Live fast, die young—or at least that’s what the D.A.R.E. program would have us believe. In many respects, the sports entertainment industry has been teaching fans the same thing for some time, with countless wrestlers falling victim to substance abuse problems and meeting their demise at an early age. Well, that’s usually what happens when people get cripplingly addicted to drugs and alcohol anyway. In rare cases, getting extremely high all the time seems to have unlocked a strange fountain of youth that led to some of the most messed up wrestlers in history living shockingly long, “healthy” lives.
Despite retired wrestlers dropping like flies due to heart problems, drug problems, and mental health issues associated with making a profession out of getting hit in the head, a select handful of former WWE superstars appear happier and healthier than ever in their late 50s. Some even keep it going into their 60s, 70s, or 80s, staying strong well after retirement age. Sure, a couple of them managed to do so by avoiding the pitfalls of their industry, leading clean lives free of vice and simply taking care of their bodies. The weird thing is that some of the guys who did the exact opposite are also alive and kicking, apparently even doing pretty well for themselves, all things considered.
Before this article goes any further, let’s be clear about the fact that wrestling fans worldwide are absolutely stoked about the fact these former legends are still with us. Hopefully, they’ll all continue to live happy, healthy lives for a long time to come, and that’s whether they’ve stopped harming themselves with drugs and alcohol or not. It’s not that we wish them any ill will, but based on what they’ve done in the past, we’re just flabbergasted they’ve survived it all. You’ll probably feel the same way as you keep reading and learn about 15 hard-living wrestlers we’re shocked are still alive.
The best acting in the world usually happens when a performer is merely playing an exaggerated version of himself, a concept countless wrestlers have used to create some of the most memorable wrestling characters in history. Knowing this, fans should’ve seen the warning signs for Raven starting during his run as ECW Champion, which ended because he was legitimately forced to enter rehab to try and deal with his drug and alcohol addiction. At one point, Raven was so heavily addicted to the painkiller Percocet, he was taking enough of them to kill a small horse on a daily basis and still getting into the ring afterward. This seemed fitting for his dark, ultra-realistic character, but it was also absolutely terrifying to his fans, who recognized just how much harm he was doing to himself. According to Perry Saturn, Raven’s close friend during this period, the other wrestlers had a “dead pool” about who would pass away from drug use first, and the two of them topped everyone’s list. We can certainly see why, and yet, here they both are, still alive to this day.
14. Jeff Hardy
By and large, Vince McMahon and other wrestling promoters do whatever they can to hide their performers’ substance abuse issues from TV. Even when Raven mentioned going to rehab, the point was, he finished the program and was dealing with his problems, which was the exact opposite of Hardy’s character during his feud against CM Punk throughout the summer of 2009. Punk regularly castigated Hardy for his reliance on drugs and alcohol versus the Straight Edge superstar’s own decision to live a clean, healthy life. Had Hardy’s response been that Punk was lying or just a jerk, that would’ve been all well and good, but instead, Hardy basically said that he lived in the moment and that sometimes, drugs were fun.
At the time, this felt like an absurd stance for a babyface to take, yet the truth would soon come out that Hardy saying anything else simply wouldn’t have been true to his real life. Lo and behold, just after the Punk feud ended, Hardy was found in possession of an outrageous amount of painkillers, leading to a short jail sentence. Naturally, WWE wouldn’t let him get away with that sort of behavior, but TNA apparently would, as Hardy later appeared heavily intoxicated at several company events, most notably, Victory Road 2011. That seemed to have been the wakeup call, as Hardy soon admitted he had a problem, yet it lasted so long, he was lucky to have survived it all.
For whatever reason, the number of retired wrestlers who experience substance abuse problems today is considerably lower than the average with male performers. Granted, this could simply be due to how many of them there are, as it wasn’t until recently that WWE and other mainstream companies actually hired significant numbers of women at a given time. The first of many small steps toward progress may have been hiring Sunny, a gorgeous manager who soon became a huge hit with male audiences.
Unfortunately, Sunny isn’t turning nearly as many heads today as she did during the New Generation era because the poor woman has seriously let herself go in a myriad of ways. Everyone gets older, and we can’t expect Sunny to look the same in her 40s as she did in her early 20s, but the decades she spent popping pills and drinking shocking amounts of alcohol heavily accelerated her aging process. Showing just how bad her problem is, Sunny recently received three DUIs in the same month, and she’s been in and out of prison since. One way or another, this behavior will catch up with her, but then again, it hasn’t yet, so maybe she’ll keep getting lucky.
Despite being one of the younger names on this list, X-Pac has actually come closer to death than almost anyone else mentioned. Of course, those two facts may be somewhat related, as a person who gets into hard drugs at a young age the way he did is more likely to abuse them in an irresponsible manner than an adult making a similarly bad decision. X-Pac’s dalliances with drugs started early in his childhood when his parents apparently paid absolutely no attention to him, way before he was even a wrestler. By the time Pac started wrestling, he had already developed pretty hefty habits with marijuana and alcohol, and his friends in the locker room were quick to introduce pills to the mix when he was in his early 20s. At some point, he made the jump from prescription drugs to crystal meth, once claiming he shot the drug into his body shortly before a televised match against AJ Styles for TNA. The problem eventually got so out of control, X-Pac once attempted suicide, though this seems to have been the point he started turning things around, as he attended rehab after being resuscitated.
11. Shawn Michaels
At this point, Shawn Michaels has successfully rehabbed his image to a point where most WWE fans accept him as one of the greatest in-ring performers of all time–and nothing else. If anything, they simply acknowledge he’s way into Jesus when cameras aren’t rolling, leading a simple, pious life with his wife and kids. Up until around 2002, however, things were totally different for the Heartbreak Kid. Instead of praying to God, Michaels worshipped tiny little bottles containing his favorite pills, a fact that occasionally completely wiped out his memory.
While HBK never got in the ring while high, he and his buddies in the Kliq would allegedly plan out their drug use, popping pills right before a match, knowing they had just enough time to get things done before the effect started to kick in. This was the practice HBK followed from the early ‘90s until he found religion, meaning he was high out of his mind during his reigns as WWE Champion. During his initial semi-retirement, HBK was abusing substances so severely, the company he once called home saw him as a liability and refused to let him on camera more than once. Even now that he’s cleaned things up, it’s surprising this past behavior hasn’t caught up with him.
10. Marty Jannetty
In many respects, Marty Jannetty’s career stands as the cautionary tale about what can happen when a former tag team specialist doesn’t achieve the same fame as his partner–well, aside from the fact Shawn Michaels basically shared Jannetty’s worst habits for a full decade after their paths diverged anyway. That said, the difference is still a major factor in their respective lives to this day, as HBK eventually found the support system to get himself clean, while Jannetty is apparently still a total waste case to the highest degree. Back in the day, the Midnight Rockers were considered the craziest party boys in the already wild WWE locker room, to the extent they got fired almost instantly for their behavior. They came back, of course, and wowed fans together and separately, until Jannetty’s drug abuse, in particular, reached a point where he regularly missed shows and performed extremely poorly whenever he actually showed up. This was two decades ago, and apparently, he’s still doing the same thing on the independent scene, not to mention showing up bombed out of his mind for select shoot interviews. If only his buddy HBK could help him see the light.
9. Jake Roberts
Of all the names on this list, the continued existence of Jake “The Snake” Roberts is probably the most surprising. Then again, no one is more surprised to hear Jake “The Snake” Roberts is still alive than Jake “The Snake” Roberts himself. While the other wrestlers on this list mostly confined themselves to pills and alcohol, the Snake was a huge abuser of crack, cocaine, and any other drug he could get his hands on, once even using some of these substances on camera for the documentary Beyond the Mat. Jake’s drug abuse was rampant and unabashed for decades, a fact that fans of independent wrestling sadly saw firsthand during a disastrous appearance for Heroes of Wrestling. That was back in 1999, and Jake’s drug problem hardly stopped there, as he kept using and abusing whatever he could get his hands for another decade plus after that. Finally, in 2012, Jake moved in with fellow wrestler “Diamond” Dallas Page, who’s since helped him get clean and mostly stay that way.
8. Scott Hall
Aside from Jake the Snake, Scott Hall is perhaps the second most shocking survivor of this list. In fact, knowing exactly when his troubles began and what caused them, Hall’s life may have been in greater jeopardy for far longer; it’s just that unlike Jake, fans didn’t see it happen and thus were unaware of how serious things were. Though an iconic wrestler during the 1990s for his time as Razor Ramon and one of the founders of the New World Order, Hall’s life had actually been spiralling out of control since the early 1980s, when he killed a man in self-defense, an event he claims caused post-traumatic stress disorder. From then on, Hall self-medicated his mental anguish with an outrageous number of pills and amounts of alcohol, eventually creating a diet that started with vodka for breakfast. In 2011, it was reported Hall overdosed on opiates and bennies, though he eventually recovered. Two years later, Hall joined Roberts at “Diamond” Dallas Page’s homebrewed rehab facility and has since come a long way in cleaning himself up.
7. Vince McMahon
Wrestling fans don’t like thinking about it much because the WWE Universe would be an infinitely different place without him, but to put it bluntly (as we’ve been doing this whole list), it’s a wonder Vince McMahon is still alive. Having recently celebrated his 72nd birthday, McMahon would probably argue he’s in the prime shape of his life, and yet, for that same reason, it’s a shock his heart keeps on beating. There are reports suggesting that septuagenarian Vince spends hours in the gym every day, working strenuously to prove he’s still bigger and tougher than his meanest wrestlers, something that a 72-year-old simply shouldn’t be doing.
Vince is unlike his wrestlers in that there are no pill problems or substance abuse issues to worry about, but his work ethic alone is genuinely a cause for concern. There have, however, been heavy rumors that McMahon entertained a cocaine habit in the 1980s, which he hopefully has long since quelled, but even so, the added strain such drugs would’ve placed on his heart can’t be undone. Lastly, his father died suddenly at 69, three years younger than Vince is today, and his grandfather passed on after reaching Vince’s current age of 72, suggesting he may be living on borrowed time.
6. Ric Flair
As of the time this article is being written, everyone featured on it is indeed alive and well. However, depending on when you happen to be reading it, there’s a significant chance the very behavior we’re discussing could’ve finally caught up with the wrestlers profiled. It’s morbid to think about, but it very nearly happened to one of the most iconic wrestlers of all time in Ric Flair, a fact that must’ve made all hard-living wrestlers think long and hard about their behavior. For the Nature Boy, a recent health scare brought him so close to death that his daughter Charlotte was told he might not make it.
Thankfully, Flair eventually recovered and is doing well once again, yet, the 16-time NWA Champion has absolutely no doubts about what brought him so close to the brink. Throughout his entire 40+ year career, in addition to his reputation as the greatest wrestler alive, Flair developed a similar standing as the hardest partier around, getting drunk every single night and refusing to leave the bar until he was the last man standing. Now in his late 60s, the damage has more than been done to Flair’s liver, and he’s essentially living on borrowed time.
5. “Superstar” Billy Graham
It should go without saying that the WWE Universe, not to mention pro wrestling, in general, was entirely different in the 1970s than it is today. Back then, wrestlers were big, strong, and weren’t afraid to talk a little trash at their opponents, but they lacked the true pomp and circumstance that would later make them “superstars”–well, except for one notable exception, that is, in legendary former WWE Champion “Superstar” Billy Graham. A true trailblazer in every way, Graham was the first bad guy with so much charisma, he started to earn cheers based on his coolness alone.
Unfortunately, the immense fame this persona brought took a huge toll on Graham mentally, as he would later admit to a reliance on steroids and prescription medication during his time on top. By the time he lost the title, Graham’s wife claimed his problem was so out of control, there are full years of his life he can’t remember due to substance abuse. The fact this was over 37 years ago and the fact his heart not only survived it all but keeps on ticking to this day are realities Superstar must find too sweet to be sour.
4. The Iron Sheik
Ultimately, The Iron Sheik’s legacy may be confined to his short month as WWE Champion, when he served as the transition between the lengthy reigns of Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan. This barely gets close to telling the whole story, though, as Khosrow Vaziri also experienced great runs in the AWA, the NWA, and other areas of the WWE Universe aside from its main-event scene. For example, he also won the short-lived NWA National Championship and WWE Tag Team Championships with Nikolai Volkoff as his partner. Oh, and he was also doing a ridiculous amount of drugs backstage during all this success, a practice he seems to have continued well into his early 70s. During shoot interviews recorded to this day, Sheiky Baby happily brags about doing more drugs than anyone else in the locker room, and how he would never shy away from any illicit substance put beneath his nose. And yet, he’s still kicking to this day, threatening celebrities on Twitter and promising to make them humble.
3. Perry Saturn
To most WWE fans, Perry Saturn was probably just another decent wrestler of the Attitude Era with little of note to his name. Those who watched the man work in ECW and WCW might have a slightly more positive opinion of Saturn, recognizing his great work in both companies’ tag divisions, where he won gold with John Kronus, Chris Benoit, and Raven. But even this wasn’t enough success to truly keep Saturn in the spotlight for long. Shortly after he was released from WWE in 2002, the former Eliminator pretty much fell off the map entirely.
Ironically, it was when he finally reappeared that people suddenly realized he had been seriously troubled for some time, as the story of what he had been up to answered a whole lot of questions. Apparently, Saturn had become homeless and heavily addicted to crystal meth, and, in fact, the second distinction had been true much of his career. In fact, Saturn doesn’t even remember being the WWE European Champion, that period of his life entirely wiped out by drugs. Amazingly, Saturn not only pulled himself back up from homelessness but also managed to kick his bad habits in doing so.
2. The Sandman
It’s a miracle that the wrestlers on this list are alive given what they’ve done to their bodies, and The Sandman manages to take this even a step further, as it’s kinda shocking to us the hardcore icon didn’t drop dead in the middle of the ring–or perhaps while attempting to climb down the rafters of the Hammerstein Ballroom after getting so drunk he could barely walk, which was the man’s pre-match ritual for much of his ECW career. Look, drinking copious amounts of alcohol alone isn’t quite as bad as what the many wrestlers on this list did. They also popped pills while getting drunk, but getting as intoxicated by alcohol as The Sandman did on a regular basis immediately before performing a highly strenuous task should’ve been a recipe for disaster. Also, it’s not like booze was the only thing on the menu for old Sandman, as contemporaries like Sabu also reported that The Sandman had regularly dropped acid before their matches. Seriously, how did this guy not accidentally kill himself (or someone else) live on Pay-Per-View? It’s not like Paul Heyman would’ve been above promoting it.
Speaking of Sabu, no list of hard-living wrestlers would be complete with the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal maniac who twice held the ECW Championship. Not only does Sabu match most other wrestlers on this list with his incredible drug habit, having abused painkillers to deal with his extreme style pretty much from the beginning. But the things he does in the ring alone make him another athlete like The Sandman, who we’re shocked didn’t die while cameras were rolling. Unlike Sandman, Sabu didn’t need alcohol to inspire his most ridiculous stunts, making him all the luckier for not having accidentally broken his neck or slit his throat while haphazardly flying headfirst into a mess of barbed wire. On the other hand, Sabu is a man who once ripped his bicep off, duct-taped it back together, and went about his match like nothing had happened, so maybe, the man is genuinely immortal. Even so, one would expect that the drugs he needs to deal with this sort of pain would catch up with him eventually, and they haven’t yet.
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