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12 Notable Wrestlers Who Died Too Soon

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There have been many professional wrestlers who have died young. This is just a small sampling of the many wrestlers who have passed away at a young age. Many of these deaths were due to accidental overdoses, heart attacks, and other health issues.

In the “Sports Entertainment” industry, it’s a sad reality. A life as a 1980s rockstar with heavy knocks on the body, with multiple shows a week and recreational drug abuse. The lifestyle of pro wrestling often results in performers dying young – many of the biggest names in the business have died in their 30s, 40s, or 50s.

Here are a few notable examples:


"The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes (died at age 69)

Virgil Riley Runnels Jr. (October 11, 1945 – June 11, 2015), better known as "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, was an American professional wrestler, booker, and trainer who most notably worked for the National Wrestling Alliance, Jim Crockett Promotions, World Championship Wrestling, and the World Wrestling Federation, later known as the WWE. Rhodes is considered as one of the greatest wrestlers and talkers in the history of professional wrestling.

Rhodes was a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, and during his time in Jim Crockett Promotions, later known as WCW, he was a United States Heavyweight Champion, and multi-time World Television, World Tag Team and World Six-Man Tag Team Champion. He also won many regional championships, and is one of seven men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, and Wrestling Observer Newsletter Halls of Fame. His sons, Dustin and Cody, both pursued careers in professional wrestling, currently performing for AEW and WWE, respectively.

In his later years, Rhodes suffered from kidney disease.

On June 10, 2015, paramedics responded to Rhodes' home in Orlando, Florida, after getting a call reporting that he had fallen. They drove him to a nearby hospital, where he died the next day at the age of 69 from the effects of kidney failure. Rhodes was cremated after his death, and his ashes were spread in November 2015 by his son Dustin on a ranch that Rhodes loved to visit.

At the 2015 Money in the Bank pay-per-view event, a ten-bell salute was given in honor of Rhodes, with the entire WWE roster and the McMahon family on the entrance ramp. The next night on Raw, they honored him with a video tribute and a special after Raw on the WWE Network. At the NXT tapings following his death, he was honored with another ten-bell salute.

Source: WIkipedia

"Macho Man" Randy Savage (died at age 58)

Randall Mario Poffo (November 15, 1952 – May 20, 2011), better known by his ring name "Macho Man" Randy Savage, was an American professional wrestler best known for his time in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

Savage was described by ESPN's Bill Simmons as "one of the greatest pro wrestlers who ever lived"—a statement echoed by multiple industry performers. He was recognizable by wrestling fans for his distinctively flamboyant ring attire, intensity exhibited in and out of the ring, use of the finale from "Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1" by Elgar as his entrance music, and signature catchphrase, "Oooh yeah!" For most of his tenures in the WWF and WCW, Savage was managed by his real-life wife, Miss Elizabeth Hulette.

On the morning of May 20, 2011, Savage died at the age of 58 after suffering a sudden heart attack while driving with his wife in Seminole, Florida He became unresponsive and lost control of his Jeep Wrangler, crashing into a tree.

Initial reports of Savage's death indicated that he had been killed in the collision, when actually he and his wife had been wearing seatbelts and suffered only minor physical injuries in the crash. An autopsy performed by the medical examiner's office found that he had an enlarged heart and advanced coronary artery disease (more than 90% narrowed). The drugs found in his system included a prescription painkiller and a small amount of alcohol. Savage had never been treated for heart problems and there was no evidence that he was aware of his heart condition. The cause of death was officially ruled as atherosclerotic heart disease.

Savage was cremated, and his ashes were placed under a favorite tree on his property in Largo, Florida, near his mother's development. Ten days before his death, he had asked his brother to pour the ashes of his dog in the same spot. When Savage's brother asked why, Savage stated that it was because he wanted him to remember that spot, since he wanted his ashes to be poured there as well.

Source: Wikipedia

"The Ultimate Warrior" (died at age 54)

The Ultimate Warrior (born James Brian Hellwig; June 16, 1959 – April 8, 2014) was an American professional wrestler and bodybuilder. Best known by his ring name The Ultimate Warrior, he wrestled for the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) from 1987 to 1992, as well as a short stint in 1996. He also notably spent a few months in 1998 for World Championship Wrestling (WCW), where he was known as The Warrior.

After a career in bodybuilding, Warrior turned to professional wrestling. From 1985 to 1986, he would tag with fellow former bodybuilder Steve Borden as the Blade Runners, and split when Warrior left to pursue a singles career in World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW). Under the ring name Dingo Warrior, he was a one-time WCWA Texas Heavyweight Champion. In 1987, he joined the World Wrestling Federation, and became a two-time WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion within two years. At WrestleMania VI, Warrior won the WWF Championship in a title vs. title match over Hulk Hogan, making him the first wrestler to hold both titles concurrently. Posited as the new face of the company, he would fall out with Vince McMahon over a pay dispute, and attempted to leave the WWF, which was rejected. Warrior would return at WrestleMania VIII, but by November 1992, he had been released; it was later revealed that this was due to steroid use. In 1993, he legally changed his name to the mononym "Warrior" and was credited as a co-writer for a comic book based on his name and likeness. Warrior returned to the WWF at WrestleMania XII, but lasted four months, as he began no-showing events. Two years later, he joined World Championship Wrestling (who had tried to hire him in 1995), being used in a much-maligned storyline with Hogan, which culminated at Halloween Havoc. Warrior retired from professional wrestling and subsequently embarked on a public speaking career, but wrestled one final match in Spain in 2008.

Warrior died on April 8, 2014, at the age of 54 in Scottsdale, Arizona. On the preceding three nights in New Orleans, he had been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, appeared at WrestleMania XXX and made his final public appearance on Monday Night Raw, returning to the promotion after an acrimonious separation in 1996.

Source: Wikipedia

Eddie Guerrero (died at age 38)

Eduardo Gory Guerrero Llanes (October 9, 1967 – November 13, 2005) was an American professional wrestler. He was a prominent member of the Guerrero wrestling family, being the son of first-generation wrestler Gory Guerrero. Eddie Guerrero is highly regarded as one of the most influential wrestlers of all time.

Guerrero performed in Mexico and Japan for several major professional wrestling promotions, and in the United States he performed for Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and most notably World Wrestling Federation/Entertainment (WWF/WWE).Guerrero's gimmick was that of a "Latino Heat", a crafty, resourceful wrestler who would do anything to win a match. His catchphrase became "I Lie! I Cheat! I Steal!" and was used in one of his entrance themes; he partly used this phrase in the title of his 2005 autobiography, Cheating Death, Stealing Life. Despite being a heel for most of his career, he was popular in and out of the ring and was at the peak of his career as a face during 2003–2005, becoming the top wrestler on the SmackDown brand in 2004. He experienced various substance abuse problems, including alcoholism and an addiction to painkillers; these real-life issues were sometimes incorporated into his storylines.

On November 13, 2005, Guerrero was found unconscious in his hotel room at the Marriott Hotel City Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by his nephew, Chavo. In a 2020 interview for the documentary Dark Side of the Ring, Chavo explained that Eddie had passed out in the hotel room bathroom with a toothbrush in his hand, and was barely clinging to life when Chavo discovered him.

Eddie Guerrero was pronounced dead upon the ambulance arriving at the scene. He was 38 years old. An autopsy revealed that Guerrero died as a result of acute heart failure due to underlying atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. He is interred at Green Acres Memorial Park Cemetery in Scottsdale, Arizona. His funeral service was officiated by "Superstar" Billy Graham who also has a burial plot near Guerrero.

Source: Wikipedia

"Owen Hart" (died at age 34)

Owen James Hart (May 7, 1965 – May 23, 1999) was a Canadian-American professional wrestler who worked for several promotions including Stampede Wrestling, New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He received most of his success in the WWF, where he wrestled under both his own name and the ring name The Blue Blazer.

A member of the Hart wrestling family, he was born in Calgary, Alberta, the youngest of twelve children of Stampede Wrestling promoters Stu and Helen Hart. Among other accolades, Owen was a one-time USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion, a two-time WWF Intercontinental Champion, a one-time WWF European Champion, and a four-time WWF World Tag Team Champion, as well as the 1994 WWF King of the Ring. He headlined multiple pay-per-view events for the WWF, and was widely regarded as one of the company's best in-ring performers.

Hart died on May 23, 1999, during his entrance from the rafters of Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, United States. The equipment that was lowering him to the ring malfunctioned and he fell to his death in front of a live audience and live on Pay Per View during WWF's Over the Edge event.

Source: Wikipedia

"Chris Benoit" (died at age 40)

Christopher Michael Benoit (/bənˈwɑː/; May 21, 1967 – June 24, 2007) was a Canadian professional wrestler. He worked for various pro-wrestling promotions during his 22-year career including most notably the World Wrestling Federation/World Wrestling Entertainment (WWF/WWE), World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) in the USA, New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) in Japan and Stampede Wrestling in Canada.

Bearing the nicknames The (Canadian) Crippler alongside The Rabid Wolverine throughout his career, Benoit held 30 championships between WWF/WWE, WCW, NJPW, ECW and Stampede. He was a two-time world champion, having reigned as a one-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and a one-time World Heavyweight Champion in WWE; he was booked to win a third world championship at a WWE event on the night of his death. Benoit was the twelfth WWE Triple Crown Champion and seventh WCW Triple Crown Champion, and the second of four men in history to achieve both the WWE and WCW Triple Crown Championships. He was also the 2004 Royal Rumble winner, joining Shawn Michaels and preceding Edge as one of three men to win a Royal Rumble as the number one entrant. Benoit headlined multiple pay-per-views for WWE, including a victory in the World Heavyweight Championship main event match of WrestleMania XX in March 2004.

In a three-day double-murder and suicide, Benoit murdered his wife in their residence on June 22, 2007, killed his 7-year-old son on June 23, and committed suicide on June 24. Subsequent research undertaken by the Sports Legacy Institute (now the Concussion Legacy Foundation) suggested that depression and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition of brain damage, from numerous concussions that Benoit had sustained during his professional wrestling career were both likely contributing factors of the crimes.

Due to his murders, Benoit's legacy in the professional wrestling industry has remained incredibly controversial and heavily debated. Benoit has been renowned by many for his exceptional technical wrestling ability. Prominent combat sports journalist Dave Meltzer considers Benoit "one of the top 10, maybe even the top five, all-time greats" in pro-wrestling history.

Source: Wikipedia

"Miss Elizabeth" (died at age 42)

Elizabeth Ann Hulette (November 19, 1960 – May 1, 2003), best known in professional wrestling circles as Miss Elizabeth, was an American professional wrestling manager, occasional professional wrestler and professional wrestling TV announcer. She gained international fame from 1985 to 1992 in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and from 1996 to 2000 in World Championship Wrestling (WCW), in her role as the manager to wrestler "Macho Man" Randy Savage, as well as other wrestlers of that period. She died as a result of an acute toxicity on May 1, 2003, in the home she shared with wrestler Lex Luger.

Source: Wikipedia

"The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith (died at age 39)

David Smith (27 November 1962 – 18 May 2002) was an English professional wrestler. Born in Golborne, Lancashire, Smith is best known for his appearances in the United States with the World Wrestling Federation under the ring names Davey Boy Smith and The British Bulldog. He was trained by Ted Betley in Winwick, England before relocating to Calgary, Alberta, Canada to further his training under Stu Hart. While training with Hart, Smith met Stu and Helen Hart's youngest daughter Diana, whom he married on 7 October 1984. Their son Harry is also an accomplished professional wrestler who wrestled and won tag-team gold in WWE NJPW, Pro Wrestling NOAH,

Smith won titles within the WWE in three decades, from the 1980s to the 2000s. He headlined multiple pay-per-view events for the WWF and WCW, which included matches for the WWF and WCW world heavyweight championships. Smith also defeated his real-life brother-in-law Bret Hart for the WWF Intercontinental Championship in the main event of SummerSlam 1992 at London's Wembley Stadium, in front of an alleged 80,355 fans. Hart considers this to be his best match.

Smith died on 18 May 2002 after suffering a heart attack while on holiday in Invermere, British Columbia, with his girlfriend Andrea Redding, who was Bruce Hart's estranged wife. He was 39 years old. Forensic scientist Julie Evans stated that although she had found steroids and painkillers in Smith's system, they were not at a life-threatening level. She instead concluded that Smith had died from natural causes associated with an enlarged heart. Bruce Hart claimed "Davey paid the price with steroid cocktails and human-growth hormones." Two funeral services were held, one by Andrea and the other by the Hart family. Bret Hart attended both. He was buried in the All Saints Roman Catholic Churchyard cemetery in Greater Manchester, England.

Source: Wikipedia

"Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig (died at age 44)

Curtis Michael Hennig (March 28, 1958 – February 10, 2003) was an American professional wrestler. He performed under his real name for promotions including the American Wrestling Association (AWA), the World Wrestling Federation (WWF; now WWE), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and NWA Total Nonstop Action, also using the ring name Mr. Perfect in the WWF/E. Hennig was the son of wrestler Larry "The Axe" Hennig and the father of wrestler Curtis Axel.

Hennig debuted in 1980 and won multiple championships in both Pacific Northwest Wrestling (PNW) and the AWA during the decade. He gained particular attention when he defeated Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA World Heavyweight Championship in 1987, with his 373-day reign being the seventh-longest in history. Hennig moved to the WWF thereafter, where he feuded with Hulk Hogan over the WWF Championship, and won the WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship twice, becoming the longest-reigning titleholder of the 1990s. In addition to winning multiple titles in WCW during the late 1990s, Hennig challenged for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on pay-per-view (PPV), and led stable and country music group the West Texas Rednecks, who recorded the popular tongue-in-cheek song, "Rap Is Crap". During a stint with the World Wrestling Council (WWC) in 2000, he won the WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship. Hennig returned to the WWF/E for a brief period in 2002, being one of the last three men remaining at that year's Royal Rumble. He later headlined multiple PPV events for TNA, in contention for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, prior to his death on February 10, 2003.

On February 10, 2003, Hennig was found dead in a Brandon, Florida hotel room, at the age of 44, six weeks away from his 45th birthday. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office declared acute cocaine intoxication to be the cause of his death. It was stated by his father that steroids and painkillers also contributed to his death.

Source: Wikipedia

"The Big Boss Man" Ray Traylor (died at age 41)

Ray Washington Traylor Jr. (May 2, 1963 – September 22, 2004) was an American professional wrestler best known for his appearances with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) under the ring name Big Boss Man, as well as for his appearances with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) as The Boss, The Man, The Guardian Angel, and Big Bubba Rogers. During his appearances with the WWF, Big Boss Man held the WWF World Tag Team Championship once and the WWF Hardcore Championship four times.

On March 7, 2016, Traylor was confirmed to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2016. He was inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame 2016 by Slick, and the award was accepted by his wife Angela and his daughters Lacy and Megan.

Traylor died of a heart attack on September 22, 2004 at his home in Dallas, Georgia. According to The Wrestling Observer, Traylor and his family were visiting with his sister at his home, and while his two daughters went upstairs to play, his wife Angela briefly left the room at about 10:00 p.m., and returned to find him dead on the sofa. He was 41 years old. Traylor was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016, with his wife and daughters accepting the award on his behalf.

Source: Wikipedia

"Chyna" Joan Marie Laurer (died at age 46)

Chyna (born Joan Marie Laurer; December 27, 1969 – April 17, 2016) was an American professional wrestler, bodybuilder and television personality.

She first rose to prominence in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in 1997, where she was billed as "The Ninth Wonder of the World" (André the Giant was already billed as the eighth). A founding member of the stable D-Generation X as the promotion's first female enforcer, she held the WWF Intercontinental Championship (the only female performer to do so) thrice and the WWF Women's Championship once. She was also the first woman to participate in the Royal Rumble match and King of the Ring tournament, in addition to becoming number one contender to the WWF Championship. She is considered one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era. With singles victories over several prominent male wrestlers – including multiple-time world champions Triple H, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho and Jeff Jarrett – she left what WWE called "a lasting legacy as the most dominant female competitor of all time". After leaving the WWF in 2001, she wrestled sporadically, with New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) in 2002 and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (TNA) in 2011. The latter was her final appearance in the ring.

On April 20, 2016, Laurer was found dead at her home in Redondo Beach, California. She was 46. Her manager Anthony Anzaldo was concerned when she did not post updates or content to her usual social media outlets for several days, and subsequently found her body in her apartment. Initial police reports stated that she appeared to have died of either an accidental drug overdose or of natural causes. Anzaldo suggested that any overdose was accidental, saying that she was prescribed drugs, but tended to use them improperly.

Her brain was donated to science to study the effects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). However, the brain had naturally decomposed to a point where it could not be definitively determined whether Laurer had CTE. A memorial service was held in Los Angeles on June 22, 2016. Among the attendees were wrestlers Melina Perez, Rob Van Dam, Sean Waltman and Johnny Mantell; actors C. Thomas Howell and Barry Williams; Dennis Hof, owner of the Bunny Ranch; and singers Coolio and Baby Bash, who also performed during the memorial. Chyna was cremated and her ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.

A report of her autopsy was released in December 2016 which determined that she died on April 17 of an overdose of alcohol, combined with the anxiety drugs diazepam and nordazepam, painkillers oxycodone and oxymorphone, and sleeping aid temazepam.

Source: Wikipedia

"Roddy Piper" Roderick George Toombs (diat at age 61)

Roderick George Toombs (April 17, 1954 – July 31, 2015), better known as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, was a Canadian professional wrestler, amateur wrestler, and actor.

In professional wrestling, Piper was best known to international audiences for his work with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW) between 1984 and 2000. Although he was Canadian, because of his Scottish heritage he was billed as coming from Glasgow and was known for his signature kilt and bagpipe entrance music. Piper earned the nicknames "Rowdy" and "Hot Rod" by displaying his trademark "Scottish" short temper, spontaneity, and quick wit. According to The Daily Telegraph, he is "considered by many to be the greatest 'heel' (or villain) wrestler ever".

One of wrestling's most recognizable stars, Piper headlined multiple PPV events, including the WWF and WCW's respective premier annual events, WrestleMania and Starrcade. He accumulated 34 championships and hosted the popular WWF/E interview segment "Piper's Pit", which facilitated numerous kayfabe feuds. In 2005, Piper was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Ric Flair, who dubbed him "the most gifted entertainer in the history of professional wrestling".

On July 24, 2015, Piper appeared as a guest on The Rich Eisen Show. He had trouble collecting his thoughts and staying focused, often rambling and not answering Eisen's questions.

Seven days later on July 31, 2015, Piper died in his sleep at the age of 61 at his summer residence in Hollywood, California. His death certificate cites a cardiopulmonary arrest caused by hypertension, listing a pulmonary embolism as a contributing factor; TMZ reported this as a heart attack caused by the embolism. Piper's long-time friend Bruce Prichard revealed on his podcast that he received a voicemail from Piper the night of his death. In the message, Piper indicated that he had not been feeling well and that he would be going to sleep it off. Hulk Hogan later revealed that Piper had left him a voice mail that he discovered following his death in which Piper said that he was "walking with Jesus".

Source: Wikipedia
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