The chiseled, glistening bodies, colorful costumes and personalities and macho egos that define professional wrestlers have attracted fans for decades.
But when the men inside the ring cannot separate their stage personas from real life outside it, the result can be tragic.
Over the last several years an alarming number of recognizable figures from pro wrestling’s ranks have died from overdoses and suicide, raising further concerns about the impact of steroids on an individual’s mental as well as physical state.
Former World Championship Wrestling star Scott Hall provided more insight on the dark, dangerous reality of the wrestling lifestyle in an E:60 interview that aired on ESPN on Wednesday night.
Hall — most remembered as the suave character Razor Ramon in the early 1990’s — detailed his ongoing battle with drug and alcohol addictions that spawned from his desire to carry his macho role into his personal life. The 52-year-old has a pacemaker and is on numerous medications for pain and anxiety.
“There’s got to be some reason that I’m still here,” Hall said. “I should have been dead 100 times.”
In August 2007, Following the shocking deaths of wrestling stars Eddie Guerrero (heart complications in 2005) and Chris Benoit (murder-suicide in 2007), Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi wrote a chilling piece that shed light on the little-known side of the wrestling industry. The story was appropriately titled: Death Grip.
“Benoit and Guerrero lived in a culture that breeds addicts, that encourages comic-book-hero bodies — and that in recent years has seen dozens of its members die at conspicuously young ages, at a startling rate.
Dave Meltzer, founder and editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, recently compiled a list of current and former wrestlers who have died since 1997, before turning 50. He said his list ran to about 60 names.
To put that mortality rate into context, Meltzer compares pro wrestling — which has had roughly 1,500 male competitors in the past quarter-century, he estimates — with pro football. If the same ratio of NFL players in the same time frame died before reaching age 50, more than 430 current or former players would have died prematurely, he said.
‘And someone would be asking some serious questions,’ Meltzer said. ‘Something would be done.’”
World Wrestling Entertainment has taken steps to educate its employees about the risks of steroid and other substance abuse, which includes a talent wellness program. Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s executive vice president of creative development and operations said the organization has spent “six figures” sending Hall to rehab multiple times.
"I tell my kids this, 'I can't tell you not to drink and do drugs, they are fun. It's fun. They work,'" said Hall who is currently training his 20-year-old son to be a pro wrestler himself. "But what sucks is when you want to quit and you can't, and pretty soon you alienate or you hurt everyone around you. It's a family disease and then you can't keep a promise to anybody. What sucks the most is when you can't even keep a promise to yourself."