With bright lights, explosive pyrotechnics, loud music, and the most intense characters on television, World Wrestling Entertainment has turned pro wrestling into an industry of excess. It turns out, a bunch of WWE superstars were going to follow this trend into their personal lives as well, leading to a rampant addiction problem throughout the business.
The number of wrestlers falling victim to substance-related problems is on the decline these days, thanks to WWE offering free rehab to all former employees and others like “Diamond” Dallas Page doing whatever they can to personally help old friends. The bad news is that plenty of wrestlers still have issues to this day and it’s not like the many sports entertainers who suffered from them in the past should be pushed to the sidelines of history. It could easily be argued that the worst part about this trend is that until WWE and DDP’s recent efforts, very little was being done to stop it. Throughout the '80s and '90s, dangerous habits weren’t only tolerated, sometimes they were flagrantly flaunted as part of the characters played by people suffering them.
It’s no great shock when someone WWE or WCW mocked on TV for years turns out to be an alcoholic; it’s just life imitating art or maybe vice versa. On the other hand, a few wrestling addicts truly came out of nowhere and were the last superstars fans would have predicted had a dependency. Keep reading to learn who struggled with what when it comes to these 8 wrestling addicts that surprised us and 7 who everyone knew about from the moment they started using.
15 TOTAL SHOCK: The Von Erich Family
Okay, so in retrospect, 90 per cent of the Von Erich family promos looked like anti-drug PSAs waiting to happen. However, back in the 1980s, their father and boss Fritz Von Erich had an almost unnatural ability to get the general public to believe whatever the heck he wanted them to about his sons. In a sense, Fritz was his generation’s LaVar Ball, promoting/over-promoting his sons David, Kerry, Kevin, Mike, and Chris as the most all-American good old boys ever to live. Behind the scenes, though, none of the Von Erich boys actually wanted to be wrestlers, and all of them chose to cope with their father’s demand by abusing outrageous amounts of substance. Every time it happened, though, Fritz came up with some excuse to cover up the truth. Whenever his kids rambled incoherently in a promo, they were “dehydrated.” When Kerry lost his foot in a drunken motorcycle angle, Fritz got him a fake one. When David passed away of an overdose, it was bad sushi, or whatever weird lie he came up with back then. By now, though, everyone knows the truth, to the shock of all their (apparently quite gullible) fans.
14 NOT SURPRISING: The Sandman
Regardless of which half of this list they find themselves on today, it can be assumed most wrestlers would have taken the slightest effort to hide the fact they had addiction problems when they were at their worst. Not so with ECW’s five time champion and Hardcore Icon, The Sandman, who proudly allowed the world to watch as he got bombed out of his mind no less than 5 minutes and 32 seconds before each and every match. Then, once matches were over, he’d naturally choose to celebrate victory (or drown out a loss) with a few more cold ones, beating Steve Austin to the idea by three or four years. That fellow ECW superstars like Sabu would later claim Sandman was also doing harsh substances behind the scenes at the time is almost obvious. Truth be told, Sandman’s inclusion on this list could almost double for just about everyone in ECW, as their locker room was said to freely flow with just about every dangerous substance there is, which is entirely believable to people who watched its product.
13 TOTAL SHOCK: Jack Swagger
To this day, Jack Swagger prides himself on being an all-American. It’s more subtle than it once was, but he’s still pounding his chest and yelling “We the People,” so the message is pretty clear that he’s proud of his country and all that it stands for. In theory, anyway, considering marijuana is still illegal in most parts of the USA, and the former WWE World Heavyweight Champion nonetheless enjoys imbibing the substance. At least that was the case in 2013, when Swagger was arrested on suspicious of a DUI and discovered with a significant amount of pot in his possession. This was around the same time Swagger was teaming with Zeb Colter as the Real Americans, a highly conservative group one could imagine rallying against the very substance he was caught holding.
12 NOT SURPRISING: Mr. Kennedy
Unhinged, repetitive, and a bit of a jerk, Mr. Kennedy was showing signs of being an addict from the day he said his name twice for no reason. In all fairness, that was just a gimmick, albeit it one that we could easily see an actual substance abuser of some kind creating. The real reason Kennedy is on this list doesn’t relate to that, though, but the fact he’s earned a reputation as a professional bridge burner everywhere he works. Immediately after getting fired by WWE, he started badmouthing his former employers on TNA television. Then a few years later, TNA fired him, so he started talking trash about them at various independent promotions. The fact he was fired from TNA at all was also a huge warning sign, as they’ll usually keep anyone with a mild substance problem employed, so for them to think he was going too far allowed every fan of the business to do the same. Of course, most of us already knew that based on his past destructive behavior.
11 TOTAL SHOCK: William Regal
Everybody loves a redemption story, so at this point, most people are aware that the posh, sophisticated William Regal had a few dark days in his lifetime. Before coming forward about his struggles and being able to recover, though, everything about Regal’s attitude and professionalism suggested he wasn’t the type of person to heavily experiment with substance or alcohol. If anything, Regal seemed like the aristocratic sort who might have a glass of red one or two during a lavish feast, but he hardly seemed like a bumbling, drunken oaf. As it would turn out, that’s exactly what he was, once getting so drunk on a flight in the late '90s he relieved himself on a flight attendant and spent a short time in jail for it. Amazingly, no one ever brought that up during any of his claims about being a higher class individual than the average pro wrestler, even after he admitted to once having a problem.
10 NOT SURPRISING: Shawn Michaels
Now recognized as one of the greatest WWE superstars in history, Shawn Michaels wasn’t always the show-stopping, iconic main-event athlete he would inevitably become. In the beginning, he was just a talented young man with a serious addiction. The surprising thing is that the more he allowed his outrageous, flamboyant, drunken self flail around on TV, the more popular he became, as well. The Heartbreak Kid was always a little bit flashy, but it wasn’t until he started acting like an outrageously arrogant diva that he turned into a superstar. Obviously, this isn’t to say every single heel in wrestling looks like an addict. The fact Michaels’ version of being a bad guy is basically acting like he was on an outrageous amount of substance simply meant it wasn’t surprising when we later learned he actually was extremely high.
9 TOTAL SHOCK: Lance Cade
With all due respect to Lance Cade, the main reason he finds himself on this list is that most fans probably don’t remember who he was. Cade stuck around in the WWE Universe for almost five full years, rarely making his presence known or sticking out. Though competent in the ring, Cade was vanilla in every way a wrestler can be, with almost no personality to speak of, especially one of substance addiction. His sole claim to fame came through a team with Trevor Murdoch, which won the WWE World Tag Team Championships three times. Gradually falling down the card after losing their last set of belts, Cade was eventually fired for reasons that are still unclear. At the time, fans just assumed he wasn’t making an impact nor improving as a talent, but it turns out he may well have been on some kind of substance the entire time. Two short years after his WWE release, Cade passed away due to an overdose, only several months after completing his first stint in rehab.
8 NOT SURPRISING: Sunny
Little did anyone know at the time, but Sunny was setting herself down a dark path when boasting about being the first true “WWE diva.” While Vince McMahon’s warped mind probably saw that title as a good thing when he gave it to her, and Sunny apparently agrees considering she still calls herself that, most rational people are aware “diva” is actually kind of an insult. Outside of wrestling, the term has always meant self-obsessed, arrogant person with little respect for the world around them. Whether she realizes it or not, that’s exactly what Sunny’s been most of her life. It would take too long to list every outrageous substance-related scenario Sunny has been involved with or accused of, so we’ll just point out she was arrested for three separate DUIs in 2015 alone, and similar stories coat every year of her life. Only a true diva could repeat this sort of behavior.
7 TOTAL SHOCK: Miss Elizabeth
Before Vince McMahon was casting women aside as “divas,” the few of them he actually hired for on-screen roles were actually treated with a decent amount of respect. In fact, it could be argued that Miss Elizabeth was given greater reverence than any other female in company history. In stark contrast to her insane husband, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Elizabeth was borderline angelic in her absolute kindness and purity. It doesn’t exactly make sense that a wrestling personality could hold true the old cliché that they “wouldn’t harm a fly,” but if anyone came close, it was Liz. Because of this, to find out she would pass young due to an overdose after her life spiralled out of control was extremely unexpected. Granted, there were a few warnings signs, such as her career downfall in WCW and later moving in with Lex Luger, with whom she had a tumultuous relationship. Still, no one believed the most graceful woman in WWE could drink herself to death until she did just that.
6 NOT SURPRISING: Jeff Hardy
Face paint has been part of pro wrestling since at least the 1980s and the vast majority of the time, audiences accept it without any question. There’s only one requirement when a wrestler covers their face in random colors, and that’s for it to somehow relate to their character in a meaningful way. Despite all this, it was the moment Jeff Hardy started smashing his head against an easel before hitting the ring that fans should have recognized something strange was going on in his brain. The Charismatic Enigma made his career on death-defying stunts in hardcore ladder matches, but it took less than two years before he started losing his finesse when trying to uphold his reputation. As if his weird sloppy warning signs weren’t enough, Hardy even bragged about his past with substance abuse in a totally backwards feud with CM Punk, earning boos from the crowd when he suggested he could beat his addiction by himself. Spoiler alert, he unfortunately couldn’t.
5 TOTAL SHOCK: Roman Reigns
To this day, it isn’t exactly clear what specific substance caused WWE to suspend Roman Reigns in 2016. While many insiders assumed it was a fat burner or other type of mild performance enhancing substance, seedier suggestions have included more mainstream recreation substances. Either way, everyone was in complete agreement that Reigns being the latest victim of the Wellness Policy was an absolute shock. From the beginning of his career, Reigns was clearly Vince McMahon’s chosen one, getting pushed to the sky no matter how harshly the crowd rejected him. One would think Reigns would be grateful to be the recipient of this status and do his best to keep it forever, seeing the Wellness Policy violation as a severe violation not only of company rules, but also of the trust they placed in him. Luckily for Roman and whatever small percentage of fans actually like him, he’s managed to keep clean since that one mistake.
4 NOT SURPRISING: Jake Roberts
Dark, mysterious, and with the eyes of a killer, Jake “The Snake” Roberts totally looked like the kind of guy you meet in a shadowy alley when looking for some illicit fun. During his early days in WWE, he liked hanging out in a literal pit, where it was heavily implied some very questionable activities went down. As if that didn’t give away the fact the real Jake Roberts was up to some shady stuff, there’s his Attitude Era comeback, where Jerry Lawler openly mocked him for being an alcoholic. It’s pretty hard to ignore the fact Jake had a genuine problem when Lawler literally poured whiskey down his throat in the middle of the ring. It only got worse from there when every curious wrestling fan could see him bombed out of his mind at the infamous Heroes of Wrestling Pay-Per-View. The most amazing thing about Jake’s story is that he proves everyone can recover from substance abuse, as he eventually became sober with the help of “Diamond” Dallas Page.
3 TOTAL SHOCK: Brock Lesnar
Having dominated WWE, NJPW, and UFC, “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar feels like the most unbeatable monster in all of sports entertainment. Throughout his legendary career, only one thing has managed to leave Lesnar completely defeated and without hope for a comeback: vodka. To many fans, Lesnar’s greatest year in pro wrestling is either his first or second, which makes it all the more surprising he was so high on alcohol and substances, he doesn’t remember the period at all. While Lesnar was never drunk in the ring, the second the show ended, he’d purposefully black out to deal with the various aches and pains in his body. As he suffered a few major injuries, most notably his broken neck at WrestleMania XIX, things only got worse as he drank more and more. Amazingly, none of this was ever noticeable on camera, making it a huge shock when Lesnar told all in his autobiography.
2 NOT SURPRISING: Scott Hall
Plenty of wrestlers have based their gimmicks on pop-culture figures and characters in the past, and it’s up to them to decide how far they want to go with the comparison. When it comes to Scott Hall basing Razor Ramon on Tony Montana in Scarface, he probably should have stopped short at actually doing a veritable mountain of hardcore substance. Even after he jumped to WCW and started using his own name, Hall often appeared on Nitro looking completely drunk when floating around in the background during nWo group promos. Because WCW had no shame, they even created an angle around Hall’s alcoholism, making damn sure every wrestling fan on Earth was well aware of it. Not that it stopped Hall at all, as he continued drinking himself to oblivion for years despite several attempts at rehab. Similar to Jake Roberts, Hall is now trying his best to stay sober with the help of “Diamond” Dallas Page. As long as he tones down his Scarface tendencies, he might just win his battle.
1 TOTAL SHOCK: Kurt Angle
Early in his run with WWE, Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle boasted, “I once drank milk a day after the expiration date. Now, that is extreme!” Turns out, that wasn’t even the half of it. At the time, though, Angle’s background and image as the squeaky clean All-American hero made him seem like the last person who would suffer a string of DUIs and an addiction to painkillers. Much to everyone’s surprise, that’s exactly what he did while working for TNA. Even as his addiction to substance abuse was at its worst, Angle continued to perform at an incredibly high level in the ring, making it a complete shock with each arrest that he had yet to beat his problem. Now that he’s back in WWE, most people are again instantly assuming that Angle must have all his problems behind him. As far as we’re concerned, though, if Angle relapses again, he’ll be on the other half of this list next time around.