Last week has been a sad one in the world of professional wrestling with the passing of The Dynamite Kid and Larry “The Ax” Henning. Henning lived a long life passing away at the age of eighty two, but the Dynamite Kid passed on the day of his sixtieth birthday. In the grand scheme of things, sixty is not really that old.
I am not sure what the average life span is these days, but last I heard it was somewhere between seventy five and eighty. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized most wrestlers don’t live that long. It doesn’t seem like most wrestlers make it to sixty-sixty five.
I often wonder why that is? Why do wrestlers who are in peak physical condition pass away before their golden years. Some of them well before their golden years. Multiple wrestlers have passed away before the age of forty. 2018 has been a year where we saw a lot of wrestlers go to the ring in the sky.
Along with The Dynamite Kid and Larry Henning; Bruno Sammartino, Brian Christopher, Jim Neidhart, Johnny Valiant, Matt Cappotelli, Nikolai Volkoff and Vader are just a few that have passed away this year. Cappotelli was thirty eight and Brian Christopher was forty six.
Sammartino and Henning were the only ones in their eighties, everyone else was below the average life span. Why do wrestlers rarely seem to make it to a full life span? I know wrestling is hard on your body and the traveling is exhausting, but there are a lot of people who work seventy hours a week and have physically demanding jobs.
I think a big reason why the wrestlers I grew up watching are dying so young is being a product of the era. I grew up in the eighties and nineties and watched wrestlers like, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper, Vader, The Ultimate Warrior, Crush, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Brian Pillman and The Z-Man.
All of the wrestlers I just named have passed away. Almost everyone has heard about the death of Chris Benoit. If not just google it, I don’t want to get into the details of the murder, suicide tragedy he was involved in. That’s a writing for another day. Pillman and Guerrero died of heart attacks in their thirties.
How does someone in there thirties and in great physical health die of a heart attack. Is it a hereditary issue, a fluke or a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol that lead to their premature death? For a lot of wrestlers, I’m sure it’s a combination of all. Guerrero had a well known issue with drugs and alcohol, but was clean at the time of his death.
Brian Pillman was also clean from alcohol and street drugs at the time of his death. It has been noted he was taking a lot of pain killers to deal with a bad ankle, but it appears that his heart attack was a hereditary heart disease issue. Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior also passed away due to heart attacks. Both men were in their fifties at the time of their death.
It’s no secret that there were little to no rules when it came to drugs and alcohol in the seventies, eighties and nineties in professional wrestling. Just listen to any podcast or documentary from a wrestler during those decades. They will tell you it was done in the locker room. Wrestlers lived like rockstars during that era.
Sex, drugs and wrestling. Ric Flair said in his 30 for 30 documentary that he has slept with thousands of women. He also said that he drank every day, like a lot of drinking, like every day. He was just one of many that lived and worked like that. Wrestle, go to the next town, party, repeat.
I often wonder just how many wrestlers lived the fast life like that? I often wonder how many wrestlers who manage to make it to their golden years, regret it? Ric Flair has been having a lot of health issues in recent years and rumor has it, he is still drinking. You ever wonder how Flair is still going at seventy years old, but Eddie Guerrero dies at thirty eight?
A lot of wrestlers were and are victims of substance abuse. Another eye opening cause of death for pro wrestlers is suicide. Most notably Chris Benoit, but there are others that have taken their own life such as; Kanyon, Brian Christopher, Crash Holly, Kerry Von Erich, Mike Awesome and Sean O’Haire.
I won’t speculate as to why they decided death was better than life, only they and God know what they were thinking in those moments. I often wonder if it was the physical toll wrestling took on their bodies or personal demons that led them to that decision. From every thing I’ve read and watched about Chris Benoit, know one ever thought he was capable of such a monstrosity.
Some say it’s concussions other say it’s steroids. Some say it’s mental illness others say it’s selfishness. No matter the issues that lead someone to that decision, it’s always the people who are left to grieve who hurt the most. Even fans of Benoit or Kerry Von Erick or Brian Christopher are left wishing there was something they could have done to help.
I do have to give the WWE credit for really stepping up their wellness policy. Especially after the Benoit tragedy, they have been more vigilant in detecting concussions. They have been stringent on the testing of concussions and other injuries that come up with a pro wrestler.
They may have even saved some life’s with their testing. Wrestlers like Edge,who had to retire in 2011 due to neck injuries, have publicly thanked WWE and their medical staff for noticing the his issues and telling him not to wrestle anymore. Daniel. Ryan and Paige are two that come to mind that the WWE have taking measure into keeping them from doing permanent damage to their bodies.
They are quick to pull a wrestler from an event when there are injury issues, opposed to twenty years ago when it was, you work no matter what. I can vividly remember Stone Cold being dropped on his head by Owen Hart during a match. Stone Cold lost feeling in his limbs momentarily and still finished the match.
Something like that would never happen in today’s WWE, and that’s a good thing. If we never see another ten bell salute on RAW or Smackdown, that would be great. I think that today’s wrestlers are in a better situation to live a longer life and not have as many health issues later in life.
Unfortunately, the wrestlers and wrestling companies had to learn the hard way. Hopefully we will stop seeing wrestlers pass away before they are supposed to. My concern is for those in the independent scene. Watching the matches are incredible, but in my opinion, the risks they take in the ring are unnecessary.
I get it, they are trying to get noticed, but no one will know your name if you can’t wrestle long enough to make it to the big leagues. I’d like to see them in the WWE or Ring of Honor someday, but if they are barely able to walk by the age of twenty five, no company is going to take a chance on them.
I’m not a pro wrestler, I am just a fan who gets to write about the industry. And all of this is just my opinion, but there is some incredibly talented men and women that no one has heard of yet, killing it at small gymnasiums and bingo halls around he country. One day they will get a contract from a big league wrestling business.
And if for some chance there is an indy wrestler reading this, I ask you to be safe and strategic in your journey. Stay healthy and determined, and I will be writing about you one day.
Top ten coming Wednesday and TLC predictions on Friday.
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