To say wrestling’s a tough industry would be a serious understatement. Many people watch in awe at what these athletes – because that’s essentially what they are – are able to do in the ring. You’ve got a guy who is 300 plus pounds jumping off the top rope, flying through the air like a bird, cruiserweights who are flexible and are able to do insane stuff, and all of that takes a hell of a long time to master. Contrary to what some naïve individuals might think, wrestlers don’t just walk up to an event, get in the ring, and start to mess about and do whatever they feel like doing. There’s tons of preparation that goes into being a wrestler, even more so if you’re with one of the top promotions.
Those stars working with WWE have it seriously tough, but the rewards are great for those who can stomach it. It’s the gruelling schedules, living out of a suitcase, spending the majority of the year on the road away from family and friends, that can really get to people. Then there’s the hours of training and preparation, making sure you’re mentally and physically ready for what lies ahead. For a lot of people over the years, they’re not prepared to make these sacrifices; it’s been too much and they’ve chosen to wrestle elsewhere. But the industry doesn’t stop being any less tough to handle, and it keeps beating you down. That’s why a lot of wrestlers over the years – quite a few prominent names – have turned to drugs and alcohol as a means of trying to be able to hack it. But for some, it becomes an addiction, a real problem.
Wrestling promotions have recognized that drug and alcohol use is rife in the industry and has been for quite some time. So, credit to them, they help wrestlers going through such problems, and get them professional help. Sometimes it doesn’t work which can be incredibly frustrating, but then on occasions it has the desired effect. These are 15 wrestlers who, over the years, have been to hell and back in an effort to clean up their acts and get their substance abuse problems sorted, and have succeeded.
15 William Regal
English pro wrestler William Regal has been in the industry for a hell of a long time, since the 80s in fact, but he hasn’t always had a happy time. Despite winning a ton of championship titles and having a whole load of accolades to his name, William had a seriously hard time trying to deal with everything that professional wrestling entailed. Sure, he looked like a million bucks inside the ring, but outside of it his life was falling apart, as a result of his drug and alcohol abuse problems, which only served to exacerbate the other problems he was facing further. He knew something was wrong, so he did something about it. This all happened pretty early on into his career, and despite a few relapses in the 90s, he stuck at it, tried and tried again, and rehab eventually did the trick, meaning William’s been sober since the 90s.
14 Joey Mercury
We’re all glad to have a figure like Joey Mercury with us in the wrestling world, but to be honest, it’s a miracle he’s still around. Joey started wrestling in 1996 at the tender age of 17, but was soon on his way to winning titles and championships and making a name for himself as one of the best pro wrestlers on the circuit. But during this time, since the age of 15 in fact, he’d been a drug addict. Cocaine, crack, heroin and alcohol, you name it he probably took it, and he had some serious accidents over the years because of his substance abuse problems. He’s overdosed three times, has trashed ten cars while he’s been intoxicated behind the wheel, and has understandably missed a lot of wrestling because he just wasn’t fit to take to the ring. But after entering rehab he’s turned his life around and is looking forward to enjoying a new chapter of his life sober. Credit to Vince McMahon as well, because he helped Joey out a great deal and helped him get through rehab and come out the other side clean and fighting fit.
Dustin Runnels, aka Goldust, has had a long, successful but also a tumultuous time of it in the wrestling industry. His career – which is incidentally still ongoing – has had many ups and downs, he’s faced plenty of trials and tribulations, issues that that have left their scars. But now as he’s approaching his 50s, his wounds from being in the industry have started to heal.
Back in the 90s and early 2000s, taking drugs was just deemed something you had to do to make it as a pro, to be able to handle the tough, gruelling life of a pro wrestler. In order to get through all those years in the ring, Goldust had to take a little something before each fight. Cocaine was his drug of choice, and he took it in addition to painkillers and muscle relaxers, just to be able to get out of bed and start the day.
Thankfully for him, his family, and fans, he’s now on the straight and narrow, has cleaned up his act and is a whole lot better for it.
12 Scott Hall
Scott Hall has got to be up there as being one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. But for the vast majority of his career, as he was going about decimating opponents in the ring, he had to contend with a number of serious health issues, some his own doing, others just seriously bad luck. He’s had tons of treatment over the years for various problems, and his drug addiction certainly didn’t help. He was in and out of rehab several times, paid for by WWE, but rehab didn’t do the trick. So, he checked into DDP’s house instead and got help from his friend and his yoga program. Everyone saw how that panned out in that famous documentary, and watching it, we all thought Scott was finally sober. He did however relapse, but since that incident, as far as we know anyway, he’s been sober and has finally seemed to have cleaned up his act.
11 Randy Orton
Today Randy Orton’s one of the biggest and the best superstars in the world of wrestling. He’s a champion performer, a guy that the fans love to see, has a stunning wife and gorgeous kids – everything finally seems to have fallen into place for Randy. But around a decade ago, things weren’t so perfect.
Randy was in a pretty dark place, which can be attributed to his addictions. He started to get into a lot of hot water at work – when he showed up that is – and wasn’t a very popular guy in the locker rooms. He had an attitude the size of Long Island, was seriously mouthy, and just seemed to be looking for an excuse to start fights and piss people off. He was then found to be in violation with WWE’s Wellness Policy and was suspended. We later discovered that this was due to his drug problems, and only last year did he really do something about it. He went to rehab, came out a clean and better person, and the company, being very happy with his voluntary stint in rehab, has started to once again give him a push to the top.
10 Road Dogg
Those D-Generation X days were pretty wild. There are numerous stories about the antics of the DX members and what they got up to together, and perhaps this had a part to play in Road Dogg’s substance abuse problems. He’s actually come out and said he’s had problems with drugs and alcohol throughout his life, but his life really went into a downwards spiral during those DX days. The Attitude Era, perhaps the greatest time in professional wresting history, was not a happy one for Road Dogg. Alcohol addiction had already become a problem by that time, as had his drug addictions, but then he got addicted to painkillers too. He was turning up to work intoxicated and WWE just weren’t having that, so he ended up getting suspended and subsequently released from his contract. But that was the kick up the backside he needed to straighten his life out, and he’s since gone to rehab, is now clean, and has a major role as backstage producer and writer with the company that let him go.
9 The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik really has had a difficult life. It’s been a life riddled with controversy and tragedy, and throw drugs into the mix and things were only going to get worse. The Sheik was using drugs for decades. Pretty much right throughout his wrestling career when he was at his peak, Sheik was a drug addict. He used a number of drugs over the years, but crack cocaine was his vice, something which he just couldn’t do without.
It took a seriously tragic incident in his life to make him get help and ditch the drug habit. In 2003, his daughter was strangled to death by her boyfriend, who later admitted to the murder. You can imagine what this must have done to a guy who was already a heavy drug user. He was actually planning to kill his daughter’s killer, but his other daughter coaxed him out of it and eventually made him see the error of his ways. She also made him see that he needed to get help with his drug habit. He went cold turkey but it didn’t work. Then, years after their daughter’s death, Sheik’s wife left him, saying unless he got clean, she would never come back. Sheik took the ultimatum seriously, and hasn’t touched drugs since. Seriously, his life is something out of a soap opera, find out about it if you get a chance.
8 Lex Luger
Lex Luger’s best years were seriously marred by substance abuse issues. He was once being pushed to be the next big thing in wrestling, and when he got signed to WWE many years ago, he was all set to take over the mantle as the promotion’s best wrestler from Hulk Hogan. Although he tasted some success, it’s fair to say that his drug issue prevented him from reaching his full potential. It wasn’t just drugs, it was alcohol too, and this made Luger go down a really dark path. He got into a ton of legal trouble, and also saw his girlfriend at the time, Elizabeth Hulette, better known in wrestling circles as Miss Elizabeth, go down that path with him, something that ultimately ended up costing her her life. Her death really hit Luger hard, and he’s now cleaned up his act. He’s sober, and has since started working with WWE on their Wellness Policy, to help wrestlers steer clear of the road he went down.
7 Jake Roberts
Jake “the Snake” Roberts’ battle with drugs and alcohol has been well documented. In fact, it was the basis of a film/documentary, in which he went to stay with his buddy DDP and partake in his yoga program to finally try and get cleaned up.
Jake must be regretting all those missed opportunities. The iconic superstar could have been a whole lot more than just iconic; he could have been one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, but the lethal combination of drugs and alcohol prevented him from reaching those dizzy heights. It also affected his family life, and for a time he was separated from his family. He was sent to rehab by WWE, but this didn’t do the trick; he came out, took to drugs and alcohol again, gained 50 lbs, and had a number of other health concerns too. That’s when DDP stepped in. Roberts was on his program for 18 months, and although he relapsed during the program, since going at it alone he’s cleaned up his act and hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol since.
6 Hardcore Holly
Hardcore Holly has gained a reputation as a no-nonsense tough guy, and he’s had this persona pretty much throughout his wrestling career. It hasn’t made him the most popular of guys at the promotions he’s worked in, but he didn’t care, he was just acting the only way he knew how. But his drug use didn’t help matters. He’d treat people like cow manure, and would go through bags and lockers backstage just to find some pills to pop. He was in a seriously bad place. Hearing this you could be forgiven for thinking that Holly was into something like crack or heroin, something a little more hardcore than painkillers. But no, it just goes to show how reliant and addicted some people can get to painkillers. It’s an addiction that eventually led to his release from the company, but since entering rehab, he’s cleaned up his act. He’s now semi-retired, is doing what he loves to do, racing cars, and perhaps this less hectic schedule has enabled him to stay on the straight and narrow.
5 Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy makes up one half of the iconic Hardy Boyz, and during their time together, especially with WWE, they became a much-loved tag team, dominating the division. But Jeff let drugs take serious control of him, and it was such a problem that he regularly came to work and into the ring completely stoned and unable to function. Now being clean for years, he cringes as he recollects those moments, because he just didn’t even know what was happening. He felt sorry for the fans for putting in such dire performances, and was just embarrassed, amazed he was even able to make it through. After Victory Road in 2011, Jeff wasn’t seen for a while. That’s because he went and did a 120-day outpatient rehab, something that helped get him clean, and saved him. He returned, apologized to those in the locker room, begged for forgiveness, was taken back into the company with open arms, and has been clean ever since.
4 Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner, the “Big Poppa Pump,” isn’t on this list for being addicted to what many people would deem to be hardcore substances. He’s on this list because of his steroid use – look at his body and many would say steroid abuse. I have to say that he was never found to have taken steroids, but it doesn’t take a genius to realize that he was on something a little more than multivitamins.
Because of all that testosterone that was being pumped around his body due to the anabolics that were in his system – again, we think – he was known for having a bit of a temper. Steroids affect people differently, but for Scott, it made him a very violent and pretty obnoxious person, something which contributed to his release from the company.
Today, Scott Steiner’s ditched the chainmail and can instead be found donning a suit and tie and as he takes care of his eating establishments. He’s gotten older and looks totally different from when he was at his peak. Those drugs took their toll, but judging by the way he looks now, he’s clean, although he’s probably on some sort of hormone replacement therapy, otherwise he’d have the testosterone levels of a 12-year-old girl!
3 Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels is considered by the fans and all the wrestling aficionados out there to be the greatest performer of all time. His accomplishments in the ring and some of what he’s gone through, the epic matches he’s put on, are just astounding, but what’s even more amazing is that he got through such matches while being dependent on drugs and alcohol.
Shawn Michaels has been very candid about his drug use. At his worst, when things were seriously bad, he said that he almost died. This was during his younger, wild partying days, when Michaels was prone to popping a pill or two of something. Over the years this escalated, and Michaels became addicted to painkillers and muscle relaxers. What made him clean up his act? Rehab helped, as did his family, but he found God, got reacquainted with the almighty, and that’s what ultimately made him clean up his act.
2 Kurt Angle
Here’s another guy who’s considered to be one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, a guy who, much to everyone’s delight, is back with WWE where he belongs. He’s also another guy who spent most of his career addicted to alcohol and drugs.
Because of his substance abuse issues, Kurt Angle's been arrested numerous times for DUI offences, has had plenty of legal problems, and this has spilled out onto the ring. His drug use and alcoholism were affecting his work, his health, and WWE recognized this. They parted ways with him in 2006. This was around the time when he was still recovering from an injury, and during this period he became addicted to painkillers. When he joined TNA, it was evident that he was still facing issues, and he was sent to rehab to get some much-needed help, which he got, and he’s been clean ever since. Angle can now be seen clean, sober, and donning a suit and tie with WWE as he acts as an onscreen general manager for their Raw brand.
1 Brock Lesnar
Kurt Angle’s best buddy, Brock Lesnar, also went down the same path and has been very open about his substance abuse issues. Brock’s a guy who’s not very open about most things, but this was something he felt like he needed to get off his chest.
Brock has admitted that when he first started out with WWE what seems like many moons ago, he began to fall into the trap of getting addicted to drugs and alcohol. Vodka and Vicodin were his vices, and he’s said that he needed that concoction just to be able to cope with the gruelling schedule, the life on the road that being a wrestler entails. He realized it was a problem and got out of wrestling to pursue other things, and that break from the wrestling business is ultimately what saved him. He’s now back with WWE, is a star attraction, and being the megastar he is, he can basically pick and choose his own schedule and still rake in the cash. He’s in a great place and his substance abuse issues are certainly a thing of the past.