Every sport mourns the loss of its coveted athletes, but it’s hard to come close to the amount of tragedies and lives lost in the world of pro-wrestling. Surely, it’s not a contest, but over a number of decades, wrestling legends have come and gone, with the majority of these heroes passing away young due to numerous causes.
This year saw the viral video titled “Dead Wrestler Beach” pay homage to a number of wrestlers that aren’t around anymore, from Owen Hart to Yokozuna to the Junkyard Dog. While some wrestlers were murdered, succumbed to an overdose, or died peacefully of old age, this trend isn’t going away any time soon when you factor how many talented people have been involved in different companies and promotions over the years, mixed with the rigorous and demanding world wrestlers live in.
Hopefully, we’ll never have to deal with cases similar to how Bruiser Brody and Chris Benoit came and went, or how we lost people like Owen and Mitsuharu Misawa in the centre of the squared circle. However, 2015 was another terrible year in regards to wrestling deaths, which included the sudden passing of wrestling icons, as well as another competitor who lost his life while performing in front of thousands in attendance.
With over a dozen wrestling legends that passed away in 2015, which include names such as Larry Winters, Steve Rickard and Ashura Hara who aren’t on this list, here are 10 of the most shocking pro-wrestling deaths of 2015:
10. Tommy Rogers
One-half of former team The Fantastics, Tommy Rogers joins a heavy group of wrestlers that died too young, passing away at age 54. Found dead by his roommate in June, the cause of death hasn’t been disclosed.
Rogers, born Thomas R. Couch, gained most of his popularity from his tag team alongside Bobby Fulton, as they competed in plenty of promotions including Jim Crockett Promotions, the Universal Wrestling Federation (UWF), World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW). With most of their memorable matches taking place in the latter half of the 1980s, the Fantastics battled the Sheepherders (who would later become the Bushwhackers) in a series of violent clashes, as well as the Midnight Express and the Wild Samoans. They even competed against each other in the WWF during the promotion’s light-heavyweight venture, and together, the tandem won over 10 tag team titles.
9. Hack Meyers
The most recent wrestler who passed away on this list, Hack Meyers left us in early December at the young age of 41 (two days removed from his 42nd birthday). He was a mainstay in the Florida territory, but most of his notoriety came from his time in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), where he was considered an ECW original.
Hack was a good friend of ECW favorite Axl Rotten, who posted a picture of Meyers in November awaiting brain surgery in a hospital. He eventually passed away due to complications stemming from that surgery. Hack, who was regarded as the “Shah of ECW,” competed against many popular ECW figures including Taz, Sabu, The Dudley Boyz and 2 Cold Scorpio.
8. Tim Arson
He may not have been a household name, nor did he have an extravagant wrestling career. But Tim Arson (Tim Roberts), who competed in the WWF, did have one memorable moment hardcore fans will never forget.
On the inaugural episode of WWE’s ECW on Sci Fi, Arson came out as The Zombie, sporting torn clothes, and made his way to the ring while fans sat puzzled by his inclusion. He was destroyed by the Sandman and the hardcore wrestler’s Singapore cane.
Arson mostly competed in Puerto Rico, where he won the New Wrestling Stars heavyweight title, and even wrestled under the banners of the World Wrestling Council (WWC) and International Wrestling Association (IWA Puerto Rico). Arson’s death is shocking due to him not even living past 40 (died at 38 in New Jersey), and the mysteries that surround his death.
7. Drew McDonald
An iconic figure in the British wrestling scene, Drew McDonald was a well-travelled bruiser with an intimidating presence, yet he was adored by his peers.
The Scottish wrestler did most of his dirty work in the United Kingdom, but also competed for Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling and WCW, sharing rings with the likes of Chris Benoit, William Regal, Buff Bagwell, Giant Haystacks and Fit Finlay.
After passing away at age 59 due to cancer, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) talent Paige, who trained at his school and subsequently received a WWE tryout, paid tribute to him before performing in Columbus on Monday Night Raw a day after his death.
6. Buddy Landel
Another famous wrestler to use the “Nature Boy” moniker, Buddy Landel wasn’t the most popular guy amongst young wrestling fans, yet looking back on his career (which took place in different areas), he was an incredibly solid and talented worker who could have been a big star had he played his cards differently. Set to win a world title off another “Nature Boy,” Ric Flair, these two were about to have one of the hottest feuds of the mid-1980s, but substance abuse problems reportedly derailed his big plans.
Known as a cocky kid and someone who was just too much to handle, Landel had arguably his best matches against Flair when he returned to the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) years later, yet his most notable years of success as a top guy came in Smokey Mountain Wrestling, where he won the promotion’s world title. He even had a stint in the WWF during the mid-1990s, where he wrestled Bret Hart and Bob Holly, among others.
Landel passed away this past summer due to complications from a car crash. He left the scene and was checked out of the hospital, only to die a day later in his home state of Virginia.
5. Verne Gagne
Never one to shy away from expressing his thoughts on Vince McMahon and his destruction of the territory days, Verne Gagne was as influential as anyone in the world of wrestling. Serving as the head honcho of the defunct American Wrestling Association (AWA), Gagne once owned one of the most impressive rosters in wrestling history before the WWE boss “stole” all his talent.
The wrestler, promoter and trainer will be remembered as a 10-time world champion who is also a member of the WWE Hall of Fame, the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame and the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Gagne, who was also drafted in the NFL, passed away at age 89 in Minnesota, the same state where he was born. Many famous Gagne stories, which include Hulk Hogan and the Iron Sheik, to name a few, can be heard and seen in The Spectacular Legacy of the AWA documentary produced by WWE.
4. Nick Bockwinkel
One of the most cunning wrestler of all time, Nick Bockwinkel had the look, the aura and surely had the skill both in the ring and on the mic. The wrestling pioneer was arguably the best AWA champion in history, winning the title four times and defeated Verne Gagne to snap the latter’s four-year reign.
Bockwinkel wrestled a Who’s Who of wrestling legends, including Hulk Hogan, Jerry Lawler, Mad Dog Vachon, Billy Robinson, Jumbo Tsuruta, Dick the Bruiser and others. He also competed with Ray Stevens, winning the AWA World Tag Team Championship three times alongside his partner. While Bockwinkel was no stranger to controversy and decisions that infuriated wrestling fans, he was an expert when it came to technical wrestling and psychology, regarded as someone who paved the way for superstars like Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Chris Jericho. His promos were the epitome of how a heel should conduct him or herself, even though the well-dressed legend didn’t make much sense when trying to use 10-dollar words.
He even joined WWF years after retiring as a road agent, and WCW fans will remember when he joined the promotion as a commissioner on television. Bockwinkel passed away this past November at age 80.
3. Roddy Piper
Another famous heel the wrestling world lost in 2015 was the beloved “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who died in his sleep at age 61 in July. Piper never won the WWF title, but his contributions were endless, especially when you consider his work with Hulk Hogan in 1985 and how many consider “Hot Rod” responsible for both the success of Hogan and the first WrestleMania.
He was named as the top villain in wrestling history by WWE, which isn’t hard to imagine when you consider the mouth he had, as well as his actions, which included cracking a coconut on Jimmy Snuka’s head during a segment of Piper’s Pit. Piper had many rivals, too, including Mr. T, Greg Valentine, Ric Flair Bad News Brown, Bret Hart and Adrian Adonis.
Making appearances in the NWA, WWE, Total Non-Stop Action (TNA) Wrestling and even on the independent circuit, the former Intercontinental Champion wasn’t only a notorious talk show host, but also served as a special guest referee, too. Piper was also an actor, appearing in cult hit They Live and television shows such as Highlander, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Robot Chicken.
2. Dusty Rhodes
The originator of “Hard Times” and one of the brightest pro-wrestling minds in all of the business, the death of Dusty Rhodes rocked the masses when the “American Dream’s” passing was announced after he collapsed in his Florida home.
Serving as mentor to the up-and-coming talent in NXT decades after being the head booker in WCW, the “Dream” (real name Virgil Runnels) left behind quite a legacy in Jim Crockett Promotions, WCW, ECW and the WWE, and one that will surely live on thanks to his two sons, Dustin and Cody Rhodes (also known as Goldust and Stardust, respectively).
Rhodes will forever be remembered for his charismatic promos (including his rendition of “Hard Times”), which are perhaps some of the best in wrestling history. His feud against Ric Flair was pro-wrestling storytelling as its best, as the blue-collar working man was pitted against the rich con artist that flaunted his life of glamour. It was the perfect example of good vs. evil, inspiring and setting the standard for countless feuds down the road. Rhodes was a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, as well as an NWA United States Heavyweight Champion and won an abundance of tag team titles in his career alongside various different partners which include Dick Slater, the Road Warriors and Nikita Koloff.
In honor of Dusty’s legacy, NXT crowned its first “Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic” champions in Samoa Joe and Finn Balor this past fall.
1. Perro Aguayo Jr.
He may not have been known as well as Piper or Rhodes when it comes to modern wrestling fans, but waking up Saturday morning to hear lucha libre standout Perro Aguayo Jr. had died a night before in the ring was downright heartbreaking.
A top star in the Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA) promotion in his native Mexico, Perro was revered as one of the nation’s hottest and most accomplished stars. The son of legendary Perro Aguayo had also competed in the World Wrestling Association (WWA) and Consejo Mundiale de Lucha Libre (CMLL), where he worked for the majority of the mid-2000s and which earned him the 8th spot in Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s PWI 500 in 2007.
His death shook the wrestling nation, as he participated in a tag team match alongside Manik against Rey Mysterio Jr. and Xtreme Tiger, which took place in Mexico. After a headscissors takedown and a dropkick both delivered by Mysterio, Perro fell limp on the second rope, unresponsive and being attended to by many including former WCW star Konnan. He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after, and his cause of death was changed to a cardiac arrest due to a cervical stroke caused by three fractured vertebrae, after it was first announced he’d suffered cervical spine trauma. Many wrestlers and promotions around the world paid tribute to the youngster, including a touching and heartbreaking segment from his peers on Lucha Underground.