10 Most Shocking Deaths of Professional Wrestlers

There is an underlying irony behind the truth that wrestlers - embodying American ideals of resilience, fortitude and strength - face stunted life expectancies when compared with the wider population. The recent death of widely known wrestler and WWE manager Paul Bearer from a heart attack, age only 58, demonstrates the toll their strenuous career takes on the body. As well as the potentially destructive effects of wrestling on the health of the superstars, there have been numerous cases of the premature, tragic, and mystifying deaths of wrestlers, caused by a plethora of unique circumstances. Here is my offering of those I find the most shocking:

The recent death of Paul Bearer by heart attack caused by a blood clot is by no means an isolated case. The deaths of Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage (58), The British Bulldog (39) and Andre the Giant (46) have all been attributed to heart disease of some description, to name but a few of many. Interviewed for USA Today, medical examiner Keith Pinckard stated that pro-wrestlers were 12 times more likely to die from heart disease than other Americans aged 25-44. But what gives rise to this tendency towards heart disease? The vast majority of the medical community say the widespread use of steroids is to blame. For the decades they are involved in the sport many wrestlers resort to performance enhancing drugs to increase their strength and ensure they have the chiseled, statue-like physique required to get noticed by the top wrestling promotions. Regular use of steroids is shown to increase the size of the heart which can lead on to all manner of heart issues. This combined with the additional strain the added muscular bulk puts on the heart can lead to the fatal outcome we see all too frequently.

[9Substance abuse
In addition to the widespread use of performance enhancing drugs, substance abuse is a serious issue within the world of professional wrestling. Many wrestlers succomb to the vices of drugs or alcohol in order to deal with their busy lives. Think about it. As a professional wrestler, you’re on the road pretty much 24/7, flying from state to state, country to country, putting your all into each and every performance, you take knocks, you take bumps, you get injured and you need an escape. For many wrestlers, their escape turns out to become the death of them. Some wrestlers are well known substance abusers. Jeff Hardy, for instance, has been in trouble numerous times for his drug problem. At the TNA event ‘Victory Road’ in 2011 Hardy appeared for his main event match visibly under the influence, showing how serious his problems were. Many of the victims of substance abuse die young with notable wrestlers like Lance Cade (29), Umaga (36), Test (34) and Crash Holly (32) all dying substance abuse related deaths before the age of 40. If you look at any list of wrestlers who have died in the past decade, it’s clear to see that substance abuse is perhaps the most deadly element of the sport.

[8Chris Candido
Chris Candido was a auspicious man early in his career, signing to the WWE and becoming a part of the successful tag team, The Bodydonnas’. After the WWE he found success in WCW and ECW; that was until during a tag team match he broke his fibula and tibia after a move was botched. Candido was rushed to hospital and plates were put in place. After the surgery, he left the hospital with medication for the pain and expected a normal recovery. This was not the case. Candido began to feel extremely ill, eventually collapsing. He was rushed to hospital but died days later. It was then revealed that Candido died of a blood clot which had formed as a result of his surgery. Candido’s death was completely avoidable had the doctors given him the correct medication to thin his blood, avoiding a clot.

[7] Sylvester 'Junkyard Dog' Ritter
Junkyard Dog was a popular baby-face (the good guys) wrestler serving long periods for both Mid-South wrestling and the WWE. It was common for him to harness  the changing demographic of wrestling to younger audiences in comical ways; sometimes after a victory inviting young people into the ring for a dance. On the morning of 2 June, 1998 Junkyard had been returning home in his humble 1996 Nissan after attending his daughter’s high school graduation in Wadesboro, North Carolina. This time of joy at his daughter’s coming of age was tragically cut short as he reportedly fell asleep at the wheel, triggering a single-vehicle accident which proved fatal to the wrestler, aged 45. However, all was not over as more than a decade later tragedy would strike again, this time befalling the daughter of Junkyard whom he had been visiting. On October 19, 2011 Latoya Ritter collapsed dead suddenly on the phone to a friend. The cause of death was never disclosed.

[6Dino Bravo
While there are an abundance of deaths in professional wrestling which have been attributed to steroid use, substance abuse and even suicide, there haven’t been many at all which have been a result of a murder. This is the case of Dino Bravo. Prior to his death Bravo was a successful wrestler in the WWE who worked with many notable characters including Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart. Shortly after his retirement, Bravo was found dead near his home in Canada on March 11, 1993. He was not just killed - he was executed, receiving a total of seven gunshot wounds, at least two to the head. Bravo’s death was believed to be as a result of his involvement in a cigarette smuggling racket. While his death has been linked to the mafia, no one was ever charged.

[5Chris Kanyon
Chris Kanyon pursued a wrestling career first in WCW before transferring to WWE. He tended to specialise in Tag Team wrestling being in stable with the likes of Raven, Saturn, Diamond Dallas Page and Bam Bam Bigelow. Upon his release from the WWE he made allegations that this was because of his homosexuality. Clearly operating in such a masculine sphere had caused him to suppress his sexual orientation from those who would alienate him. This is a reality faced by many sportsmen even in contemporary sporting culture. In the months leading up to his death Kanyon confided in friends that it would be easier to end it all. True to his word, he was found dead April 2, 2010 having taken a lethal overdose of antidepressants.

[4Bruiser Brody
Bruiser Brody is another wrestler who falls into the ‘murdered’ category of this list. What separates his death and that of the aforementioned Dino Bravo is that Brody was murdered by a fellow wrestler. July 16, 1988 and Brody was backstage preparing for that night’s show when he and his colleague Jose Gonzalez got into a minor altercation. Gonzalez proceeded to stab Brody which led to him bleeding out and dying. What is most interesting about this case is that Gonzalez did not get the sentencing many people felt he deserved. He claimed that the incident was ‘self-defence’ and, while there were many other wrestlers around at the time of the incident, no one testified at his trial leaving the jury to acquit him and Gonzalez a free man. If this was in fact self defence then how could one explain the ‘large hunting knife’ many state they saw Gonzalez utilise in the killing?

[3The Von Erich family
The Von Erich family are one of the most recognisable families in wrestling. Unfortunately their name isn’t recognisable for entirely the right reasons. Some people may say that there was a curse on the Von Erich family. Out of the five brothers that wrestled only one remains alive today - Kevin Von Erich. The first of these brothers to meet his end was David. Prior to travelling to Japan for wrestling commitments, David had been complaining of severe stomach ache. Nonetheless, David went ahead and travelled to Japan to compete. However, after one of his matches, upon returning to his hotel room, David died in his sleep in February of 1984. The official cause of death was said to be acute enteritis. Three years later in April of 1987 David’s brother Mike committed suicide by overdosing on tranquilizers. Before his death Mike had suffered a shoulder injury and complications from surgery left him a victim of Toxic Shock Syndrome. His treatment was successful but left him frail, realising his career as a wrestler was over, he took his life. Four years after Mike’s death came the suicide of Chris. Chris did not experience success like that which his brothers achieved, due to this and his hard work not paying off he became depressed and shot himself in September of 1991, he was 21 years old. Lastly came Kerry. Kerry Von Erich was a very successful wrestler however he suffered a motorbike accident which resulted in him losing a foot. Despite this he continued to wrestle, even with a prosthetic limb. Unfortunately he became addicted to the painkillers he had been prescribed, his marriage ended and he was arrested for possession of painkillers without a prescription all leading to him eventually committing suicide by shooting himself in the chest at his family ranch in February 1993.

[2Owen Hart
The tragic death of Owen Hart is perhaps the most widely known wrestling death of all time as he is in a minority of wrestlers to have died while performing. At the ‘Over the Edge’ pay-per-view on  May 23, 1999 Hart was scheduled to take on The Godfather and win the WWE Intercontinental championship. The event organisers had planned for Hart to enter the ring in grand style, being lowered down to the ring on a grapple line suspended from the rafters of the Kemper Arena. Inkeeping with the "buffoonish superhero" angle his character had taken, just before reaching the ring below Hart would become entangled in the safety line and would pull a concealed release mechanism which would leave him to fall flat on his face, much to the amusement of the audience. However, this gag went terribly wrong. Hart accidentally triggered the release early leaving him to fall 78 feet into the ring below. As you might expect, some viewers thought this was in fact an intentional stunt - ring announcer JR had to emphasise that it was not part of the  show and Hart was seriously injured. Despite desperate attempts to revive him in the Truman Medical Centre, Kansas, Hart’s condition proved too critical and he died of internal bleeding, age just 34. Controversially the event continued despite Hart’s fatal accident. The Hart family carried out a successful lawsuit of WWE eventually winning a settlement of 18$ million. Interesting the widow of Owen Hart, Martha, has refused to allow the WWE to induct her late husband into their prestigious hall of fame. Though her exact reasons have not been publically stated, one might imagine that she blames the organisation for her husband’s premature demise. In many ways they promote violence in the ring as modern societies alternative to the Roman arena - violence or the performance of violent acts is glorified and a death inside the ring is an extension of this slightly amoral culture.

[1Christ Benoit
Of all the deaths on this list it’s safe to say that Chris Benoit’s was the most shocking, and without doubt must be placed at #1. 'The Rabid Wolverine' was an extremely successful wrestler with the WCW and WWE. He had been a champion multiple times and was adored by many fans. On the 23rd of June 2007 events regarding Benoit that would shock the world of wrestling began. He was scheduled to be appearing at a Smackdown live event, however prior to the event Benoit left a voicemail to a fellow wrestler stating he’d be late due to him missing a flight. After exchanging a phone call the fellow wrestler again tried to contact Benoit but there was no answer. Benoit eventually called back and stated that his day was stressful due to his wife Nancy and son Daniel being ill with food poisoning. In another phonecall Benoit said his wife was throwing up blood. The story of this food poisoning continued until Benoit said he would not be able to make the show due to a family emergency. The following day a number of text messages were sent from the phones of Benoit himself and his wife. Four of the messages contained Benoit’s address while another informed that the family dogs were in an enclosed area. The day following these messages the WWE were informed of their content and decided to contact the police. Officers attended Benoit’s residence and found the bodies of Benoit, Nancy and his son Daniel. It emerged that Benoit had strangled Nancy then suffocated Daniel before hanging himself from his weight machine. There was a Bible present beside each body. No one will ever fully understand why Benoit committed these crimes. He was a known steroid user and many people attribute it to ‘roid rage’. Along with this, post-mortem studies revealed that Benoit had a brain which resembled that of an 85 year old Alzheimer’s patient. This damage to his brain was caused by multiple untreated concussions as a result of his wrestling career.

Lucky escape
Less than 6 months ago colour commentator and Hall of Fame WWE Wrestler Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler suffered a heart attack while commentating during Monday Night Raw in Montreal. The Hall of Famer (62) had taken part in a match with Randy Orton against the heel team of CM Punk and Dolph Ziggler. Lawler and Orton were victorious and he returned to commentate. However, less than an hour later Lawler suddenly collapsed in the middle of a tag match of Daniel Bryan and Kane v Prime Time Players. He was rushed backstage and attended to by the on-site medical personnel who performed CPR, narrowly saving his life, before being taken to hospital for intensive heart surgery. This close shave with death again demonstrates the massive health risk all wrestlers undergo to pursue a career in the sport.

I collaborated on this post with my girlfriend who has her own - rather differently themed blog - which you can find here.

Agree or disagree with our picks? Think we've missed anyone out? Let us know in a comment!


  1. Only one thing to point out. Crash Holly was a suicide, not an accidental OD like the others mentioned with him.

  2. After seeing Benoit's death you can say that even success money wife and famiky cant make a person happy..I loved him so much before this incident .If he was not happy with his life he could have killed himself why that small little child and a sober women.

  3. I will like to see the Wrestling Federation Salute all of there FallingFighters Of the Ring..RIP To them. All of them were Showtimers.

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