CM Punk once said “I think pro wrestling doesn't seem to get a lot of mainstream attention until somebody dies.”
While there might be a certain level of truth to that comment, the reasons for the intrigue might not be unmerited. Pro wrestling, the WWE specifically, can be a cold, unforgiving machine.
If one was to look at a list of WWE wrestlers who have died under the age of 50, it would be difficult to not raise some questions about the possible correlation between the WWE’s harsh, unyielding, traveling circus lifestyle and the numerous untimely deaths of many of their performers.
While the WWE tends to often celebrate the lives and achievements of some of their biggest stars who have passed on (despite some murky causes of death), it seems like there are exponentially more former employees whose lives are left in the obscure.
Here’s a look at some notable former WWE stars whose deaths you might have forgotten about…
Being a member of the Anoa’i family of wrestling Samoans might just at least guarantee you a shot of scoring a WWE tryout.
Yes, when you’re related to The Rock, Rikishi, Yokozuna and Roman Reigns (although, he’d come later), you can get a chance. Eddie Smith Fatu was given a job in the WWE in 2002, but after being underwhelming, he was released in 2003, only to “re-debut” in 2005 as the Samoan monster Umaga.
Umaga had a memorable run as an undefeated heel. He won the Intercontinental title and subsequently famously lost it to Santino Marella when he was feuding with Bobby Lashley. He even represented Vince McMahon in his “Battle of the Billionaires” against Donald Trump at WrestleMania.
Fatu would go on to be released from WWE in 2009 after violating their ‘Wellness Policy’ and refusing rehab. He died later that year after suffering a heart attack set on by a cocktail of drugs.
9 Lance Cade
The youngest entry on this list, former WWE star Lance Cade passed away at the age of just 30.
Starting off his career by coming out of Shawn Michaels’s famed wrestling academy (the same academy that helped launch Daniel Bryan and Paul London), and given his prototypical physique and size, it’s fair to say WWE saw a decent amount of potential when they signed him.
Before his mysterious contract termination, Cade’s WWE career saw him rise from 3 time World Tag Team Champion to being involved in small angles with the likes of Batista, JBL, Chris Jericho, and his former mentor, Shawn Michaels. Unfortunately for the “redneck wrestler,” for reasons that have never been made entirely public, his WWE tenure was brought to an abrupt halt in October of 2008.
His death in 2010 was ruled to be a cause of a mixture of various drugs coupled with a heart condition.
8 Luna Vachon
Adopted at an early age by ‘Mad Dog’ Vachon’s brother and fellow wrestler, Paul ‘Butcher’ Vachon, Luna was raised around professional wrestling. So, it wasn’t shocking that she, despite her family’s attempts to dissuade her, decided to pursue a career in the sports entertainment business.
Vachon would go on to have a fairly successful career in the WWE. She was involved in storylines with Shawn Michaels and Bam Bam Bigelow as well as being at the forefront of the mid 1990s female wrestling scene during her battles with Madusa (aka Alundra Blayze) for the revived WWE’s Women Championship. She was also the first female wrestler to have ever been featured in a WWE video game when she appeared in ‘WWF Raw’.
In 2000, Vachon was released from WWE after she was dissatisfied with the increased sexualization of the women’s division. Unfortunately, Vachon would later pass away in the summer of 2010 due to an overdose on a mixture of pain medication drugs.
7 Bam Bam Bigelow
Of all the colorful characters that were around in the late 1980s/early 1990s, Bam Bam Bigelow was certainly one of the most memorable.
With the New Jersey native standing at an imposing 6 ft. 4 in. and weighing in at around 390 lbs, he was already a sight to be seen. However, it was his flame-colored tights and tattooed head that made him instantly unique.
His career would see him lace up his boots for the likes of ECW, WCW, and most notably for WWE. It was in the WWE where the agile big man had his greatest pro wrestling career achievement: headlining WrestleMania XI against tremendously popular NFL player Lawrence Taylor.
Bigelow passed away in early 2007 due to an overdose of multiple drugs including anti-anxiety pills and cocaine. He was also struggling with a heart problem at the time.
6 Big Boss Man
Yet another member of the “Agile Big Man” club, Ray ‘Big Boss Man’ Traylor Jr. used his imposing 6’6”, 315 lbs frame to play his authority character so well.
A staple of the late 1980s/early 1990s colorful characters scene, Big Boss Man seemed to stand out from many of his contemporaries based on his character’s depth. He spent most of his career hovering up and down the mid-card throughout WCW and WWE.
Sadly for Boss Man, many younger fans may only know of him for his “poorly worked” angle that was done with Big Show. The angle featured now classic scenes of Boss Man invading Big Show’s father’s funeral, ultimately dragging the casket out the graveyard with his career, and attacking and berating Big Show’s mother.
Traylor passed away due to a heart attack in 2004. He was 41.
5 Sherri Martel
One of the most prolific female personalities of all time in the WWE, ‘Sensational,’ or ‘Scary,’ Sherri was always ready to make her presence known.
Trained initially by Fabulous Moolah’s school, Martel would go on to become a women’s champion in several promotions before debuting in WWE to a championship victory over Fabulous Moolah herself. However, after the Women’s Championship title was phased out by WWE in the late 1980s, Martel reinvented herself as a valet to the stars.
In her new role she worked alongside Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase, Shawn Michaels, and Booker T’s ‘Harlem Heat,’ among others. Famously, she sings HBK’s iconic theme song along with Michaels. She was truly both “scary” and “sensational” in all her endeavors.
Like most of the others on this list, her fate was all too similar: a death due to an overdose.
4 Mabel/Viscera/Big Daddy V
If Big Boss Man and Bam Bam Bigelow were agile big men, then, simply put, Viscera was not.
As a big dude - a really big dude actually (along with his 487 lbs, he was actually 6’9” in height) - he was on the slower side. However, he was an attraction nonetheless, as Vince McMahon saw fit to bestow the King of the Ring honor (which was at the time accompanied by a big upcoming push) on the then-named Mabel in 1995. He would also go on to win the tag title once (with partner Mo) and the Hardcore Championship once.
After his heart attack death in 2014, his widow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the WWE. The suit made accusations that pro wrestling’s biggest company was essentially lying to their performers in regards to their well-being. The outcome of the suit is, as of this writing, currently pending.
Andrew Martin, better known by his ring name Test, was certainly everything Vince McMahon notoriously looks for in a “sports entertainer.” As a tall (7 foot tall, that is), muscular, good-looking young guy, the opportunities were there from the beginning for Test to succeed.
While he didn’t become the household name that WWE might have hoped for him to be, Test did have his fair share of memorable moments during his tenure. His most famous would be his storyline marriage to Stephanie McMahon that led into his feud with Triple H.
In a recent interview, former WWE star and one of Test’s best friends, Val Venis, alleges that it was the pain medication that was the cause of Test’s passing… a sad claim, no doubt, but one that appears to pop up all too frequently.
2 Rick Rude
The self-anointed “Sexiest Man Alive,” ‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude was a fantastic heel during his pro wrestling career. He played along those lines of “women want to be with him and men want to be him.” An egoist of the highest order, Rude was nothing short of fantastic.
Though his in-ring career with WWE was rather short, it was highlighted by solid feuds with the likes of Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and The Ultimate Warrior. However, one of his most memorable moments would be one of the key highlights of WWE and WCW’s ‘Monday Night War.’
Having returned, albeit, in an enforcer/manager type role to WWE in 1997, Rude became a founding member of D-Generation X along with Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Chyna. However, after bearing witness to the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob,’ Rude was disgusted with WWE and sought to jump ship to WCW. He ended up doing so in dramatic fashion as he appeared on both Monday Night Raw (which was pre-taped at the time) and WCW Nitro. During his Nitro appearance he would go on to insult the WWE for the whole debacle claiming it as unjust treatment to Bret Hart. It was a truly shocking moment in the history of pro wrestling.
Rude died at the age of 40 in 1999 due to heart failure caused by an accidental overdose of mixed medications.
1 Crash Holly
He claimed he weighed in at “well over 400 lbs!”
From the moment he arrived on the scene in WWE as Hardcore Holly’s cousin, Crash Holly was pure entertainment. Beginning with his and Hardcore Holly’s humorous relationship that would often see the latter verbally and physically threatening his smaller relative (even after they beat The Rock and Mick Foley for the Tag Team Championship!), to his landmark decree to make the Hardcore Championship a 24/7 title defense that led to his 22 (yes, 22!) reigns as champion, the junior Holly was always a fan favorite.
It was thus very sad to hear that energetic and happy-go-lucky Holly passed away in a suicide induced by a mix of prescription medication and alcohol at the age of just 32. While Holly is no longer with us, his run in the WWE was one that fans could most certainly look back on with a smile.