with during and after their careers. Some individuals must also worry about serious brain injuries and trauma caused by unprotected shots to their heads. Such troublesome ailments can affect how a person thinks about himself, other people, and life in general, and they can even lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Add in the emotional loss that comes from missing that high generated by thousands of paying customers living and dying with a wrestler’s every move inside of a ring, and the psychological concerns for retired wrestlers are real.
There are wrestlers who fall on hard times and are able to, with the help of others, pick themselves up and have healthy and well-balanced lives outside of the business. Unfortunately, some are not so lucky. This includes stories of drug overdoses, the loss of limbs, and people taking their own lives for one reason or another. This piece kicks off with a wrestler who made international headlines when he committed an unthinkable crime, brutally murdering two members of his own family before he took his own life. That incident forever changed professional wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment, and it led some fans to reconsider watching and following WWE.
20. Chris Benoit
It has been called the biggest story in the history of professional wrestling. Benoit was an active performer for WWE in the summer of 2007 when he returned home and, over the course of several days, brutally murdered his wife and then his child before hanging himself. Everything from accumulated brain damage caused by repeated concussions, to multiple marital disputes Benoit had with his wife over the years, to long-term steroid use have been linked with the tragedy, but there will likely never be a full explanation for what caused the wrestler to snap as he did. Benoit took the reasons that he committed those heinous acts to the grave.
19. Shawn Michaels
The Heartbreak Kid suffered a serious back injury during a match with the Undertaker at the 1998 Royal Rumble, one that kept him out of action for four years. It was during his off time that Michaels fell into heavy drug use, so much so that HBK has said in multiple interviews that he nearly passed away over that stretch of time. Michaels eventually defeated his demons and recovered from his injury, and, strengthened by newly-found religious beliefs, he returned to the ring in 2002. He is now happily retired following an extremely successful second stint with WWE, one that included some of the best matches of his career. Michaels is the ultimate feel-good story featured in this post.
18. Matt Osborne
Osborne is regarded as one of the most underrated performers of his time. The original Doink the Clown was highly skilled as an in-ring worker, and his ability to cut chilling promos on the mic sent goosebumps up and down the bodies of viewers. Drug addiction cost him what was to be the best job of his professional wrestling career, and that same issue is believed to have played a role in his untimely passing. Osborne was found dead in June of 2013, thought to be the victim of an accidental overdose. He was only 55 years old when his lifeless body was discovered.
17. Crash Holly
Michael Lockwood became a household name among WWF viewers as Crash Holly, the diminutive storyline cousin of Hardcore Holly. Crash and Hardcore paired up for tag team action, and Crash eventually went off on his own to be a hardcore wrestler and key player in the “24/7 Rule” era during which the Hardcore Championship could be defended anytime and anywhere. Crash was released by WWE in 2003, and he was found dead in November of that year. The 32-year-old was believed to be having marital issues when he reportedly mixed a prescription drug with alcohol, leading to his death.
16. Curt Hennig
Mr. Perfect was more than just a gimmick. He was a truly highly-gifted athlete, and Hennig was a five-star performer inside of a wrestling ring as well as when cutting promos. To this day, Hennig is regarded as one of the greatest wrestlers to never win a World Championship in the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling, and his feud with Bret Hart helped elevate the career of The Excellence of Execution. He was also known as an abuser of drugs and alcohol, and cocaine intoxication led to Hennig’s untimely death in February of 2003. He was 44 years old at the time of his passing.
15. Chris Von Erich
The Von Erich family is one of the most well known in all of professional wrestling. Sadly, their fame comes from more than just what certain individuals achieved in the business. Five of six of the Von Erich brothers died while their father was still alive, and three of those deaths were suicides. Chris wanted to carry on the Von Erich name in the pro wrestling business, but his body had other plans for him. Chris was just 21 years old when he was mourning the suicide of his brother Mike while failing to make it as a wrestler. He died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound 18 days before his birthday.
14. Mike Von Erich
This Von Erich’s problems outside of wrestling began in 1985 when, four days after having shoulder surgery, he developed a fever of 107 degrees. He displayed symptoms of brain damage after that, and Von Erich also became dependent on drugs and alcohol. An automobile accident in 1986 worsened Von Erich’s overall condition. It all became to much weight to carry for him in the spring of 1987. A physically and emotionally battered Von Erich penned a suicide note that was left for family members before traveling to Lake Dallas, where he mixed an overdose of sleeping pills with alcohol to end his life.
13. Miss Elizabeth
WWE refers to Miss Elizabeth as being the first true “Diva” in the history of the company. Her storyline on-again off-again relationship with Randy Savage helped make both stars in the World Wrestling Federation, and she would play similar roles while with World Championship Wrestling. WCW paired Elizabeth up with the Four Horsemen and the new World order. Elizabeth and fellow performer Lex Luger were in a relationship on May 1, 2003 when paramedics were called to Luger’s home. Elizabeth, who was not breathing when she was found by Luger, did not respond to resuscitation efforts, and she died of a drug and alcohol overdose.
12. Lex Luger
The previously mentioned Luger has his own demons following the demise of WCW in 2001. He faced a domestic abuse charge regarding an incident involving Elizabeth, and Luger also abused a variety of drugs and alcohol. While Elizabeth’s death was ruled to be accidental, Luger has publicly blamed himself for her passing. He would later spend time in jail following an unrelated incident. Luger eventually turned his life around, and he has penned a book that covers the highs and lows of his career and life. Luger credits his conversion to Christianity for ending his tailspin, and he could one day down the road be added to the WWE Hall of Fame.
11. Luna Vachon
A child of the famous Vachon wrestling family, Luna worked as a wrestler and as a valet, and she made her name during stints with the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling. Her memorable days in the WWF were well into the past when a house fire destroyed all of her wrestling merchandise in December of 2009. Vachon would be dead less than a year later, as her mother found the performer’s body on August 27, 2010. The death was caused by a drug overdose. It was later reported that Vachon twice entered rehab with the help of the WWE the year prior to her passing.
10. Kerry Von Erich
Kerry was a superstar of the former World Class Championship Wrestling federation, and he was a multi-time champion in several promotions. Von Erich’s life would forever be changed in June of 1986, however, when a motorcycle accident nearly killed him. While Von Erich did survive, doctors were forced to amputate his right foot. He continued wrestling with the help of a prosthetic, but he also became addicted to painkillers following the accident. That was followed by other drug problems. With his marriage destroyed and four of his brothers passed away, Von Erich put a bullet in his own heart on February 18, 1993.
9. Jorge Gonzalez
The 7-foot-6 Gonzalez played the role of El Gigante in World Championship Wrestling, but he is probably better remembered for being Giant Gonzalez in the World Wrestling Federation. His most famous feud was with the Undertaker, one that Gonzalez ultimately lost. Gonzalez was reportedly experiencing serious health issues in the mid-90s, and he was confined to a wheelchair by the fall of 2009. He was also on a dialysis machine because of failing kidneys. Complications from diabetes and also heart problems ended Gonzalez’s life in September 2010 when the then-former wrestler was just 44 years old.
8. Perry Saturn
Saturn is another sad story that contains a happy ending. One of “The Radicalz” who jumped ship from World Championship Wrestling to the World Wrestling Federation in 2000, Saturn would play several roles with the WWF until he and the company parted ways in 2002. He disappeared from the public eye a couple of years later, leaving friends and family to fear for the worst. Drug addiction would play a role in Saturn being homeless for some time, but he has since notched victories over his demons and returned to the ring. He is believed to be in good spirits and good health.
Andrew Martin, known as Test during his WWF/WWE career, had several opportunities to become a star in the business. Some shoddy booking coupled with Test’s inability to comply with the WWE Wellness Program prevented that from happening, however, and he and the company parted ways in 2007. Test’s run in TNA Wrestling was short-lived and entirely forgettable, and he walked away from the business in 2008. His life outside of pro wrestling would not last long, however, as Martin’s body was found inside of his home on March 13, 2009. He reportedly passed away as the result of an oxycodone overdose.
6. Sensational Sherri
Sherri was one of the great heel female valets of her time, the perfect antagonist to feud with the incomparable Miss Elizabeth. A manager for the stars, Sherri was linked with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Ted DiBiase, Terry Funk, Ric Flair, Harlem Heat and many others throughout her storied professional wrestling career. She also made a single appearance for TNA Wrestling. The woman who was also commonly known as Sherri Martel was found dead in June of 2007. Toxicology reports would later show that Sherri had overdosed, as multiple drugs were found in her system. She was 49 years old when she passed away.
5. Sean O’Haire
O’Haire seemed to have everything needed to be a professional wrestling superstar when he broke into World Championship Wrestling in 2000. He was billed at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, and yet O’Haire wrestled more like a cruiserweight when he would leave his feet to perform aerial maneuvers such as the senton bomb. WWE repackaged O’Haire with a Devil’s Advocate gimmick that lives on thanks to video services such as YouTube, one that did not get O’Haire over with casual fans. O’Haire was found hanged in September of 2014, and it has been speculated that he was dealing with depression and alcoholism leading up to his death.
4. Mike Awesome
Awesome was a one-of-a-kind performer, a mountain of a man who could move with the agility of a wrestler who was half of his size. His signature “Awesome Bomb” and “Awesome Splash” finishers would bring fans to their feet whenever Awesome would pull them off, especially when the 6-foot-6 athlete would make leaps over the top rope and out onto an opponent who had been set up on a table. Awesome was also known to take unprotected chair shots to all sides of his head, and there is little doubt that those blows caused at least some brain injuries. He was found hanged inside of his home in February of 2007.
James Harris, still more known for his ring name of “Kamala,” was a wrestler from a different era, one who was given the gimmick of a Ugandan savage who didn’t speak, wore face and body paint, and one who would repeatedly tap his inflated stomach during matches. The man who once feuded with the legendary Hulk Hogan has fallen on hard times as of late, as diabetes has caused Kamala to lose both of his legs. He is struggling to make ends meet as of late 2014, and a Go Fund Me page has been set up so that fans can give back to a man who entertained and even frightened so many of us during our childhoods.
2. Jake Roberts
Jake “The Snake” was a star in the World Wrestling Federation throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, and he is credited for being the creator of the “DDT” finishing move. Abuse of a variety of substances, including alcohol and cocaine, put his life in jeopardy over the span of at least a decade, but aid from another former wrestler may have saved Roberts. Roberts moved in with Diamond Dallas Page in 2012, and Page helped Roberts get back on track in part because of the DDP Yoga system. WWE has since inducted Roberts into the company’s Hall of Fame, and the master of the DDT is believed to be doing well.
1. Scott Hall
Hall was one of the biggest stars in World Championship Wrestling during the Monday Night Wars era as a founding member of the new World order faction. It was during that time when Hall began to lose battles with drug and alcohol addiction. Hall’s troubles cost him multiple jobs and opportunities, and they have been well-documented by journalists and in a television program produced and aired by ESPN. While Hall has tried to get his life together over the years, he has relapsed on multiple occasions. Hall is reportedly sober and doing well as of December 2014. Here’s hoping he can remain healthy.