With Bret Hart’s return to Montreal, a Pat Patterson appreciation event, and Paul Heyman’s new association with WWE Champion CM Punk, the September 10 edition of Raw promised to be a memorable event. All those storylines became afterthoughts, however, when color commentator Jerry “The King” Lawler suffered a heart attack on live television, less than 30 minutes after competing in a tag team match.
As of this writing, Lawler is recovering from emergency heart surgery and is reported to be in stable condition. The entire wrestling world is hoping and praying for him, and we hope “The King” can make a full recovery.
Unfortunately, pro wrestling has seen more than its fair share of tragedy through the years. We have seen larger-than-life heroes and villains prove to be mere mortals, and we have seen many unforgettable performers leave us before their time.
While watching Monday’s telecast, I was struck by the atmosphere of the Bell Centre – the confused fans straining to see what was happening as medical personnel administered to Lawler; the somber, stoic updates from Michael Cole; the overwhelming sense of anxiety, concern, and fear for a man who fans have invited into their living room every Monday night for nearly 20 years.
That atmosphere reminded me of several times when tragedy suddenly struck the wrestling world, when death thrust its horrid head into our little world of fantasy and entertainment. As a wrestling fan, I have experienced that atmosphere, and those emotions, on several occasions.
We hope and pray that Lawler’s story will prove to be one of survival. Unfortunately, not every story has a happy ending. Here are 10 deaths that stunned the wrestling world. All of them proved as jarring and disconcerting to the wrestling community as Monday’s incident. Video clips are included.
Wrestling’s Wildman was stabbed to death in a lockerroom shower in Puerto Rico in 1988. He died at the peak of his career and was one of the most popular, and respected, stars on both hemispheres.
Owen Hart died in the ring during a WWE pay-per-view event in a freak accident when he slipped out of a harness lowering him from the rafters at the Kemper Arena. The tragedy, and WWE’s response, were unprecedented.
David Von Erich
The heir apparent to the NWA World title died under controversial circumstances while touring Japan in 1984. It would not be the last tragedy to afflict Denton’s first family.
“The Handsome Half-breed” was one of wrestling’s most dynamic and influential young stars until a cocaine overdose ended his life in 1986.
Andre the Giant
Never was the phrase “larger than life” more appropriate than when used describing Andre the Giant. Acromegaly, the condition that caused him to grow to such an enormous size, ultimately led to the health failures that ended his life at age 46.
Recurring throat polyps, a smallish size in an era of super heavyweights, a life-threatening car accident weeks before realizing his dream and signing with WWE … Brian Pillman’s life was all about beating the odds. But in 1997, he died due to heart disease the day of a scheduled WWE PPV match.
Eradicated by WWE, Benoit’s in-ring accomplishments live on in the hearts of wrestling fans. The circumstances of his death were monstrous and continue to cast a shadow over the wrestling world today.
Guerrero entitled his autobiography Cheating Death, Saving Life. His was a story of redemption, perseverance, and survival, which made his sudden death such a bitter pill for wrestling fans to swallow.
The handsome Native American was one of the young lions of the NWA. He died at the age of 30 following a match in Australia, after reportedly rupturing his spleen and suffering a series of heart attacks.
One of Japan’s all-time greatest stars died in the ring after breaking his neck after a suplex. It was a horrifying incident, and a reminder of the dangers and potential tragedy every time a wrestler enters the ring.
PWI Senior Writer
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