Friday, June 29, 2007

Death of a Wrestler

Posted By on Fri, Jun 29, 2007 at 3:56 PM

Pro wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his family and then offed himself last weekend. The gruesome details keep coming: bibles placed next to his victims’ bodies, a prophetic Wikipedia post and cryptic text messages sent by Benoit in his final hours. After hearing all of this, I couldn’t help remembering the last major wrestling misfortune and Benoit’s history in Kansas City.

In May of 1999, I road tripped with a couple of friends to Kansas City for the unfortunately titled pay-per-view event, Over The Edge. Kemper Arena was packed with thousands of pro wrestling fans. Midway through the night, the arena lights went dark. A video screen glowed with the antics of the Blue Blazer, a masked wrestler better known as Owen Hart. Hart was supposed to swoop into the ring by rappelling from the catwalk above Kemper. But something went horribly wrong.

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The next thing I heard was a loud “boom.” I swung around. The arena lit up and a motionless Hart was lying in the ring. Hart had fallen 70 feet and crashed on a turnbuckle.

EMTs rushed to the ring. Announcer Jerry “The King” Lawler paced ringside, shaking his head as if he knew the outcome would be bad. The paramedics failed to revive Hart in the ring. They loaded him on a stretcher and rushed him from the arena. As they wheeled him out, an EMT straddled Hart’s lifeless body and performed chest compressions. Fans chanted “Owen” to no avail. Hart was pronounced dead at Truman Medical Center.

Five months later, on October 4, Owen’s brother Bret “Hitman” Hart wrestled Chris Benoit as a tribute to Owen Hart during a WCW Monday Nitro TV event at Kemper. Benoit was a protégé of the Hart family, training in the famed Hart family’s Calgary basement called “The Dungeon.” And Benoit was a brilliant wrestler – known as “The Canadian Crippler” and “Rabid Wolverine,” whose show stealing matches made him one of the 10 best wrestlers in the world.

The Benoit murder/suicide is only the latest tragedy for the Hart family, whose losses are only rivaled by those of the the Von Erichs. The Harts experienced several untimely deaths, losing Hart Foundation member Brian Pillmanand brother-in-law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith.

ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons called the Benoit murder-suicide “the biggest sports story of the year” and possibly “the single worst sports story since the Rae Carruth thing.”

Simmons wasn’t exaggerating. The story is much bigger than pro wrestling. Major League Baseball is only beginning to see former players die in their 30s and 40s (see Ken Caminiti and Rod Beck). Pro football is now under fire for how it deals with the effects of concussions. Sadly, wrestling fans are used to performers dying early. Two years ago, Benoit’s best friend Eddie Guerrero died of heart failure. Then there’s the numerous deaths of the past 15 years, including “Ravishing” Rick Rude; “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig ; The Big Boss Man; Road Warrior Hawk; Miss Elizabeth; and, more recently, “Sensational” Sherri Martel;

and “Bam Bam” Bigelow.

The the facts have begun to surface in the Benoit case, and they don’t look good. Authorities said Benoit bound his wife Nancy’s hands and feet, put his knee in her back and strangled her with an electrical cord. The next morning, he allegedly suffocated his mentally handicapped 7-year-old son Daniel with a chokehold. He placed Bibles next to his victims’ bodies. Then Benoit hung out in the house. He text messaged fellow wrestlers his address. And then he used a pulley on a weight machine to hang himself. Authorities found prescription steroids in the home. Now, drug enforcement agents have raided the office of Benoit’s doctor.

I keep thinking about Owen’s death and now this murder suicide and wonder how I can keep watching.

The end, indeed. -- Justin Kendall

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