Pro-wrestlers dying young or in sketchy circumstances is sadly not uncommon. Many pro-wrestlers, managers and valets over the years have died before their time, mostly from drug overdoses or health complications caused by long-time drug and steroid use. But some wrestling deaths have been so shocking or unexpected that they stand out from the rest. Here are six of the worst cases...
1. Chris & Nancy Benoit
Probably the best known and most infamous wrestling related death. In June of 2007, Chris Benoit -- until then one of the most respected and admired figures in the business -- killed his wife and former wrestling valet Nancy Benoit (aka "Woman", and formerly Nancy Sullivan) by strangulation in their Georgia home. Sometime within the next couple of days, Benoit also strangled and killed his seven-year-old son, Daniel. A copy of the Bible was left next to each body. Within three days of the murders, Benoit comitted suicide by hanging himself using a weight machine in his home. Chris Benoit was known for his work ethic, and after missing a few WWE shows, police went to the house to conduct a welfare check, which is when the bodies were found. It is believed that the murders were the result of brain damage Chris Benoit suffered after years of performing high-impact wrestling moves, which led to a form of dementia. Tests conducted on the deceased wrestler's brain by West Virginia University indicated that "Benoit's brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year old Alzheimer's patient."
2. Bruiser Brody
Frank Goodish was a large, maniacal brawler who became famous as Bruiser Brody. While he was a big fan favorite, his difficulty in working with others and following direction led him to bounce around from promotion to promotion. In the 80s, he found himself working a lot for Puerto Rico's World Wrestling Council. Before a show in the island in 1988, fellow wrestler Jose Gonzalez (better known as Invader I), lured Brody into one of the shower stalls, and stabbed him in the abdomen. Bruiser died shortly after in a hospital. Several wrestlers were in the same dressing room when the stabbing happened (Tony Atlas and Dutch Mantell, among others), but there seemed to be no eyewitnesses to the actual moment when Brody was stabbed. When time for Gonzalez's trial came, key witnesses either refused to testify or were not notified on time as to when to show up in court. Gonzalez claimed self-defense and was acquitted. He never spoke about the killing, and the exact motive for the stabbing remains unknown. Some blame pro-wrestling's code of secrecy for the lack of answers surrounding the incident.
3. Owen Hart
Canadian wrestler Owen Hart (brother of Bret Hart) played semi-comedic masked character 'The Blue Blazer' in 1999, and his character was scheduled to make a big entrance at the Over The Edge pay-per-view in Kansas City, Missouri that May. Hart was to have been lowered into the ring via a harness attached to a metal cable during the live PPV. As he was about to be lowered, a movement made by Hart may have triggered a quick release mechanism in the harness, which sent the wrestler plummeting 78 feet down to the ring in front of thousands of confused and horrified fans. The incident did not make it on air, but the show controversially went on after Hart was removed from the ring and taken to a hospital. He died of blunt force trauma and internal bleeding at age 34.
4. The Von Erichs
The Von Erich family (not their real name) was a legendary pro-wrestling real-life family from the Dallas, Texas area, led by patriarch Fritz. The Von Erichs, despite their fame and success, seemed to be cursed. Son David died in 1984 of enteritis in a Japanese hospital, although it has long been rumored he died of a drug overdose. Another son (and reluctant wrestler), Mike Von Erich, suffered from Toxic Shock Syndrome after a surgery. The illness debilitated him and greatly reduced his in-ring abilities. He had to retire from wrestling altogether, and killed himself by overdosing on tranquilizers in 1987. In 1991, Fritz Von Erich's youngest son, Chris, committed suicide by shooting himself, after years of being frustrated by his lack of success in wrestling and being depressed over Mike's death. And in 1993, Kerry Von Erich killed himself via a gunshot to the heart, after years of personal disappointments and a serious motorcycle accident that robbed him of one foot and led to him becoming addicted to painkillers. The family's seemingly bright future as a wrestling powerhouse was cut down by tragedy, again and again.
5. Dino Bravo
Canadian wrestler and former WWF tag team champion Dino Bravo was apparently involved in illegal cigarette smuggling, besides his wrestling career. He was also the nephew (through marriage) of a notorious Quebec mafia figure. At some point, Bravo may have crossed someone in the mob, or intruded on somebody's illegal cigarette sales territory. Whatever the case, the hulking wrestler was brutally gunned down at his Quebec home by unknown assailants as he watched hockey on TV. The 44-year-old was hit by 17 bullets, 7 of them to the head. The murder remains unsolved to this day.
Korean-born Japanese legend Rikidozan is one of the founding fathers of Japanese pro-wrestling, which he helped popularize after a career in sumo wrestling. While partying in a Tokyo nightclub in 1963, Rikidozan was stabbed with a urine-soaked knife by a member of the Yakuza. For one reason or another, the wrestler did not receive medical care right away, and he died of peritonitis in a hospital one week later. While the cause of the attack was never uncovered with any certainty, it was rumored that the stabbing was revenge for a match in which Rikidozan kicked wrestler Masahiro Kimura "for real", presumably causing the mob some kind of gambling-related monetary loss.