It should come as little surprise that the life of a professional wrestler is a difficult one. The tremendous toll on the body (and mind), the difficulty in securing success, the further difficulty in maintaining it, and the expiration date inherent to the job all lead to not only tremendous psychological and health issues, but substance abuse as well.
So as difficult as the job is in the ring, as we saw most recently with the death of the Ultimate Warrior a couple days ago, the most dangerous time may actually come during retirement, be it voluntary or involuntary. With that in mind, here are nine wrestlers who died before their time.
Although no cause of death has been established for the Ultimate Warrior’s death, many people’s minds turned to expect the worst after the litany of premature and preventable wrestler deaths. His death at 54 came just days after his induction into the pro wrestling hall of fame, and correspondence that has been circulating indicates that he (James Hellwig) suffered from psychological distress.
9. Ultimate Warrior
The man who was as famous for his Slim Jim ads as his wrestling performance went from being among the most iconic wrestlers of wrestling’s golden years to an early grave in 2011. He suffered a heart attack while driving his second wife, and was found to have had an enlarged heart and a cocktail of trace amounts of painkiller and alcohol in his system, and all-too-familiar hallmark in wrestler deaths.
8. Macho Man Randy Savage
The youngest of 12 children born in Alberta, Owen Hart’s death is tragic not only because it happened in the ring and was entirely preventable, but because it wasn’t his demons that killed him, but rather a stunt gone awry. Owen Hart was being lowered from the roof of an arena in Kansas City when he was suddenly released from the line and fell 78 feet to his death in front of the crowd, dying of blunt force trauma. He was 34.
7. Owen Hart
The circumstances of Chris Benoit’s death are among the most macabre. Suffering from depression and substance abuse, Benoit was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot after murdering his wife and child. In 2007, the WWE, after learning of the star’s death at age 40, started airing tributes to the fallen wrestler before learning the disturbing circumstances of his death, at which time the company distanced itself from the star.
6. Chris Benoit
At age 38, Guerrero died in Minnesota after having wrestled in the ECW, WCW, and WWE. Though he was regarded as among the most gifted of a new generation of wrestlers, he was known to have an addiction to alcohol and painkillers, which may have contributed to the heart disease that was determined to be his cause of death.
5. Eddie Guerrero
In a familiar, but nonetheless sad, story, Umaga passed away of a drug overdose on different painkillers and muscle relaxers. The Samoan-born star of the WWE was 36 and came in at 6’4” and a whopping 340 pounds. His death came at the high point of his career, after he had won the intercontinental championship two years in a row.
Believe it or not, someone named Mike Awesome wasn’t actually that happy. He was found dead of suicide in his home at the age of 42, and although the WWE put up a title card that read “In memory…” they omitted the cause of death so as not to alert anyone to the high number of depression-oriented deaths that wrestlers are subject to.
3. Mike Awesome
Doink the Clown wasn’t a very well-known character, but enough so that several other wrestlers inhabited the role created by Matt Osborne and used by him starting in 1992. Osborne left role the WWE in 1993, but continued to use the character at the same time the WWE was filing people in and out of the role. His death – stop us if you’ve heard this one – was due to a combination of painkiller overdose coupled with heart disease.
2. Doink the Clown
As much as this list can end on a high note, here it is. Andre the Giant, born in France in 1946, achieved great fame and notoriety in the WWF. He was known as a friendly, legendary drunk, who seemed to be liked by all. His large stature (around 7’ 4”, 450 lbs) led to and resulted from myriad health problems. He died of heart failure in his sleep in 1993 while in Paris for his father’s funeral, and is one of the most legendary characters not only in the WWE, but in The Princess Bride, as well.