What happened to your favorite wrestlers

Like many kids, I watched professional wrestling when I was growing up.  From the time I was about 10 or 12 I was a big fan of the WWF and WCCW.  For a while I would religiously watch the regular programs on TV and even rented the older Wrestlemania VHS tapes from the local video store.  I lost track of it when I was in college, but it was great fun for a kid - lots of bold, flashy characters and enough action to be exciting, but not scary.

A few weeks ago I listened to Joe Rogan's interview with Diamond Dallas Page and it made me wonder what happened to some of the other iconic wrestling figures I remembered from my childhood.  Some of them I knew about - Hulk Hogan has been in the news; I knew Andre the Giant had died; I'd listened to Jake the Snake Roberts on Joe Rogan a few months ago.  But what about all the others?  What about people like Mr. Perfect, Bam Bam Bigelow, Ravishing Rick Rude, or the Ultimate Warrior?

Well, it turns out they're all dead.

I learned this from an unexpectedly captivating site called the Ten Bell Salute.  It's a database and tribute site dedicated to memorializing the deaths of professional wrestlers.  And it turns out there are a lot of them.

Part of the reason the site is both captivating and depressing is that it really brings home how tough the life of a pro wrestler actually is.  According to their data page, of the 2024 wrestler deaths in their database, 473 died before the age of 50 and the average age of death was only 61.  It's actually strangely comforting when you happen across one who was old enough to collect social security.

Each wrestler listed on the site has their own story, but many of them are quite tragic.  Many were due to drug use or complications thereof - sometimes from the performance-enhancing drugs used to build muscle, other times from narcotics to deal with injury or stress.  And some, like Kerry Von Erich, who committed suicide at 33, or Chris Benoit, who killed his family and then himself, are their own special kind of tragic.

Beyond the stories themselves, these deaths seem so impactful because it's the first time I've really looked at them as actual people.  On TV, I knew them only as their characters - big, muscular, walking down to the ring in elaborate costumes, putting on larger-than-life personalities and engaging in epic feuds with each other.  They hardly seemed capable of having the same problems as regular people.

But, of course, they were regular people. 

The fact is, you don't get into a line of work like that if you have a Harvard degree and a trust fund.  Wrestling may be "fake" in the sense that the outcomes are predetermined, but it's still incredibly physically demanding.  It's hard to take that amount of punishment, as often as they do, without your body starting to break down.  These people lived tough lives and it took a toll.  

So if you, too, loved pro wrestling as a kid, I recommend browsing through the Ten Bell Salute.  It's a nice way to bring back those childhood memories and, at the same time, reflect on the transience of life and the reality of the human beings behind the heroes and villains that we know from the media.  That may sound a bit heavy, but it's a surprisingly rewarding experience.

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