“WWE sends its sincere condolences” is how the announcement inevitably begins. The list of dead World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)-contracted wrestlers has totaled more than 5 dozen over the past decade. But is it really a job worth dying for?
Premature or unexpected deaths are tragically common in the WWE organization. These WWE figures are presented as humans who have superior strength and fortitude. However, professional wrestling is a dangerous career. Despite being scripted, these performers are taking steroids and other drugs to enhance their physique. Additionally, the challenges that are put on the human body during training, and during matches, take a significant toll. Add being on the road and performing, and bodies are pushed to the limit for more than 300 days a year. In 2013, the website Kayfabe Kickout took a look at the history of male WWE wrestlers who died between 1977 and 2012 and female WWE wrestlers who died between 1999 and 2010. Their research found that 46.6% of the professional male wrestlers who worked for the WWE died from heart disease, the youngest being 29-year-old Lance Cade in 2010. Further, they reported that 75% of the female wrestlers died from the same diagnosis, heart disease, the youngest being 40-year-old Bertha Faye in 2001.
The most recent passing was that of the Ultimate Warrior. Born James Brian Hellwig, Warrior is the latest WWE alumni to join the list of wrestlers who have died at a relatively young age. On April 8, 2014, Warrior collapsed in a parking lot in Arizona and died. He was 54 years old. Warrior began his career in 1987 and became an iconic WWE figure in his neon ensembles, long blond hair, and face paint. He stood at 6’2″ and weighed about 280 lbs. The cause of death was determined to be “cardiovascular disease.” Warrior’s death came mere days after his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame during WrestleMania weekend. Recently, Warrior made a speech at a WWE event where he spoke of WWE performers and death. Almost as if he had a premonition, he said, “the spirit of the Ultimate Warrior will run forever.”
Also notable is the case of Randy “Macho Man” Savage, born Randy Mario Poffo, who was best known by his fans for his outrageous outfits and signature “ooh yeah!” call. On May 20, 2011, in Seminole, Florida, Randy Savage had a heart attack while driving his Jeep Wrangler. His car crashed into a tree after jumping a concrete median and veering into oncoming traffic. He died from the injuries he sustained as a result of the accident. Savage was 58 years old and had an enlarged heart. He was a major player in and significant contributor to the popularity of the WWE.
Perhaps the most famous tragic story of all is Chris Benoit. This double murder-suicide can only be described as an inconceivable horror. In June 2007, Benoit killed his wife Nancy by asphyxiation, then murdered his 7-year-old son by strangulation, and sometime later hanged himself in his weight room. Copies of the Bible lay close to each of the bodies. Benoit was 40 years old and a star attraction of the WWE. Steroid abuse and severe post-concussion syndrome have been implicated as being potential causes for Benoit’s deteriorated mental state. Benoit was known for taking chair shots to the back of his head. Tests conducted on Benoit’s brain showed it was severely damaged and was in line with the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. The brain tissue revealed severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy and damage throughout the 4 lobes and stem. It was also speculated that Benoit abused alcohol. In addition, a toxicology report showed Benoit tested positive for steroid use. There are many who believe it was a combination of “roid rage” and the brain injuries that sent Benoit over the edge.
The list of goes on and includes notables such as Eddie Guerrero, who died in 2005 at age 38 of heart failure; Raymond “Big Boss Man” Traylor Jr, who died in 2005 at age 41 of a heart attack; Edward “Umaga” Fatu, who died in 2009 at age 36 of a heart attack; and William “Paul Bearer” Moody, who died in 2013 at age 58 of a heart attack; and there are many more.
How many times will Hulk Hogan and Dwayne Johnson need to express condolences for fallen WWE professionals?
In 2006, the WWE implemented a WWE Talent Wellness Program that is administered independently of the WWE by a team of physicians. In an effort to improve their overall program for WWE contractors’ health, they offer cardiovascular testing, ImPACT testing, substance abuse testing, and annual physicals. However, the performers’ jobs as a whole continue to be plagued by the extreme physical abuse of their bodies, as well as wear-and-tear, serious injuries, concussions, pain killer addictions, the mental stress of competition, and more. The matches may be scripted, but the injuries and deaths are very real.
- Griffith J. Wrestling icon The Ultimate Warrior dead at 54. NJ.com website. April 9, 2014. http://www.nj.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2014/04/ultimate_warrior_dead_wrestler.html.
- Matthew A. Putting the “pro” back in pro wrestling. Kayfabe Kickout website. March 22, 2013. http://www.kayfabekickout.com/7/post/2013/03/heart-issues-found-as-leading-cause-in-pro-wrestlers-deaths.html.
- Nelson E, Sherwood R. Chris Benoit’s murder, suicide: was brain damage to blame? ABC News website. August 26, 2010. http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/chris-benoits-dad-son-suffered-severe-brain-damage/story?id=11471875.
- Pro wrestler Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage dies in car accident. Fox News website. May 20, 2011. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2011/05/20/pro-wrestler-randy-macho-man-savage-dies-car-accident-report-says/.
- Skipper B. Hard drugs, heart attacks and Chris Benoit: the tragic deaths of WWE legends. International Business Times website. April 9, 2014. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/hard-drugs-heart-attacks-chris-benoits-meltdown-tragic-deaths-wwe-legends-1444020.