Among every age group you and old alike, professional wrestling has always been the most popular faux sport in the world. While the outcomes in professional wrestling may be predetermined, there is still a lot of athleticism involved in the aerial maneuvers and various moves that are performed. While the competitors in wrestling are meant to simulate receiving injuries from their opponents, many of the on-screen injuries are more real than fantasy; these injuries can take years off of an athlete’s life span, and due to this (and other reasons), there have been many pro wrestlers that have unfortunately met their death at a young age.
Steroids have played a major role in some of these premature deaths, but in order to maintain their image, and receive a sizable pay check, these athletes will go to any lengths to stay relevant. It’s no shock that steroids come with a long list of health problems, but until recently they weren’t banned in professional wrestling. But which wrestling superstar’s sudden deaths shocked us the most? Here are the top 16 young wrestlers, who suddenly passed away and left us shocked and mourning. All of these performers unfortunately passed away before the age of 50, and the list does not include Chris Benoit: who took his own life after murdering his wife and son.
#16 – “Dr. Death” Steve Williams
Steve Williams was a college football player at the University of Oklahoma, having been so talented that he was named to the All-American team. Williams bounced around several different wrestling organizations before becoming a trainer for the WWE; while doing this, he helped to train the current superstar “Jack Swagger,” acting as his tag team partner in the developmental leagues. Williams passed away in 2009 at the age of 49 due to throat cancer, before losing his voice he spoke to us in a way we’ll never forget.
#15 – Luna Vachon
Gertrude Vachon was better known by her ring name of “Luna.” Luna had been working in the territories of independent wrestling before signing on with the WWE in 1993, where she accompanied Shawn Michaels to the ring during “Wrestlemania IX.” Luna was a mainstay during the “Attitude Era,” with her most notable run coming when she appeared as one of “The Oddities,” a team that was themed to be like a carnival’s freak show. Luna passed away at the age of 48 in 2010 after a drug overdose. Luna felt that giving her characters life was an immense undertaking and the stress of keeping her roles fresh and interesting took a part of her we wish that we could give back.
#14 – Andre the Giant
Few wrestlers stack up in either size or popularity to Andre Roussimoff, who is also known as Andre the Giant. Andre originally came from France as the biggest attraction to the WWE, and started his career with a long winning streak before finally falling to Hollywood Hulk Hogan at “Wrestlemania III.” Andre was diagnosed with gigantism at birth, which caused him to grow to an inhumanly large size; this is what also led his unfortunate death in 1993, as he died from congestive heart failure at the age of 46. Andre was a big guy with a big heart, and from both his Wrestling and his film appearances we miss him very dearly.
#13 – Bam Bam Bigelow
Scott Bigelow wrestled for more than 20 years, working in all three of the biggest wrestling organizations (WWE, WCW and ECW). With a massive size, and always recognizable ring attire (including a flame tattooed on his head), Bigelow was certainly an imposing figure. Scott was given the name “Bam Bam” before he retired from wrestling in 2006; less than a year after leaving the industry, Bigelow passed away at the age of 45 after a drug overdose. Wanting to relive the glory days is a horrible feeling that many of us feel, and we certainly wish Bigelow could have, because his flame is one all wrestling fans wish hadn’t been extinguished.
#12 – Junkyard Dog
Sylvester Ritter was given the nickname of the “Junkyard Dog” due to his previous work in a wrecking yard prior to becoming a professional wrestler. The “JYD” was a big hit with the southern fans before he was finally signed by the WWE, where he spent all of his time working as a “babyface” (a good guy at the wrestling events). Ritter was 45-years-old in 1998 when he fell asleep at the wheel of his car, and while driving through North Carolina he passed away in the resulting accident. Sylvester Ritter was still an active wrestler at the time of his death, and his passing made a huge crash in the entire wrestling industry, who held several memorials in his honor.
#11 – “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig
Curt Hennig was the son of a famous wrestler, but didn’t find much success during his first run with the WWE. After returning to the WWE in 1988, Hennig caught on as the arrogant “Mr. Perfect,” who was given the name because he could do no wrong. Hennig retired, but returned to the WCW before making sporadic reappearances throughout the early 2000s. In 2003, Hennig was found dead in his Tampa, Florida hotel room, and his death was ruled as a result of cocaine intoxication. Hennig was 44-years-old at the time of his passing, and while a drug problem is nothing to be proud of, he was always perfect in our eyes.
#10 – Big Bossman
Raymond Traylor had several different gimmicks while he was an active professional wrestler, but his most memorable role came as “The Big Bossman.” While he was in the WWE, Traylor feuded with some of the biggest names in the business, won the Hardcore Championship four times, and also claiming one World Tag Team Championship. Traylor was only 41-years-old when he passed away from a heart attack in 2004, which came as a sudden shock to all of his adoring fans. Traylor was the boss, and will forever be the boss, and we loved him for that.
#9 – Bruiser Brody
Bruiser Brody was one of the scariest wrestlers in the business during his prime, having played both college football, and even having his chance with the NFL as a member of the Washington Redskins. Brody, whose real name was Frank Goodish, was a brawling-type wrestler that was known for throwing big punches and refusing to go down easily. Brody was tragically killed in 1988 when he was requested to come to the locker room to discuss business, but was instead stabbed to death by another wrestler named Jose Gonzales who was later acquitted of the crime. Brody was only 42-years-old at the time of his death, and while we may never know what happened in the locker room, we know he always put on one hell of a show out of it.
#8 – “Ravishing” Rick Rude
Rick Rood was already a good wrestling name, but he changed his last name to the spelling of Rude to better fit with his gimmick. While with the WWE, Rude was known as the “Ravishing” Rick Rude (a name given to him years before), and had one of the most memorable physiques in wrestling history. Rude was also a member of the original and groundbreaking “D-Generation X” team, and was always looked forward to in his matches. Rood passed away in 1999 at the age of 40, due to heart failure as a result of mixing medications. His unfortunate passing was a huge hit to D-Generation X and we lost a “Rude” man who had always been kind to his viewers.
#7 – The British Bulldog
Davey Boy Smith was a big hit with the WWE, having held every title available in the company except for the big one: the WWE Championship belt. Even though Smith never claimed the prestigious title of “WWE Champion,” Smith’s run was still considered to be very successful in the professional wrestling world, where he had three different runs with the WWE, before finally being pushed away from the company in 2000 after Vince McMahon sent him to rehab. Smith had a heart attack in 2002 due to heart failure, and doctors believed that it was as a result of steroid abuse: he was only 39. The British Bulldog’s life may have been cut short, but during the course of his 39 years Davey Boy Smith simply refused to be put on a leash: he was always the champion in our eyes.
#6 – Eddie Guerrero
One of the most memorable deaths in wrestling history came when Eddie Guerrero shockingly passed away in 2005 at the age of 38, while he was still one of the top wrestlers in the WWE. Guerrero was a diabolical villain during his most memorable runs, but his biggest victory came when he defeated Kurt Angle at “Wrestlemania XX.” Guerrero’s death was ruled as an acute heart failure, and it was revealed at the time of his death that he had actually had been suffering from cardiovascular disease, even though he seemed well to most people. Guerrero was a type of guy to keep wrestling until the end, and simply refused to lose even if it ended his life: that’s a true (and perhaps foolish) dedication to a craft, which can’t be seen every day.
#5 – Umaga
Samoan-Americans have a long history of succeeding in the WWE, and Eddie Fatu is one of the many to achieve fame in the industry. Fatu’s biggest run in wrestling came as the quiet but lethal “Umaga,” a heavily tattooed and braided wrestler that took on some of the biggest names, including the momentous John Cena. Fatu had been released from the WWE after violating the wellness policy, and he was found dead in 2009 at the age of 36, after suffering a heart attack from a drug overdose. For us, Eddie Fatu will always be a force to be reckoned with, and just like the various bodily designs, he will leave a permanent mark on the Wrestling world.
#4 – Yokozuna
Coming from the same family as Umaga (despite playing a Japanese sumo wrestler), is the massive Rodney Anoa’i. Anoi’a was one of the biggest professional wrestlers in history (literally) at 6’4” and nearly 600 pounds of pure pushing power. Anoi’a won the WWE Championship twice in his tenure, as well as two Tag Team Championships. While in the independent circuit, Anoa’i intentionally made himself larger, trying to beef up to an astonishing 900 pounds, but wrestling star didn’t achieve his goal: Anoa’i was found dead in 2000 when his lungs were blocked due to fluid. Anoa’I’s passing weighed heavy on us, since he was one of the few names who would be willing to trade his personal freedom and mobility to give us all a show worth watching.
#3 – Test
Andrew Martin had a chance encounter with Bret Hart, who offered to personally train him in professional wrestling. After a brief period in the Canadian independent circuit, Martin debuted in the WWE as “Test” in 1998. Test was involved in some major storylines during the WWE’s “Attitude Era,” including superstars such as Triple H, and The Undertaker. When he was only 33-years-old, Martin was found dead in 2009 at his home in Tampa, Florida, and it was determined that he overdosed on oxycodone. Regardless of the context of his passing, Andrew Martin will continue to survive the “test” of time, and will go down as one of the wrestling greats.
#2 – Crash Holly
Mike Lockwood was only 18-years-old when he made his wrestling debut in 1989, but he wouldn’t appear in the WWE for another decade; Lockwood would then be known as “Crash Holly,” the cousin of “Bob Holly.” Crash was a staple in the “Hardcore” division, and won the company’s championship a total of 22 times. Holly also won the European Light Heavyweight, and European Tag Team Championships. Holly passed away in 2003 after his divorce, and choked on his own vomit after mixing drugs and alcohol, he was shockingly still quite young, being just 32-years-old at the time of his death. Lockwood was a true champion, using the perfect blend of athleticism and character to win over the crowd, and becoming the most hardcore dude we ever knew.
#1 – Owen Hart
Owen Hart was a part of one of wrestling’s most memorable families: “the Hart Foundation.” Owen became a household name for wrestling fans in 1993, when he started a feud with his brother, Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Owen had several gimmicks during his stay with the WWE, and he even won the “King of the Ring Tournament” to take on the moniker of “The King of Harts.” Owen’s death might be the most traumatic on the list, as his harness didn’t hold when he was descending from the rafters, and he tragically fell nearly 80 feet to his death in the ring, during a live pay per view. All sorts of wrestlers both amateur and legend have fallen in the ring before, but Owen is one of the few to lose his life in the pursuit of his craft. He was the King of all of out hearts, and even though the titles may go to someone else, Owen will always keep the crown.