The professional wrestling business is not just about sunshine and rainbows. It has always been about men and women going to the limits, just to make the fans cheer their name and bring the house down.
Though the business brings in fame and superstardom for most of the wrestlers, one thing that comes along with those advantages is tragedy. Ever since its inception, professional wrestling has been littered with tragic events, which have left the affected wrestlers in trauma.
Despite being faced with grave dangers, wrestlers usually get dragged into the vortex of hurting themselves, and ultimately give up their lives as the price. The number of wrestlers dying over the past few decades has been very high, with Nelson Frazier Jr. being the latest addition to that list.
Here is a look at 10 names who started their careers dreaming of being the best in the business but ended up as tragic lessons for the generations to come.
The Ultimate Warrior
The Ultimate Warrior was a beast in his heyday. He spent a few years in the WWE (it was WWF back then) before moving to WCW in the year 1998.
He was a two-time Intercontinental Champion and he famously pinned Hulk Hogan in the main event at WrestleMania 6 to win his only World Heavyweight Championship, courtesy of which he was looked at as the Hulkster’s successor in the 90s.
He retired after wrestling just thrice in the WCW. And a decade after that, he wrestled one final time in Spain.
The Ultimate Warrior was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014 on the 5th of April, following which he made an appearance on the 6th at WrestleMania 30, and appeared on RAW for the first time in 18 years on the 7th.
But unfortunately, he died the very next day on the 8th of April 2014, as a result of a heart attack.
Fans who have been following WWE since the Attitude Era days would not have forgotten the name Test.
Though he wasn’t a big name like some others in this list, Test was someone who was stuck in the gap between upper midcard and main event. The pushes that he had never really clicked, and he was left floundering down the card despite having the skills to top the charts.
Apart from WWE, he even had spells in some independent promotions and TNA before retiring from in-ring action.
However, Test didn’t have much time to spend in retirement as he died due to an overdose of oxycodone just three days before his 34th birthday. It was later revealed that he was suffering from a chronic brain injury caused by repeated blows to the head, which might have happened while wrestling.
After starting off his career as part of various tag teams in the WWE, Eddie Fatu finally found his footing in the business with the character Umaga.
His new character brought him a new dimension as a superstar, and he soon found himself entangled in the WWE picture with big names like John Cena. He was also the focal point of the WrestleMania face-off between Donald Trump and Vince McMahon, as he was the hand-picked representative of McMahon.
After that, however, Umaga was relegated into the intercontinental title scene and he soon left the company. In 2009, Umaga was found dead with blood coming out of his nose, and the cause of death was later revealed to be a heart attack.
There were also subsequent revelations that Umaga clearly violated many of the WWE talent wellness policies and was using many drugs which eventually contributed to his death.
For the new fans he might be the father of Curtis Axel but for those who witnessed his rise as a superstar, Hennig was a name which had the potential to be one of the big fish in the business.
Mr. Perfect had a unique style and charisma inside the ring which made many call him one of the best in-ring technicians of his generation. After his wrestling career, Hennig stayed relevant in the business by taking up the management and colour commentator roles, before being dragged back into the ring by Ric Flair.
The match between the two went down very well with the fans, and soon Hennig started jumping ships. He had spells in WCW and TNA as well.
Hennig was found dead in 2003 due to a cocaine overdose, and reports also suggested that the use of steroids and painkillers contributed to his death. Hennig was later inducted into the Hall of Fame and his legacy still remains in the company, in the form of Curtis Axel.
Randy Savage is arguably one of the very few superstars who found their way into the mainstream culture during the latter stages of the golden era. Savage was known for his trademark costumes and raspy voice along with a distinct in-ring charisma.
Savage even went on to land a role in the first Spider-man film, making it clear that his career wasn’t going to be restricted to just wrestling.
Though Savage was almost out of the wrestling business by the time of this death, the popularity and the reputation that he established during his time in the ring made the news of his death truly shocking.
Savage died from a heart attack at the age of 58 and caused a whirlwind of reactions from all around the wrestling community. His death is easily among the most impactful ones in wrestling history.
The evolution of Pillman from a cruiserweight into a credible character required less than a decade. In that time, he made the loose cannon one of the most famous gimmicks in the wrestling business. But no one could’ve foreseen such a career being shortened by the clutches of death.
Pillman was allegedly an alcoholic and also used drugs well beyond the prescribed limits. Reports suggest that it was those habits that contributed to his early demise. Passing away at the age of 35, Pillman still could have contributed a lot to the wrestling world if it wasn’t for the untimely tragedy.
His death was a big blow for Vince McMahon, who saw not just a regular pay-per-view performer going away, but also faced a lot of negative publicity from all over the world. He wasn’t the first wrestler to die in this way, but Pillman was a big name and his demise created a huge buzz about the company’s drug policies.
David Von Erich
The Von Erich family is arguably one of the most controversial and talked about wrestling families in the history of the business for all the wrong reasons, and one prominent reason among that is David.
Back in the territory days of wrestling in 1980s, a particular promotion name WCCW in Dallas was catching attention for bringing breakout shows for the fans. Run by Fritz Von Erich, the main feud in that promotion was the one involving Fritz’s sons.
From the three sons that Von Erich had, David was the most talented; he was even touted to be the next NWA World Champion after being groomed heavily at WCCW. However, tragedy soon struck the Erichs as David was found dead in a hotel room due to intestinal enteritis, which was caused by a drug overdose.
Kerry and Mike, David’s brothers, also passed away in a span of six years after David’s death, and the promotion soon began to slip into the abyss. It never reached the levels that it enjoyed back when David was alive, and soon the NWA decided to leave from the WCCW, which proved to be the final nail in their coffin.
Brody had a remarkable career that spanned almost two decades, and which saw him establish himself as the greatest brawler that United States had ever seen till then. However, outside the ring he was known as a family man who had an eye for getting an extra dime whenever possible.
He often had a terrible relationship with his promoters because of this business-minded approach. That eventually cost him his life as Jose Gonzalez, a promoter in Puerto Rico, stabbed Brody to death in the locker-room after an argument broke out between the two.
The murder was a black mark in the Puerto Rican promotions, and after that none of the American wrestlers were ready to work there. The incident also ensured that now, wrestlers keep their guard up even in the locker room.
Before finding his way into WWE, Eddie was known to be among the pioneering wrestlers who brought technical skills into a hardcore-based promotion like ECW.
He rose from there and went through WCW before finally ending up in Vince McMahon’s yard. Eddie soon turned out to be a fan favourite there too, with both the heel and face elements, and even went on to win the WWE title and headline WrestleMania.
Known for his incredible charisma and special in-ring skills, Guerrero had no trouble fitting into any kind of scenario. The guy was also known for fighting his personal demons and rising to rule the hearts of fans by putting together a spectacular comeback story.
Unfortunately, however, Eddie passed away at the young age of 38 years due to acute heart failure. The drug problems that he had at some point before his death were blamed for the incident, and Eddie’s death left a big void in the business which is yet to be filled.
One of the most gifted wrestlers from the Hart Family, Owen potentially had a great career ahead of him. If it wasn’t for the WWE’s decision to make him slide down into the ring from an awkward height, Bret Hart might not have been the biggest name from the Hart Family.
Hart fell to his death from a height of 78ft while making his entrance in the Over The Edge pay-per-view of 1999. The show went on despite his death, and the company later gave a two-hour tribute to the late great, with the storyline paused for paying homage.
One of the greatest highlights of Hart’s career was the heel turn which he pulled off perfectly against his brother Bret; this lead to an epic match between the two at WrestleMania X which still reminds the fans of what they lost.
Hart was known as a great person rather than just a wrestler, which is quite an achievement in a business like professional wrestling.
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? How can this list of tragedies be complete without the name of Chris Benoit?
Personally speaking, Benoit was one of those wrestlers that I grew up watching and who had a great impact on me. The way he won the Royal Rumble, the moment when he cried after winning the WrestleMania match against Triple H and Shawn Michaels, his crippler cross face, those jumps from the pods of Elimination Chamber, the way he collapsed after Eddie’s death – all of those memories still remain etched vividly in my head.
Though it was concluded that he murdered his family and committed suicide, that is yet to be proven with credible evidence. Keeping that tragic climax apart, the life of Benoit as a wrestler is one that could be an inspiration for everyone out there. And even wrestlers like Daniel Bryan and others follow the style for which Benoit was known.
Benoit’s death was a shocking loss to the professional wrestling world, and every time his name comes up, I always imagine what WWE would’ve looked like if he was still in the roster.