WWE's Carnival of Death

Professional wrestling takes its toll


by Tony Basilo

The grizzly news of professional wrestler Chris Benoit's murder of his family and suicide jolted our nation to shock and sadness. With authorities still trying to put the pieces together how and why a seemingly respectable athlete/entertainer could do something as heinous as kill his 43 year-old wife and 7 year-old mentally impaired son, some say it's another sign of a culture gone mad.

Some theorize steroids were the culprit. Maybe depression had a hand in it. Here's the deal: Chris Benoit and family died because he was a part of the traveling carnival of death. A life in professional wrestling on the WWE level is one of diminishing returns. It's an existence that is the very embodiment of the teaching of â“one who could gain the whole world yet lose his very soul.â”

Several years ago, I considered myself a wrestling fan. I loved the â“redneck kabukiâ” (as Metro Pulse called it several years back in a cover story) aspect of this decade's old art form that combined the best of theater and sport into a package that was refreshing. It wasn't real sport and it wasn't straight theater; it was a world all its own. And those of us who got it didn't care if you didn't. Big-time professional wrestling amused me and terrified me at the same time. Some people actually believed what they were seeing. That's because the performers were adept enough at their craft to sell what they were doing.

Now wrestlers, prodded by a bloodthirsty culture and promoters who are as callous as they are reckless, feel they have to destroy themselves in the ring in order to entertain. Wrestlers today are celebrated for their ability to perform death-defying stunts that lead to a lifestyle that induces slow or sometimes violent deaths.

In good conscience, I've decided I can't partake of the soulless slobber that passes for â“new-schoolâ” professional wrestling. WWE-tagged wrestling has devolved into a bloated, destructible vehicle that has become obsolete. Why else would sports entertainment's impresario Vince McMahon have taken such a drastic measure as faking his own death just days before the real thing visited the Benoit family? Nobody's laughing now. It always seemed amusing on some level until I got behind the curtain and saw guys who had no formal union representation being drug and drugged from town to town 300-plus days out of the year. It's wrestle in pain or else. Shoot up or else. Get and stay huge or else.

The predictable confrontation between external adulation and internal strife caused Benoit and all too many before him to either snap, crackle or pop. What follows is a list of well-known wrestlers who were sacrificed before the age of 50 to the wrestling god of death.

Buzz Sawyer: Drug overdose (1992).

Texas Tornado Kerry Von Erich: Suicide (1993).

Sapphire: Heart attack (1996).

Brian Pillman: Arteriosclerotic heart disease (1997).

Louie Spicolli: Arteriosclerotic heart disease (1998).

Junk Yard Dog: Car accident resulting from falling asleep at the wheel (1998).

Rick Williams, a.k.a. Renegade in WCW: Suicide (1999).

Ravishing Rick Rude: Heart attack (1999).

Owen Hart: Death resulting from 50-foot fall from ceiling to ring (1999).

Bobby Duncum, Jr: Drug overdose (2000).

Big Dick Dudley: Kidney failure (2002).

â“The British Bulldogâ” Davey Boy Smith: Heart attack (2002).

Rocco Rock of Public Enemy: Heart attack (2002).

â“Mr. Perfectâ” Curt Hennig: Acute cocaine intoxication (2003).

Miss Elizabeth: Lethal combination of alcohol and painkillers (2003).

Michael Hegstrand a.k.a. Road Warrior Hawk: Heart attack (2003).

Crash Holly: Drug overdose (2003)

Jerry Tuite a.k.a. Malice/The Wall: Heart attack (2003)

Hercules: Died in his sleep (2004).

Ray â“Big Bossmanâ” Traylor: Heart failure (2004).

Chris Candido: Blood clot and complications due to surgery (2005).

Eddie Guerrero: Enlarged heart due to years of drug use (2005).

Johnny Grunge of Public Enemy: Unknown (2006).

Bam Bam Bigelow: Drug use (2007).

Mike Awesome: Apparent suicide (2007).

Bad News Brown: Heart attack (2007).

â“Sensationalâ” Sherri (Martel): Unknown (2007).

Nancy â“Womenâ” (Sullivan) Benoit: Died at home with Chris Benoit and their son (2007).

Chris Benoit: (2007).

Everyone died because they chose to live under the big top of death, where callous carnage is how they make and break their bones. The show will no doubt go on. Just without me.

Tune in and talk sports with Tony Basilio weekdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on ESPN Radio WVLZ 1180 AM.   Visit www.tonybasilio.com for more information.


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