The wrestling world has seen a number of highs and a great deal of lows. The highest of wrestling highs have meant championships won and five-star matches. But the lows that also come with professional wrestling consist of death, depression, and loss of income, among other real life crises. While it would be great to see a silver lining for all wrestlers once their careers are over that isn’t always the case. While some of these selections may surprise you, the inclusion of some is understandable. Tragedy isn’t simply about those that died, but also the unfortunate circumstances of not being able to see the next generation compete.
While some wrestlers had an opportunity to make a living and earn a name for themselves, a number have still yet to do so. In one particular scenario, one has to wonder if the tragic events that took place in one family may in fact cost the next generation. The manner in which some of these deaths took place caught wrestling fans off guard because they couldn’t have been anticipated. One can only hope that these families are able to overcome the devastating nature of the events their lives have endured. Here are the 12 most shocking wrestling tragedies that struck wrestling families.
12. The Toombs Family
One of the most beloved wrestlers, throughout his career and even after, was Rowdy Roddy Piper. He left a legacy of wrestling moments that lasted long after his time in the ring. Piper’s death in 2015 shocked wrestling fans, and it was tragic because it was rather sudden. And while fans continue to remember his life and career, his family linage will carry on in his son Colt Toombs, who is a promising mixed marital arts fighter. Toombs is left to carry on the family legacy, but sadly his father’s death it meant he will not be able to see what becomes of Colt’s career.
11. The Flair Family
Whenever the name Ric Flair is mentioned, fans collectively start WOOing. The sixteen-time former Heavyweight Champion achieved it all, whether it was competing in legendary matches against the likes of Sting or Ricky Steamboat or being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame twice. However, Flair hasn’t been without his missteps. His multiple marriages over the years have cost him thousands if not millions of dollars in alimony. The greatest tragedy, however, was when Ric’s youngest son Reid committed suicide at the age of 22. Reid was a promising young wrestler whose death was also used as part of a storyline between his older half sister Charlotte and Paige. The storyline was done in poor taste and offended Reid’s mom in how it was handled.
10. The Hennig Family
The Hennig wrestling family runs three generations deep; the family patriarch was Larry ‘The Axe’ Hennig who had a successful career several years ago. Larry’s son, Curt Hennig earned success competing under Verne Gagne in the AWA and then later in the WWE under the moniker Mr. Perfect. Curt was a true technician in the ring and well liked outside the ring. Curt passed away in 2003 at the age of 44, survived by his wife and four children. It was tragic because his life ended due to acute cocaine overdose. However, Curt’s father Larry has stated that years using painkillers and steroids were a contributing factor in his death. Two of the Hennig children are wrestling today; his son Joseph competes as Curtis Axel in the WWE and his daughter Amy works on the independent circuit.
9. The Duncum Family
The Duncum family didn’t have a long wrestling lineage. They were, however, two generations of this family that competed for the same company. In the 1960s and 1970s, Bobby Duncum competed for the National Wrestling Alliance, which was later sold and became WCW. Duncum Sr. is now 71 and competed until the mid-1980s. Bobby’s son, Bobby Duncum Jr., competed for WCW before the company was sold to the WWE. The tragic aspect of this family’s story was that Duncum Jr. was only thirty-four years of age when he passed away, during his recovery from reconstructive rotator cuff surgery. This wasn’t due to complications from the surgery, but what was reported as an accidental overdose, of prescription painkillers. Duncum Jr. had size, strength and a character that was quite appealing. He was a part of the faction the West Texas Rednecks until the faction split in the fall of 1999. Duncum passed away three months after the split.
8. The Guerrero Family
The Guerrero family has also seen their share of ups and downs. The legendary family has made an impact both in Mexico and the rest of North America because of their wrestling style. When the patriarch, Gory Guererro, passed on he left behind a family of talented wrestlers. The Guerrero who achieved the most mainstream success was Eddie Guerrero. Eddie had it all: charm, charisma and wrestling ability. He was a champion wherever he competed, so when he passed away suddenly in 2005 the world mourned his loss. While he had his demons and was working to regain his life again, the toll taken on his body because of the years of substance abuse caught up to him. Eddie and his widow Vickie had a daughter named Shaul who competed briefly with WWE’s NXT brand, under the name Rachel Diaz. Shaul is also married to current WWE NXT performer Aiden English, who is one half of the tag team, The Vaudvillians.
7. The Poffo Family
The Poffo family may have been two generations deep, but that doesn’t mean that their impact on wrestling, and the tragic nature of the passing of two crucial family members, is any less noteworthy. Angelo Poffo, the patriarch, competed in wrestling for roughly 50 years. And the fact he paved the way for his sons Lanny and Randy is just as crucial. At the age of eighty-four years of age, Angelo passed away from natural causes. He was a former Tag Team Champion and Heavyweight Champion. While Poffo’s death hit the family hard, it was his son Randy’s death a year and two months later that shook the wrestling world. The name Randy Poffo may not necessarily ring a bell, but Randy “Macho Man” Savage certainly does. Savage’s career had ended a few years earlier, but at the far too young age of 58 years, Savage suffered a massive heart attack while driving with his wife, hitting a tree. Randy always wanted his entire family inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. One wonders if that will ever be the case now.
6. The Smith/Billington Family
During the 1980s, one of the most influential tag teams in wrestling, specifically the WWF, was the tandem of Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid, affectionately known as The British Bulldogs. They managed to combine their strength and speed, finesse and technique. It was truly amazing to see men manipulate the top turnbuckle the way these two were able. However, for all of their achievements they have also seen their share of tragedies. Before the 1990s, The Dynamite Kid Tommy Billington’s career with the WWE came to an end. He competed sporadically until the mid 1990s, when he officially called it a career, a result of a career of high spots and dangerous maneuvers leading to his being confined to a wheelchair. He also suffered multiple strokes over the past few years. In the case of Smith, a long battle with substance abuse cost him his life as he passed away in May of 2002.
5. The Anoa’i Family
A family rich and deep in tradition, the Anoa’i family has certainly seen their share of ups and downs. Their highs have seen championships bestowed upon them, and the lows have been multiple deaths at too young an age. While right now Roman Reigns is on a direct course to capture the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, not all members of the family have been as lucky. Eddie Fatu, who competed in WWE first as Jamal, part of the tag team 3-Minute Warning, and later as Umaga the Samoan Bulldozer, passed away in the winter of 2009. He suffered a heart attack and the cause was described to be combination of drugs in his system. His nephews Jimmy and Jey Uso pay homage to him each time they step in the ring, as they both wear face paint to commemorate his memory. At the time of his passing, Eddie was 36 years old. The family has also seen the passing of former WWE Heavyweight Champion, Rodney Anoa’i, known affectionately as Yokozuna.
4. The Pillman Family
Brian Pillman was beloved by many in the wrestling business. When he passed away in 1997, his death shocked and stunned fans all around the world. Since his passing, a great deal has been made of the fact that, of the money earned and given to his widow Melanie, little was shared with his children, but rather went to support her substance abuse problem. Pillman’s daughter Brittany stated that she and her siblings were supported by their mother (Pillman’s first wife) after their father’s passing. Pillman adopted Melanie’s daughter Alexis Reed, who later pursued a career as a pro wrestling valet. Sadly, Alexis also passed away in 2009 as a result of injuries sustained in a car accident. Between Brian’s death, his earnings being squandered and his stepdaughter’s passing, the Pillmans have seen more than their share of tragedy.
3. The Hart Family
One of the largest and most important families in wrestling, the Harts have seen more than their share of tragedies. From the deaths of the patriarch and matriarch, Stu and Helen Hart, to the passing of their youngest son, Owen, the family has had to face a great deal of adversity. While death has overcome the family, near death experiences and disease has also plagued them. Bret Hart’s recent cancer scare and Smith Hart’s cancer diagnosis have taken a toll on the family as well. We can also add the stroke that Bret suffered a number of years ago and Jim Neidhart’s recovery from substance abuse to the number of things that have shaken the family to its core. While they still have shown a great deal of success, the great deal of sadness that follows them is incredible.
2. The Benoit Family
While the name may bring up memories of joy, it will also bring up thoughts of sheer sadness. It is sometimes difficult to remember one without the other. As many wrestling fans will remember, Chris Benoit was a former WWE Heavyweight Champion and considered one of the greatest wrestlers in the world during his time. They will also sadly recall the very graphic and gruesome details of his death, his wife’s death and his son’s death. What fans may not necessarily know is that Chris’s older son David appears to want to enter the wrestling world as well. It’s tragic in that his career with any promotion may never be given a chance, and sadly it’s not even of his own accord. While the double murder/suicide may be what lives in infamy with Chris Benoit, it is unfortunate the sins of the father may be visited on the son, who already has to deal with the way his father, stepmother and stepbrother passed away.
1. The Von Erich Family
One of the saddest and most tragic families in wrestling is the Von Erich family. There has been the death of patriarch Fritz Von Erich and the passing of a number of his sons; indeed, the Von Erichs have seen their share of destructive behaviour leading to death. The Adkissons (their real name) have seen number of young men pass away. While some would call it a family curse, others may simply see it as coincidence. Their first son Jack Jr. passed away at the age of six when he was electrocuted in a household accident. Their son Dave passed away from acute enteritis of the intestine which may have been brought on by drug abuse. Their sons, Michael, Chris and Kerry Von Erich all passed away from suicide. The last remaining second generation wrestler is Fritz (Jack Sr.)’s son Kevin, the only one of Jack and Doris Adkinsson’s six boys that remain with us today.