If there is one thing each and every professional wrestler will tell an interviewer about what it is like to be in his or her line of work it is that there is an insanely high level of pressure to be the best they can be and just as high a level of stress involved in trying to do so. In the older days of the sport, wrestlers largely needed to deal with what probably seemed like endless hours of travel to get from one city to the next in a short amount of time, but today’s WWE Superstars have a whole new world of challenges to face that don’t involve the nightly in ring physicality.
Modern professional wrestlers do indeed need to hop onto the nearest plane or take the slower route and drive themselves in order to travel to each night’s show, which is always in a totally different part of the country. This travel is not prearranged and is expected to be sorted out and paid for by the individual, but even once that is taken care of the given Superstar must deal with media appearances, autograph signings, photo shoots and a plethora of other responsibilities that accompany being a star in the twenty-first century.
Naturally, over the course of time, these responsibilities have gotten the better of many a WWE Superstar and led some individuals to a reliance on drugs and alcohol. The stresses of the job are, of course, not the only trigger to lead someone to addiction, but they have historically been a major influence on the problem and many former WWE Superstars have seen their careers come to a crashing halt as a result, with some of them even paying the ultimate price. Here are fifteen of those unlucky souls who have seen their fame and glory vanish in an instant because of substance abuse.
15 Billy Gunn
“Badd Ass” Billy Gunn is one of the most prolific tag team wrestlers since the 1990s, with memorable runs as the WWE Tag Team Champion alongside Chuck Palumbo and the “Road Dogg” Jesse James. Billy tagged with the former during a controversial storyline which saw Billy and Chuck pretend to fall in love and nearly get married before the entire thing was exposed as a sham to get people talking. James, on the other hand, was Gunn’s most well-known partner as the two made up the legendary New Age Outlaws.
Billy Gunn has had to deal with plenty of drug issues during his career and at one time his wife left him as a result. He seemingly got himself all cleaned up and returned to WWE after a long absence a few years ago and was enjoying what was likely one final, successful run in the company until he was released again in 2015 after failing a test for performance-enhancing drugs.
14 Tyson Tomko
Tyson Tomko is probably not destined for the WWE Hall of Fame. In fact, he would be lucky if any significant number of wrestling fans even remember that he was once the bodyguard, or “Problem Solver,” of Christian during one of Christian’s first solo runs after breaking away from his longtime tag team partner, Edge. After this program had played out to its usefulness Tyson Tomko was slowly phased out of the spotlight and eventually left the company.
Following WWE Tomko remained in the wrestling industry with stints in New Japan Pro Wrestling and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, where he was reunited with Christian. However, his wrestling career went up in smoke in 2011 when he was arrested for robbing oxycodone from a CVS Pharmacy, which he later injected into his body. He reportedly entered rehabilitation but it’s unclear if he will keep himself healthy and reclaim any success in wrestling.
13 Hardcore Holly
He was a staple during the infamous Attitude era during the Monday Night War between WWE and World Championship Wrestling and it is for those days that Bob “Hardcore” Holly will always be remembered, although in all he worked with WWE for many years. He was known for his toughness and no-nonsense demeanor and he was fittingly synonymous with WWE’s Hardcore division when the Hardcore Championship was actually still a thing.
What Hardcore Holly is less known for is his abuse of steroids, which he has admitted to using before WWE began utilizing its famous Wellness Policy to ensure such things didn’t happen. Holly has claimed that there are ways to get around the policy that wrestlers may still use today and that wrestlers helping other wrestlers get access to the medication they want is very commonplace. It is rumored that this abuse led Holly to him being let go from WWE and most fans haven’t heard his name in years.
12 Davey Boy Smith
While he was working alongside his real life cousin and tag team partner in the British Bulldogs, Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith was one of the most influential tag team wrestlers throughout the 1980s. The British Bulldogs competed in many classic battles over the WWE Tag Team Championship, often as the defending champions, and helped take tag team wrestling to a new level. Once he was on his own in the 1990s, Davey Boy, now simply referring to himself as the British Bulldog, saw a level of solo success, capturing the Intercontinental Championship and wrestling a legendary match with Bret “Hitman” Hart at SummerSlam in 1992.
However, fans know these days that Davey Boy Smith was infamously under the influence during that contest and Bret Hart was forced to carry him through the motions, as Hart detailed in his autobiography. Smith’s substance abuse problems would eventually catch up to him and he lost all of his momentum. He bounced between WWE and WCW for a large portion of the ‘90s and in 2002 he passed away due to a heart attack potentially brought on by years of steroid use.
11 Joey Mercury
Newer and younger WWE fans will likely remember Joey Mercury as one-half of J&J Security, the fumbling, borderline useless duo, who accompanied Seth Rollins during nearly every match for Rollins’ first run as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Joey was once quite the accomplished tag team wrestler, however, as he is a former WWE Tag Team Champion from his days tagging with Johnny Nitro, later known as John Morrison, for a memorable run in SmackDown’s tag team division years ago.
Joey Mercury has always had issues with substance abuse, however. He was forced to get clean before even initially making his WWE debut alongside Johnny Nitro and would again run into trouble with an addiction to painkillers after a gruesome injury he suffered on live WWE television when a ladder crashed right into his face. Mercury’s inability to permanently kick his habits saw the downfall of his wrestling career, although he now seems to be clean and holding a backstage position with the company.
10 Lance Cade
Despite any attempts at a solo career, Lance Cade will always be remembered as one-half of a pretty successful tag team with fellow former WWE Superstar Trevor Murdoch. In the early years of the original WWE brand extension, the pair dominated the tag team scene on Raw for a time and won the WWE World Tag Team Championship on three separate occasions together. Cade had the look WWE was always looking for and wrestling ability for days, but it was his substance abuse that would keep a world of further accomplishments out of his reach.
Lance Cade was released from WWE in 2008 following unprofessional behavior, which most believe was related to drug or alcohol use, on a flight with several other WWE employees. He passed away in 2010 at the young age of just twenty-nine years old due to what was called “mixed drug intoxication.” Cade once had an incredibly bright future in wrestling, but addiction took it all from him.
9 Lex Luger
Lex Luger first came into worldwide fame on WWE television during the time Monday Night Raw was putting out its first episodes. Luger feuded with Yokozuna over the World Wrestling Federation Championship, although he never won the title and eventually his run in the company fizzled. He later found himself working for Vince McMahon’s competition, World Championship Wrestling, and became one of the faces of that company. Luger won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on two occasions and became a 1990s wrestling icon.
However, his extreme abuse of drugs and alcohol eventually saw the career of the man once known for his impossibly perfect physique come to a premature close. Luger has admitted to using every substance under the sun and acknowledges that he may have been an influence on the late Miss Elizabeth, who overdosed and passed away in 2003 while in a relationship with him. Had substance abuse not become a problem for the incredibly talented Lex Luger, who knows for how long he could have gone on to wrestle?
8 Marty Jannetty
One of pro wrestling’s most popular tag teams of the late 1980s and early ‘90s was The Rockers. This team consisted of Marty Jannetty and the man who would go on to be known as the “Heartbreak Kid,” Shawn Michaels, and fans were utterly in love with them. That’s why it came as such a shock when Michaels turned on Jannetty in 1992, ending their run together in a moment that is still talked about to this day among fans as the moment that launched Michaels into legendary status.
Jannetty, on the other hand, didn’t do so well on his own, aside from a run with the Intercontinental Championship in 1993. Over the course of the next couple of decades, Jannetty would fall in and out of favor with the company, failing multiple drug tests and repeatedly being fired by Vince McMahon. These days it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the two parties are ever on good terms again with Marty being very outspoken about his dislike of them at times.
7 Jeff Hardy
Tag team wrestlers seem to make up a large portion of professional wrestlers who have suffered from one form of substance abuse or another. Jeff Hardy, of course, is one-half of the Hardy Boyz tandem which revolutionized the tag division during WWE’s Attitude era with a series of absolutely mind blowing ladder matches in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Hardys were one of the companies most popular tag teams and both Jeff and his brother Matt have gone on to plenty of solo success, especially recently in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling.
However, as huge of a star as Jeff Hardy has managed to become, there is no telling just how much bigger and more amazing his wrestling career could have been had his drug usage not gotten in the way of his WWE achievements. It seemed as though Jeff could never keep riding the waves of his momentum while working for Vince McMahon as drugs and behavioral problems kept getting in the way. It’s entirely possible that without the skeletons in Jeff’s closet he would still be employed with WWE today, putting together one hell of a Hall of Fame career.
As a mainstay in WWE during the Attitude era in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, Andrew “Test” Martin captured many titles with the company including the European and Intercontinental Championships. He was a member of a popular tag team with Albert known as T&A, famously managed by a young Trish Stratus. But perhaps the storyline for which Test will be best remembered is the one which saw him romantically involved with an innocent, pre-heel Stephanie McMahon on WWE television. This close alignment with the McMahon family gave Test a spotlight which helped him stay relevant throughout the rest of his career.
However, years of substance abuse eventually caught up with him. He was released from WWE in 2007 following a violation of the company’s wellness policy and passed away in 2009 due to an overdose of oxycodone. Fans will never know just how big a star Test could have been if his drug issues hadn’t gotten in the way.
5 Scott Hall
Scott Hall is without a doubt one of the most influential singles wrestlers of the 1990s. His Razor Ramon character inspired a generation with his runs as the Intercontinental Champion and his infamous ladder match over that title at WrestleMania X with the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels. A few years later, he defected to World Championship Wrestling and started competing under his given name, going on to make even more history as one of the founding members of the notoriously villainous stable known as the New World Order.
Despite all this legendary success and an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, Scott Hall’s accomplishments are still threatened to be overshadowed by a battle against drugs and alcohol which has spanned his entire career. His problems kept him from making the most out of a WWE comeback in the early 2000s and the world was left wondering just how big a main event star Scott Hall could have gone on to be.
4 Dynamite Kid
Yet another tag team wrestler pops up on this list as the Dynamite Kid has had more than his fair share of substance problems. Known as the influence for the now infamous Chris Benoit, Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington was a highly accomplished tag team wrestler in the 1980s and ‘90s alongside his real life cousin Davey Boy Smith in the British Bulldogs. Both men were exceptional wrestlers and the kids in the audience loved to see them because they were nearly always accompanied to the ring but their vicious but loveable bulldog, Matilda.
An injury would help see to it that Dynamite Kid would need to retire early, but the injury alone didn’t stifle his momentum. Years of drug abuse caught up with Billington and he deteriorated quickly. Today he is in poor health and running low on money as his wife has recently started a GoFunMe account in his name to help pay for his care.
Eddie Fatu achieved some level of glory as Jamal alongside his partner and real-life family member Rosey during the early days of WWE’s original brand split. However, it was when he broke out and began competing as the “Samoan Bulldozer” Umaga that he really came into his own. Umaga was violent and huge but could move as swiftly as any smaller man. His run with the Intercontinental Championship was fun and memorable, but substance abuse would soon bring his dominant run to a crashing halt.
In 2009 Fatu was released following his second violation of the WWE wellness policy and his refusal to enter rehabilitation. Just a few months later he passed away following a heart attack, which was found to have been brought on by acute toxicity. Everything happened so fast for Fatu that the wrestling world was left completely stunned, but Umaga will always be fondly remembered.
2 Jake “The Snake” Roberts
When we speak of influential WWE Superstars of the past, Jake “The Snake” Roberts naturally comes to mind as one of the best promo guys the business has ever seen. Roberts has been discussed as something of an early version of Bray Wyatt as the two are so similar in style on the microphone, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that Jake Roberts was also incredibly talented in the wrestling ring and was the first man to make the now commonly used DDT famous. Though Roberts never won a single championship during his time with WWE, his lasting impact is undeniable and he was recognized for it in 2014 with an induction into the WWE Hall of Fame.
But it has also been widely discussed that Roberts’ career was cut incredibly short and he could have achieved so much more had he not squandered everything he earned in favor of his addictions. Drugs and alcohol have been synonymous with Roberts’ career and he himself has stated that, had he not taken the path he did with his personal life, he could have contributed so much more to the pro wrestling business.
1 Eddie Guerrero
The story of Eddie Guerrero might be the most heartbreaking tale ever to unfold in professional wrestling’s history. Eddie accomplished so much throughout his career, holding nearly every championship in WWE at the time including the European, Intercontinental and WWE Championships. Having been known to have suffered from substance abuse earlier in life, Eddie Guerrero was a success story. He had gotten his life together and achieved major success and the fans completely adored him for it.
In 2005, however, his past caught up with him when he died suddenly of a heart attack. Eddie suffered from heart disease due to years of drug and alcohol use, and though he had cleaned up the damage had been done. He was on top of the world and poised to create even more history than he already had, but fate would have other plans. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the following year and fans are still reeling from his death over a decade later.