Before the WWE strengthened the impact of the Wellness Policy, the company was regarded as a dangerous place for any aspiring performer. The prototypical big man back in the day was labelled as a heavy drug user, and this became very apparent when wrestlers started dropping like flies with various health issues following their time with the company.
After multiple lawsuits and an abundance of tragic deaths, the company finally decided enough was enough. Today, the WWE caters to a realistic natural marketable look as opposed to the old outdated model of looking larger than life. The effect of the Wellness Policy seems to be doing great things and the company made it clear that nobody is immune, including top stars like Roman Reigns, who recently served a 30 day suspension for violating company policy.
Sadly, this precaution should have been implemented years before, as it could have saved so many lives. We will now look back on some tragic instances of former WWE stars that died of these unnatural causes.
The WWE had high hopes for the Ontario, Canada, native. He was a big man who moved quite nicely for his size, and the company saw him as a big time future player.
His career peaked way too fast with a storyline involving his relationship with the boss’ daughter Stephanie McMahon. After a brief feud with Triple H, Test was relegated to mid-card status and would not climb any higher for the remainder of his WWE run.
Test was released by the company in 2004, but was later brought back as a part of the ECW brand. This time his run was short lived and Test would ask for a release following a suspension for a failed Wellness exam. This was his final run with the WWE.
After a stint with TNA wrestling, Andrew Martin announced his retirement. Sadly, four days prior to his 34th birthday, the former WWE star passed away in his Tampa, Florida home. His death was later ruled an accidental overdose of oxycodone. It was also later revealed that the wrestler had severe brain damage which was ruled as a form of Alzheimer’s.
14 Lance Cade
Similar to Test, the WWE was quite high on the 6’5 Superstar coming out of Iowa. Trained by Shawn Michaels, the company had high hopes that this wrestler would turn out to be something great.
His career ultimately was not as glamorous as many would have predicted. Cade was generally a Tag Team wrestler throughout his run with the WWE. His career highlights with the company included a three-time Tag Title stint with partner Trevor Murdoch.
His time with the company came to an end with quite the controversy surrounding it. After enduring a seizure on a plane ride following a WWE event, executive officials feared for his well-being and opted to release the wrestler in October of 2008. This would be the last WWE fans would see of Lance.
Less than two years later at the age of 29, the Superstar sadly passed away suffering from a heart attack. It was later revealed that his death was accidental due to a mixture of several drugs meshed together.
A big man with loads of potential seems to be the theme with the three former WWE wrestlers we’ve mentioned thus far. The WWE was heavily invested in Umaga; not only was he big, but man, could he move in the ring making his value that much higher.
His time with the WWE (although short) was pretty impactful. Not only did the wrestler win two Intercontinental Championships, but he also had a WWE Title pursuit taking on the likes of John Cena in an upper-card feud. Umaga’s time with the WWE came to an end after he failed the Wellness Policy exam for a second time and refused to enter a rehab facility. Looking back, that decision could have potentially saved his life.
Sadly, only days after his WWE release, Umaga was found unconscious and later passed away from a heart attack. A mixture of drugs caused his heart to stop; hydrocodone, carisoprodol and diazepam were all found in his system.
12 Doink The Clown
The original Doink gimmick was played by Matt Osborne. Once he parted ways with the WWE in 93’, the character was played by five other wrestlers the years that followed.
The initial Doink gimmick performed by Matt actually ended up doing better than most anticipated. The act got so popular that the WWE actually considered putting Doink against Hogan at one point, although Hulk shot down the idea immediately which lead to Matt’s bashing of Hulk through shoot promos throughout the years.
His run ended because of reoccurring drug issues. He left the company but made brief returns in 2001 and 2007, taking part in Battle Royals.
In 2013, the former 90s WWE star was found dead in Plano, Texas. Reports later revealed the death was accidental and caused by an overdose of morphine and hydrocodone. After his passing, Osborne’s mother would file a lawsuit against the WWE, blaming his difficulties on the company’s violence which lead to a series of problems for her son. The case seems to be ongoing at this point but as we’ve seen in the past, these cases are usually dismissed because of the specific wording in a WWE contract, which holds all wrestlers accountable for their own well-being.
11 Brian Adams
A sad theme in this article is the abundance of big men that are featured. Maintaining such a shape back in the 90’s sadly meant enhancement use for many of these former pro wrestler stars.
Adams was another prototypical big man who entered the WWE world with a massive independent resume, he’d been wrestling for several years already prior to signing with the WWE. He was mostly remembered for his time as Crush. Brian would later leave the company in 97’ and join WCW as a Tag Team wrestler alongside partner Wrath.
Adams would ultimately leave the wrestling field in the early 2000s and give boxing a shot. His career would never start, as the former WWE wrestler would receive an untimely injury while training for his first fight.
Sadly, in 2007 Adams was found unresponsive by his son in their Tampa home. A mix of painkillers, muscle relaxants and other drugs, caused his passing. He was 43 years old.
10 Brian Pillman
One of the most brilliant mind in pro wrestling history, Brian Pillman will go down as one of most under-appreciated talents in the history of pro wrestling.
He made his name prior to joining the WWE. Pillman worked with WCW and spent some time in Japan perfecting his craft. The Ohio native really upped his game with ECW. His persona and character work was second to none, and this eventually caught the eye of the WWE, signing the wrestler to a deal in 1996.
Pillman didn’t win any Championships during his run but that didn’t take away from his brilliant character work. Who can forget the “Pillman’s got a gun” angle? It not only launched Stone Cold’s career but set Pillman apart from the others as a fantastic promo worker.
Just as he began to scratch the surface with the WWE, the wrestler was found dead in his hotel room prior to the 97’ Bad Blood PPV where he was set to take on Mick Foley. The cause of death was stated as a heart attack. It was not made public but rumors indicate that drugs played a part in his passing. He was 35.
9 Sensational Sherry
For the next three entries we will switch the focus towards women in wrestling that passed away due to unnatural causes.
Sherri Martel, who was known for her time in the WWE as Sensational Sherry, enjoyed a terrific career as one of the most iconic managers in pro wrestling history. Her run with the company spanned from 1987 till 1993. During that time she enjoyed quite the career, managing the likes of Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase and Shawn Michaels. Now that’s one impressive resume! She was also successful in the ring, winning the Women’s Championship during the 80s.
After leaving the company, Martel endured brief stints with ECW and WCW. In 2006, the legendary Valet was honored into the WWE Hall of Fame for her brilliant work. Sadly, only a year later in 2007, Martel was found unresponsive in her Alabama home. Her death was later revealed to be a drug overdose (which included oxycodone).
8 Miss Elizabeth
The death of Miss Elizabeth was one of the more heartbreaking stories, as the former WWE star was one of the most beloved Valets in company history.
She rose to superstardom alongside real-life husband at the time Macho Man Randy Savage. Together, the duo became one of the most popular acts of not only the late 80s, but all of pro wrestling history. Elizabeth thrived in her role as the loveable prestigious wife that everybody loved.
When her WWE journey finally came to an end in the mid-90s, Elizabeth became a background player with WCW. She later drifted out of the pro wrestling world when WCW released Elizabeth in August of 2000.
Three years later things took a terrible turn for the worst. Former WWE and WCW star Lex Luger, called an ambulance after Elizabeth stopped breathing. Shortly after, she passed away. Cause of death was revealed to be a mixture of alcohol and painkillers. She was 42.
7 Luna Vachon
Like the other two we just mentioned, Luna Vachon was another talented woman that was not only a memorable Valet but a great in-ring performer. She made her debut alongside Shawn Michaels, replacing Sensational Sherry. She would later join forces with the talented Bam Bam Bigelow.
After she endured a run as a manager, the company decided to put her in the ring. She would rival the WWE Hall of Famer Alunda Blayze, in an iconic Women’s Championship feud which lead to a series of matchups.
She left shortly after only to return in 1997, managing Goldust. She enjoyed another noteworthy run but her time was cut short after an apparent argument backstage behind the scenes.
Just days after announcing her retirement from pro wrestling in August of 2010 at an indie event, Vachon passed away in her Florida home at the age of 48. She was battling a drug addiction which was aided by the WWE at one point paying for her rehab. The addiction ultimately got the best of her as the cause of death was related to a drug overdose.
6 Rick Rude
Rick Rude’s passing was quite tragic, like Pillman he was one of the more underappreciated performers of his time during an era that was littered with fantastic performers.
Rude was one of the few wrestlers to enjoy success with both WWE and WCW platforms. He not only had the look, but he also had the persona and in-ring skills to back up what he was selling. Although he never made the jump at “the guy” in both WWE and WCW, Rude was still greatly respected by both promotions.
His WWE run was highlighted by an Intercontinental Championship run. He also made an attempt at the WWE Championship feuding with The Ultimate Warrior, though he would fail to win the big one. The WWE brought Rude back in 1997, ushering the veteran in as an “insurance policy” for Degeneration-X.
After going back to WCW in 99’ and leaving briefly after, Rude would suffer from a heart failure resulting in his passing at the age of 40. Reports later indicated that an overdose did in fact cause his untimely death.
5 Bam Bam Bigelow
You can add another big man to the list of former WWE stars that passed away far too early because of unnatural causes.
Bigelow goes down in history as one of the most underrated performers of all time. Not only was he a great heel with a terrific villainous look, but man could the guy move in the ring, and his agility was certainly something to behold.
He was involved in several top storylines, such as his WrestleMania main event against former NFL’er Lawrence Taylor, though ultimately the company failed at making him the true heel star he could have been. ECW was truly the only company that understood his value and crowned him as the promotion's Champion at one point in time. Many believe backstage politics were the main reason why Bigelow didn’t get the respect he deserved.
He continued to wrestle the Indie scene till 2006. Sadly, a year later he was found dead at the age of 45. An overdose was labelled as the cause of death, and multiple drugs were also found in his system, including cocaine among other drugs.
4 Curt Hennig
We’ve touched base on several wrestlers that were under-appreciated during their time, nobody however personifies this more than the late great Mr. Perfect.
The only thing that separated Hennig from a Championship was the fact that his abilities were too ahead of their time. When Mr. Perfect was thriving in the late 80s and early 90s, the company was still focused on pushing the muscle heads like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. His style as a wrestler began to dominate the landscape of the business during the mid-90s, with HBK and Bret Hart being thrown in the forefront of the company. At that point, his ship had unfortunately sailed and he left for WCW.
He would return surprisingly during the 02’ Rumble, which was initially determined to be a one-time appearance, his cameo was so perfect however (no pun intended), that the WWE offered the veteran a contract. His return was cut short because of an incident with Brock Lesnar on the notorious “Plane Ride For Hell”, though many were glad to see he got one last run, even though it was cut short.
The wrestling world mourned his death in 2003 when Curt was found dead in his Tampa hotel room. The cause of death was later determined to be an acute cocaine overdose. Other enhancements also played a factor in his tragic passing.
3 British Bulldog
Davey Boy Smith was truly the total package; not only did he have a spectacular look aesthetically, but man could he also bring it in the ring as a great worker.
Before joining the WWE as a prominent player, the UK native actually endured previous failed stints with the company. He left in 1988 and again in 1992 after his runs seemed to be going nowhere. He finally found his footing in 94’ and thrived till 97 when he left for WCW.
His career highlights were quite noteworthy; he was a member of the prestigious Hart family and won several Championships, including an IC Title run, Tag Team Champion twice and two-time European Champion (which was a big deal at that point).
In 2002, Bulldog’s life sadly came to an end while he was on vacation due to a heart attack. Stress and drug use were believed to be the causes of death, as Davey Boy had a history of consuming anabolic steroids. He was 39.
2 Chris Benoit
When you read the title of this article, chances are that the first name that came to mind was the one of Chris Benoit. Unnatural causes played a terrible role in his death, and that of his family as well.
With the pressures of performing at a high level for years and years, Benoit relied on several drugs to keep him in line physically. Following his death, the autopsy found a variety of drugs in his system, which included large amounts of anabolic steroids. Some believe his death (and the one of his family members) was caused by a sudden “roid rage”, although that cannot be confirmed.
Further autopsies later confirmed that Benoit’s brain resembled one of an 85- year-old Alzheimer’s patient that had dementia. This severe problem was also rooted to depression.
The entire situation was a dark cloud above not only the family of Benoit, but the WWE as well. After his passing, the company began to aggressively test their performers by issuing more Wellness Policy exams which lead to severe punishments typically known to be 30 to 60 day suspensions.
Chyna’s passing was the most recent example of a tragic death due to unnatural causes. Since her death this past April, her family still searches for answers via various autopsies that are being performed.
As of now, it has been confirmed that drugs did in fact play a role in her passing. Chyna was taking an abundance of medication before she passed away treating her anxiety and insomnia problems. Her passing was identified as an accidental overdose of valium and ambien according to her manager, back in April.
Sad to see such a pioneer go without one last run or appearance with the WWE. Her time ended on such a bitter note, one that continued to haunt and bother her years after the fact. In any event, she’ll forever be remembered as a trailblazer and pioneer in the wrestling business. A performer that broke the mold and did things nobody could have ever predicted or done by winning various Championships and reaching levels of superstardom still being discussed to this day.
Her legacy will live on forever.