Tuesday, September 13, 2016

“Top 500” 1992-2001 WWF/WCW/ECW Wrestlers who have died

Over the last ten years, an inordinate number of wrestlers have passed away. Some of those deaths may, in part, have been caused by drugs and alcohol.
- Vince McMahon’s letter to performers with a prior WWE booking contract offering drug/alcohol rehabilitation at a certified treatment center chosen by WWE (8/1/08)

Less than two weeks after WWE star Eddie Guerrero died suddenly in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 13, 2005, WWE CEO Vince McMahon addressed the locker room talent during a European tour. The conversation was taped and posted the WWE website. Vince explained that the company was instituting a new drug policy to address drugs of abuse, performance enhancing drugs and steroids. There would be unannounced testing and that testing would be frequent. He also said the policy would apply to “all individuals who are under full-time contracts in WWE”.

A few weeks later, the death certificate for Eddie Guerrero was released by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office in December 2015. The official cause of Guerrero’s death was listed as “heart attack due to heart disease caused by a lengthy history of anabolic steroid usage and recent usage of narcotics medication”. Once again, steroid and painkiller abuse claimed another pro-wrestler’s life. Guerrero was only 38 years old.

Within a few months, the modern “Talent Wellness Program” was formally implemented.

By the end of 2001, the wrestling landscape for North American completely changed. World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) folded. The Monday Night Wars ended. WWE stood victorious.

However, behind the scenes, scores of professional wrestlers continued to pass away at a young age.

Using CageMatch.net, I combined all of the WWF (as it was then known), WCW and ECW shows from January 1992 through December 2001. That included more than 45,000 matches and several thousand wrestlers and managers. Over the decade, lots of people bounced around between all three companies (that list includes Ron Simmons, Mick Foley, Chris Benoit, Bam Bam Bigelow, Chris Jericho, Raven, Rick & Scott Steiner, Dean Malenko, 2 Cold Scorpio, Eddie Guerrero, Shane Douglas, Rob Van Dam, Ron & Don Harris, Chris Candido, Lance Storm, Jerry Lynn, Tracy Smothers, Marty Jannetty, Mike Awesome, Big Vito, Louie Spicolli, Terry Funk, Public Enemy, and Curtis Hughes).

Overall, if you look at the 500 people involved in the most matches between these three companies, that covers everyone with 30+ appearances. That’s all the people who were involved in 85% of the matches and at least one person who was involved in 99% of all the matches in the dataset.

As of July 2016, 65 of the top 500 wrestlers from the 1992-2001 era have passed away. That’s 13% of the group. More than a third of the wrestlers (25) died before they turned 41.

Many tragically committed suicide including Kerry Von Erich, Renegade, Crash Holly, Mike Awesome, Chris Benoit, Ludvig Borga, Chris Kanyon and Sean O’Haire. Others died from documented drug overdoses including Louie Spicolli, Rick Rude, Bobby Duncum Jr, Curt Hennig, Miss Elizabeth, Joey Maggs, Bam Bam Bigelow, Sensational Sherri, Brian Adams, Mike Bell, Steven Dunn, Andrew Martin, Luna Vachon, Matt Osbourne, Axl Rotten and Chyna.

Some were killed in car accidents such as Junkyard Dog and Bob Bradley and a three people died from cancer (John Tenta, Steve Williams, Hector Garza). Three wrestlers were murdered (Chris Adams, Woman, El Torito) and most famously Owen Hart died in an accident after falling from the rafters during a live pay-per-view.

What’s notable is the number of wrestlers who died from heart issues. One suspects they are linked to years of steroid and drug abuses. Prominent examples include Rick Rude, the Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage, Ray Traylor, Hercules, Davey Boy Smith and Eddie Guerrero.

As the WWE Wellness policy passes the ten-year mark, wrestling fans hope that the industry will continue to change for the better. The human toll has been remarkable and incredibly sad.

Change is hard. Beyond the components of in-ring athletic competition, WWE is still a cosmetic industry. It’s about changing the mindset of not only the wrestlers, but also the decision-makers.

10.2 (a) WRESTLER represents and warrants that WRESTLER is in sound mental and physical condition; that WRESTLER is suffering from no disabilities or pre-existing conditions or injuries that would impair or adversely affect WRESTLERs ability to perform professional wrestling services; and that WRESTLER is free from the influence of illegal drugs or controlled substances, which can threaten WRESTLER’s well being and pose a risk of injury to WRESTLER or others. To insure compliance with this warranty, WRESTLER shall abide by any drug policy conveyed to WRESTLER and/or her representative(s) as well as any and all amendments, additions or modifications to any such drug policy, and WRESTLER further consents to sampling and testing, in accordance with any such drug policy. In addition, WRESTLER agrees to submit no less than annually to complete physical examination(s) by a physician either selected or approved by PROMOTER.

-        Stephanie McMahon-Lesvesque’s Booking Contract (10/7/2013)

However, it’s become apparent there is a significant gap in enforcement for the Wellness policy.  
WWE’s talent wellness program does not apply to part-time performers such as Brock Lesnar.

-        Statement by WWE to TMZ (7/26/16) following Lesnar’s failure of two USADA drug tests.

It’s not a surprise that WWE has policy exemptions for certain performers. The surprise that WWE did suspend top star Roman Reigns in June 2016 while admitting that superstar Brock Lesnar was not even subject to the wellness program testing.

Harkening back to that first locker room conversation, Vince McMahon did say the policy would apply to “full-time contracts”. It seems that since the beginning WWE did not intend to subject part-time wrestlers such as The Undertaker, Triple H or McMahons to drug testing.

An unbalanced application of a policy designed to protect the health and well-being of the wrestling talent will lead to unbalanced outcomes.

The WWE Wellness policy is not going to eliminate the epidemic of young wrestler deaths from heart problems and drug overdoses. However, hopefully in a decade from now the numbers of top performers who have died will be significantly lower than the 13% we’ve seen from the 1992-2001 period.

WWE is only one professional wrestling company. The company has publicly admitted that some of their performers are not even being tested. The policy of suspensions, fines and firings is only being selectively enforced while wrestlers work for that one company. Wrestlers, like MMA fighters, have found ways to skirt the tests and maintain superhuman physiques despite the full-year touring and performing schedules. Yet, I have to believe that we are seeing a major change, and a change for the better when it comes to the long-term health of professional wrestlers. We’re seeing an imperfect execution of a complex policy.

Hopefully, public embarrassment from their part-time performer exemptions and an honest concern for performer well-being will motivate WWE to evolve their policy into something stronger and more impactful. However, experience from both the costs involved and the people in charge suggests without another major tragedy, little will truly evolve from what we have today in the near future.


Top 500” 1992-2001 WWF/WCW/ECW Wrestlers who have died
1993
Kerry Von Erich: 54+ matches; died 02/18/93 at age 33
1998
Bob Bradley: 37+ matches; died 12/15/98 at age 40
Junkyard Dog: 35+ matches; died 06/02/98 at age 45
Louie Spicolli: 214+ matches; died 02/15/98 at age 27
1999
Owen Hart: 1251+ matches; died 05/23/99 at age 34
Renegade: 111+ matches; died 02/23/99 at age 33
Rick Rude: 281+ matches; died 04/20/99 at age 40
2000
Bobby Duncum Jr: 104+ matches; died 01/24/00 at age 34
Yokozuna: 559+ matches; died 10/23/00 at age 34
2001
Bertha Faye: 61+ matches; died 07/27/01 at age 40
Chris Adams: 113+ matches; died 10/07/01 at age 47
Mike Davis: 30+ matches; died 12/26/01 at age 45
Terry Gordy: 65+ matches; died 07/16/01 at age 40
2002
Big Dick Dudley: 97+ matches; died 05/16/02 at age 34
Davey Boy Smith: 840+ matches; died 05/18/02 at age 39
Rocco Rock: 316+ matches; died 09/21/02 at age 49
2003
Crash Holly: 361+ matches; died 11/06/03 at age 32
Curt Hennig: 439+ matches; died 02/01/03 at age 45
Mike Lozansky: 38+ matches; died 12/19/03 at age 36
Miss Elizabeth: 124+ matches; died 05/01/03 at age 42
Pitbull #2: 194+ matches; died 09/25/03 at age 36
Road Warrior Hawk: 345+ matches; died 10/19/03 at age 46
Wall: 121+ matches; died 12/06/03 at age 37
2004
Hercules: 50+ matches; died 03/06/04 at age 48
Ray Traylor: 730+ matches; died 09/22/04 at age 41
2005
Chris Candido: 465+ matches; died 04/28/05 at age 33
Eddie Guerrero: 560+ matches; died 11/13/05 at age 38
2006
Joey Maggs: 99+ matches; died 10/15/06 at age 37
John Tenta: 387+ matches; died 06/07/06 at age 43
Johnny Grunge: 320+ matches; died 02/16/06 at age 40
2007
Bam Bam Bigelow: 765+ matches; died 01/19/07 at age 45
Brian Adams: 741+ matches; died 08/13/07 at age 43
Chris Benoit: 830+ matches; died 06/24/07 at age 40
Mike Awesome: 249+ matches; died 02/17/07 at age 42
Sensational Sherri: 202+ matches; died 06/15/07 at age 49
Woman: 93+ matches; died 06/22/07 at age 43
2008
Mike Bell: 77+ matches; died 12/14/08 at age 38
Steve Bradley: 34+ matches; died 12/04/08 at age 33
2009
Andrew Martin: 474+ matches; died 05/13/09 at age 34
Steve Williams: 66+ matches; died 12/29/09 at age 50
Steven Dunn: 116+ matches; died 03/22/09 at age 48
2010
Chris Kanyon: 328+ matches; died 04/02/10 at age 40
El Gigante: 62+ matches; died 09/22/10 at age 45
Ludvig Borga: 81+ matches; died 01/08/10 at age 47
Luna Vachon: 219+ matches; died 08/27/10 at age 49
Mike Shaw: 131+ matches; died 09/11/10 at age 53
2011
Randy Savage: 564+ matches; died 05/20/11 at age 59
2012
Brad Armstrong: 234+ matches; died 11/01/12 at age 51
Doug Furnas: 138+ matches; died 03/02/12 at age 52
2013
Al Green: 116+ matches; died 06/14/13 at age 58
Hector Garza: 49+ matches; died 05/26/13 at age 44
Mark Starr: 142+ matches; died 06/07/13 at age 50
Matt Osbourne: 190+ matches; died 06/28/13 at age 56
Paul Bearer: 234+ matches; died 03/05/13 at age 59
2014
Jimmy del Ray: 126+ matches; died 12/06/14 at age 52
Sean O'Haire: 109+ matches; died 09/08/14 at age 44
Ultimate Warrior: 120+ matches; died 04/08/14 at age 55
Viscera: 460+ matches; died 02/18/14 at age 43
2015
Dusty Rhodes: 33+ matches; died 06/11/15 at age 70
Roddy Piper: 88+ matches; died 07/31/15 at age 61
Tommy Rogers: 77+ matches; died 06/01/15 at age 54
2016
Axl Rotten: 343+ matches; died 02/04/16 at age 45
Chyna: 323+ matches; died 04/20/16 at age 46
El Torito: 37+ matches; died 01/23/16 at age 49
Iron Mike Sharpe: 74+ matches; died 01/17/16 at age 64


Analysis by Chris Harrington 
@mookieghana
chris.harrington@gmail.com

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