Pro-Wrestlers' Mortality Rates are Nearly THREE TIMES Worse Than Normal
August 10, 2015 6:46 AM   Subscribe

The BBC asks, "Why do wrestlers so often die young?" After aggregating the multiple studies of professional wrestler mortality, a Manchester University researcher points the finger at "cardiovascular disease". One of the studies he examined was a grim University of Eastern Michigan mortality study of 557 former wrestlers which showed that wrestlers aged between 45 and 54 had a mortality rate 2.9 times greater than the rate for average men the same age. And the prognosis for professional wrestlers is even worse when compared to athletes in other American sports. Even when compared to NFL football.

For years, David Shoemaker has been telling the all-too-human stories of wrestling's heroes and victims for years, first in his column The Dead Wrestler Of The Week, and then in his book The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling. I strongly recommend both to anyone with any interest at all in the subject.
posted by MrJM (43 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Pretty rare I get to see my Alma Mater in a positive light! Yay EMU!
posted by bigstace at 6:53 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Drugs. Head trauma. Drugs. "Road years," as Mojo Nixon aptly put it. Continuing to work with recurring injuries, often serious ones. Drugs, both recreational and steroids. Depression. One-sided labor relations. Drugs. Rival promotions willing to sign big names regardless of their health problems or nasty habits. Drugs.
posted by delfin at 6:53 AM on August 10, 2015 [19 favorites]


Anabolic steroid use can result in: "Increased low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol);
Decreased high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol); High blood pressure (hypertension);
Heart and circulatory problems..."

Androstenedione (andro): "In both men and women, andro can decrease HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol), which puts you at greater risk of heart attack and stroke."

Human growth hormone: "Cardiomyopathy; High cholesterol (hyperlipidemia); ...High blood pressure (hypertension)"
posted by bonehead at 6:55 AM on August 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Vince McMahon net worth -1.2 billion.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:16 AM on August 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


Ahem. It's Eastern Michigan University.
posted by goatdog at 7:16 AM on August 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


One to add to delfin's excellent list: there is no off-season. If you're a big WWE name, you are working every single week until you are legitimately injured (or shooting a movie). You're on every Raw and Smackdown, week in and week out, plus one PPV a month (possibly two or three, if WWE Network numbers are dropping). Even if you're taking it a little easy and get the occasional promo-only appearance, that's at least 100 performances a year. Plus house shows (the non-televised ones that are all about selling merch and hyping the TV storylines) -- two or three a week, so that's another 100 performances. Add in travel time, and you're essentially looking at one "off" day per week. 200 performances a year is more than Major League Baseball players play, and their season is "only" eight months long (counting preseason). If you aren't doing every barely-legal steroid or painkiller you can get your hands on, you're not performing, and if you're not performing, you're not making money (directly or indirectly).

And it never ends. Wrestle for 30 minutes at WrestleMania -- the biggest show of the year, the Super Bowl of wrestling -- hurling yourself around the ring and falling off ladders and onto the somewhat padded floor, and your reward is having "only" a 15-minute match the next night on Raw, because you gotta keep up the momentum.
posted by Etrigan at 7:18 AM on August 10, 2015 [37 favorites]


Thank you goatdog! As an alumnus, I didn't want to get too semantic, but it was bothering me!
posted by coreywilliam at 7:21 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


One to add to delfin's excellent list: there is no off-season.

In the context of steroid use, that's critical. In other sports, there's an off season. Even bodybuilders who use heroic quantities of steroids tend to cycle off for a while during off periods (then again, they tend to die pretty young, too).

I can't find the cite for it right now, but a couple of years ago I read or watched something where a former WWE wrestler was talking about the difficulty of having to always look jacked, especially in the post-Ultimate Warrior era where there was an expectation you'd look like him rather than, say, George the Animal Steele.

Consequently, it means always-on steroid use, and eventually your heart or your liver (the latter particularly where oral steroids are involved) just nope on out of the equation.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:22 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, I don't know if this Jacobin piece on wrestling labor made it to the blue, but it's a good summation of history of labor relations in pro wrestling, as mentioned by delfin (who also linked to that great article by David Shoemaker on the topic).
posted by coreywilliam at 7:25 AM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


We don't appreciate sports unless there's more, more, MORE! Faster running! Bigger hits! Weirder stunts! The WWE is just the most blatant example of this, but it's a deadly trend that won't be satisfied until we're actively putting the lives of our athletes in danger just by participating.
posted by xingcat at 7:27 AM on August 10, 2015


A friend on Twitter summed it up perfectly: "Rowdy Roddy Piper died today at 61, which is 95 in wrestler years".
posted by dr_dank at 7:28 AM on August 10, 2015 [14 favorites]


> "... until we're actively putting the lives of our athletes in danger just by participating."

Until?
posted by kyrademon at 7:30 AM on August 10, 2015


Was reminded a couple of days ago of Simon Garfield's excellent book The Wrestling about the glory years of wrestling in the UK back in the 60s/70s/80s and even when you didn't have to have a 'roid assisted body the week-in week-out nature of it sounding utterly grueling. I remembering him describing a reunion of old wrestlers, nearly all of whom had shot hip joints.

Off the top of my head from The British Bulldogs, Davey Boy was dead at 39 and the Dynamite Kid was in a wheelchair, crippled for life by his forties, even before he had a stroke.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:32 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Off the top of my head from The British Bulldogs, Davey Boy was dead at 39 and the Dynamite Kid was in a wheelchair, crippled for life by his forties, even before he had a stroke.

And one of Dynamite Kid's biggest fans, who used his finisher (diving off the top rope to slam his head into his opponent), was Chris Benoit, whose CTE resulted in three deaths.
posted by Etrigan at 7:39 AM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Only read a few of the links so far, but haven't seen any mention of depression yet. See the story of Jake the Snake Roberts in Beyond the Mat and you can see how that combination of steroids, cocaine, glory and attention, and then nothing, poverty, and health issues could lead to an early death.

Also see Chris Benoit
posted by destro at 7:40 AM on August 10, 2015


Money In the Bank: Nothing is more real — and more obscured by the smoke and mirrors of the mat — than a simple fact: the billion dollar spectacle of pro wrestling relies entirely on the ruthless economic, mental, and physical exploitation of its performers. In that world, of lingering physical ailments, screwjob employment contracts, and chugalug drug abuse, Hulk Hogan is a millionaire named Terry Bollea, a favorite of WWF management, poached from a Minneapolis wrestling promotion and transformed into the star of “Hulkamania.” In that world, in 1986, Bollea ratted out his fellow wrestlers to crush a nascent unionization drive ahead of Wrestlemania II. In that world, wrestlers are exploited and injured and thrown away — their final contribution to the world, a mortality rate on par with day one of Antietam.
posted by anazgnos at 7:53 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


We don't appreciate sports unless there's more, more, MORE! Faster running! Bigger hits! Weirder stunts! The WWE is just the most blatant example of this, but it's a deadly trend that won't be satisfied until we're actively putting the lives of our athletes in danger just by participating.

Saw this a few years ago: Bigger Stronger Faster addresses a lot of the hypocrisy around drugs in sports. Youtube link here.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:54 AM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Anabolic steroid use can result in:

I was thinking this is what likely led to Roddy Piper's premature death.
posted by Nevin at 8:13 AM on August 10, 2015


I haven't watched wrestling since the '80s, but I love David Shoemaker's writing and every now and again I catch myself thinking that maybe I should dip my toe back in, because it really does sound like a fascinating postmodern media spectacle these days. But the news is constantly filled with stories like this, I had to give up watching the NFL last year because all of the bullshit that league is wrapped up in, and in a lot of ways pro wrestling seems even worse.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:16 AM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you aren't doing every barely-legal steroid or painkiller you can get your hands on, you're not performing, and if you're not performing, you're not making money (directly or indirectly).

And if you're not one of the very top performers and crowd draws, you're not making enough money. The professional sports analogy holds true again; for every John Cena or Triple H or Hulk Hogan who is a superstar and paid like one, there are tons of spear-carriers who are making substantially less, and that's at the "big league" level. Drop down into the smaller promotions and the indies and you're looking at thousands of men and women hoping for that one big break, to be noticed by Vince and elevated to stardom, but who are currently breaking their bodies for chump change that may or may not cover food and doctor bills.

And very few wrestlers who taste the big time ever truly retire, at least by choice rather than from debilitating injury. When you're an entertainer and a big name in an industry and there's always one more payday dangling from a string in front of you, you keep coming back, and when you're used to living life like a superstar the money tends to vanish quickly. Look at Wrestlemania; it's pretty much the Senior Tour of the WWE at this point, with nostalgia acts trotted out year after year. The Undertaker moves like a mannequin at this point but he was on Monday Night Raw a couple of weeks ago, setting up One More Match. Ric Flair wrestled into his 60s and I have serious doubts that he's done. Hogan wants one more Wrestlemania match. Terry Funk and Abdullah the Butcher are in their 70s and still charitably described as "semi-retired."
posted by delfin at 8:23 AM on August 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


But the news is constantly filled with stories like this, I had to give up watching the NFL last year because all of the bullshit that league is wrapped up in, and in a lot of ways pro wrestling seems even worse.

It is, but it's getting (a little) better. If Daniel Bryan had started with WWE 10 years earlier, he'd be long dead by now; as is, they have only allowed him to be ring-active for about six months since the start of 2014, due to concussions and nerve damage.
posted by Etrigan at 8:25 AM on August 10, 2015


I have a lot of admiration for wrestlers, but I hate wrestling. This is similar to how one can admire soldiers and still despise war.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:30 AM on August 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


A big problem is that, for the most part, like most athletes, wrestlers don't want to be on injured reserve. Daniel Bryan writes in his new book that he received a stinger in the ring wrestling Randy Orton and was temporarily paralyzed for a few moments in the ring. Fellow wrestler and WWE official Triple H pulled the plug on the match. Was Bryan happy that that happened? No, he immediately went backstage and screamed at Triple H despite it being the right decision.

These guys live in fear of "losing their spot", their place in the wrestling hierarchy. They fight for so long to get pushed by a promotion and they just don't want to slow down out of fear of losing out on their childhood dreams.

Which is why it would be great if all wrestlers got written out of storylines on occasion just so they can have a wellness rest. But since there is no union and wrestlers in the WWE are considered by the promotion to be "independent contractors", there is no one to push for this.
posted by inturnaround at 8:42 AM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


If Daniel Bryan had started with WWE 10 years earlier, he'd be long dead by now; as is, they have only allowed him to be ring-active for about six months since the start of 2014, due to concussions and nerve damage.

Daniel Bryan did start in the industry 10 years earlier, just not for McMahon. And he has a long history of concussions, a detached retina, broken bones, ripped tendons and such to show for it.

McMahon has put more of an emphasis on concussion handling in recent years -- watching one of his employees murder his family due to brain trauma tends to do that -- but it's still an industry where an inch or two separates skull impact play-acting from skull impact, night after night. Ask John Cena (WARNING: Smashed nose) how that works even among highly-trained professionals on the big stage.
posted by delfin at 8:47 AM on August 10, 2015


The professional sports analogy holds true again; for every John Cena or Triple H or Hulk Hogan who is a superstar and paid like one, there are tons of spear-carriers who are making substantially less, and that's at the "big league" level.

I have to think it's actually much worse in wrestling, though, right? At least the league minimum salary for any athlete at the highest level of the big four sports is a salary almost anyone can live on while they're playing, even if it's not enough for most of them to be set for life considering they're often only able to play for a short time.

I have to think this is due in part to the existence of players unions that push for a salary structure that looks out for the interests of every player, and not just the stars. I don't know what the salary numbers look like for your average WWE jobber, but the lack of collective bargaining makes me think that replacement-level wrestlers have to be in a much worse position than replacement level-football or hockey players.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:52 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Worth watching The Wrestler. The trailer makes it look all tear jerker but it is quite a bit more real and brutal, watching a man destroy his life and having it destroyed.
posted by boilermonster at 9:15 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


For a bit of a first hand rundown, see CM Punk's reasons for quitting WWE. Of course, now he's training for UFC, which may or may not be a step in the right direction for his health.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:34 AM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was driving through southern Missouri/Illinois/Kentucky, and stopped at a little gas station to fill up. Woman is filling her tank at the other set of pumps. She starts fighting with another driver who was trying to get gas. She screams at the guy, "my boyfriend is a professional wrestler, and he's going to come out and kick your ass!"

Then the boyfriend appears from the food mart. This guy is walking slowly and painfully, and looks about a hundred years old. She tells him what's going on, he just shrugs and hobbles over to the passenger seat. This guy wasn't going to be laying any smack down that night.
posted by Windopaene at 9:40 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


Wikipedia page on the Montreal Screwjob is a good reference for understanding the mental games that the WWF was willing to play on their employees.
posted by destro at 9:58 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


Remember: the only allowable reason to break kayfabe is to bypass health regulations for wrestlers by treating them as entertainers instead of athletes.
posted by ckape at 10:23 AM on August 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


You're gonna have all six literate EMU grads complain that there's no University of Eastern Michigan.

(Go fightin' Dromaius!)
posted by klangklangston at 10:31 AM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


For a bit of a first hand rundown, see CM Punk's reasons for quitting WWE. Of course, now he's training for UFC, which may or may not be a step in the right direction for his health.

The time off between UFC bouts is much, much longer than the time between wrestling matches.

In addition, UFC fighting is subject to state athletic commission regulations. The WWF/WWE admitted that wrestling was fixed specifically to avoid athletic commission regulation, e.g. http://www.nytimes.com/1989/02/10/nyregion/now-it-can-be-told-those-pro-wrestlers-are-just-having-fun.html

That said, I wish Punk would skip the fighting and stick to writing comics.
posted by MrJM at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


A guy who lived a couple of doors away from me when we were kids became a professional wrestler on little local circuits (I had never even known there were such things). We're facebook friends now so I hear what's going on with him. He retired from wrestling a couple of years ago around age 40, but sounds like he is in bad shape in many, many ways and has had some frightening number of concussions. And every few months he's posting about someone else he knew and worked with dying, usually kind of young.
posted by dilettante at 12:56 PM on August 10, 2015


That CM Punk article. Wow.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:11 PM on August 10, 2015


It's weird that the BBC off-hand mentions El Hijo de Perro Aguayo dying in the ring as if it's comparable. The article focused so much on drug use and associated heart disease, but Perro died to a spine injury.

That's totally valid and worth bringing up, especially given the similarity of the injury to one that sidelined Tyson Kidd, and Lucha Underground's recent finale with 48-year-old Vampiro attempting top-rope moonsaults despite previous broken vertebrae.

It just feels like a disservice to talk about Perro's injury in what's otherwise a context of drug abuse. Spinal injuries deserve their own talk here.
posted by shoe at 2:59 PM on August 10, 2015


It's weird that the BBC off-hand mentions El Hijo de Perro Aguayo dying in the ring as if it's comparable. The article focused so much on drug use and associated heart disease, but Perro died to a spine injury.

It definitely was a wrestling-related death, though. I would even have taken the Ultimate Warrior off the list in favor of Perro -- the erstwhile Jim Hellwig was doing steroids long before he became a wrestler and likely would have dropped dead at 54 even if it weren't for the decade he spent in wrestling (and the fact that his father and grandfather also died of heart attacks in their 50s).
posted by Etrigan at 3:10 PM on August 10, 2015


I was thinking this is what likely led to Roddy Piper's premature death.

I missed that Roddy Piper had died recently, and so young. I'm now more bothered finding out that he had to get back into the WWE in 2003 because he was unable to access his pension until 65. So, a man in his approaching has to choose to wreck his body further in hopes of retiring at 65. Is there any question that isn't why he dropped dead at 61? I'm sure it's not just steroids, but the steroids needed for someone 50+ trying to participate in such a physically demanding shit-show.

God damn, that's terrible.

.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 4:50 PM on August 10, 2015


I saw Magic Mike XXL recently, and there were a couple of stray lines in the movie about Tarzan's knees and his inability to dance, or really even move anymore (Tarzan is played by Kevin Nash, a former pro wrestler). It struck me that the reason he moves the way he does now is solely because of his wrestling career. Nash is only 56, but he moves like he's 86.
posted by likorish at 5:37 PM on August 10, 2015


The Von Erichs were a big deal to us, my dad was a fan of old Fritz's "Iron Claw" and my brothers of the younger Vons. Wikipedia tells me Kevin is still around, but the rest are all gone now. They were huge superstars in the 70s/80s, and after they began dying off, it got hard to watch wrestling anymore; you had to assume the terrible things that happened to them were still happening to the rest. Took all the fun out of it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:13 PM on August 10, 2015


Set yourself on fire, and the world will pay to watch you burn.

Cripple yourself in the ring w drugs & physical brutality, & they will pay Vince McMahon.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 6:47 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Those interested can read about the beginning of the end of the Von Erichs here: http://www.hack-man.com/Wrestling/NewsArticles/198810xx-PenthouseVonErich.html
posted by MrJM at 8:28 PM on August 10, 2015


....& they will pay Vince McMahon.

The best part of Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows is when he talks about how Vince McMahon "walked into my fist."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 9:36 PM on August 10, 2015


23. The two spend some time discussing the less goofy and glamorous side of professional wrestling including Piper’s record for having fought the most matches at 7000. “Closest to me is [Ric] Flair with 5000,” he says. “To get in there one time now is a strain, where I’d just jump in there before.” He also points out a depressing fact on the topic saying “My sport, professional wrestling, has the highest suicide rate of any sport in the world. We just lost another one two or three days ago.”

33 Things We Learned From John Carpenter’s and Roddy Piper’s They Live Commentary
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:05 AM on August 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


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