Almost two decades ago, Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer made a chilling prediction. He said some of the stars of the late 80s and early 90s — pumped up on steroids and working virtually around the clock — would be dead in their 40s.

Unfortunately, he hit it right on the nose.

Wrestling’s latest great tragedy came on Monday with the grisly discovery that ring legend Chris Benoit had murdered his wife, Nancy, and 7-year-old son, Daniel, before hanging himself in his Fayetteville, Ga., home.

Benoit was just 40 years old, and as beloved a figure as there is in the “sports-entertainment” industry.

Now his life, as well as his legacy, is destroyed.

It is pure speculation, of course, but one has to assume that steroids and a combination of painkillers had become part of Benoit’s daily routine.

When I first saw Benoit work, in tapes of New Japan Pro Wrestling shows from the late 80s, he was a 185-pound junior heavyweight. He grew into a 230-pound heavyweight champion with the WWE. That kind of bulk doesn’t come in a weight room — especially considering professional wrestlers are on the road 300 days a year.

In 2002, Benoit suffered a spinal injury that would nearly end his career. He worked in pain from that point on.

While several grapplers have paid the price for drug and steroid use, this is the first instance where a wrestler has harmed his family and taken his own life because of his personal demons.

Investigators found prescription anabolic steroids in the house and want to know whether Benoit was unhinged by the drugs, which can cause paranoia, depression, and explosive outbursts known as "roid rage."

Benoit’s story, unfortunately, is rather common. Steroids, drugs and death have become the norm in professional wrestling.

The number of wrestlers who have died in middle age— or before — in the past few years is staggering:

• Curt Hennig, 44, died of acute cocaine intoxication in February 2003, medical records show. But his father said last year that a lethal combination of steroids and painkillers contributed to his death.

• "The British Bulldog," Davey Boy Smith, 39, died in 2002 in Canada of an enlarged heart with evidence of microscopic scar tissue, possibly from steroid abuse, a coroner said. "Davey paid the price with steroid cocktails and human-growth hormones," says Bruce Hart, a veteran trainer who worked with Smith and was his brother-in-law.

• Louie "Spicolli" Mucciolo, 27, died from coronary disease in his San Pedro, Calif., home in 1998, according to his autopsy. Investigators found an empty vial of the male hormone testosterone, pain pills, and an anxiety-reducing drug. The Los Angeles County coroner's office determined the drugs might have contributed to his heart condition.

• Richard "Ravishing Rick Rude" Rood, 40, died from an overdose of "mixed medications" in Alph-aretta, Ga., in 1999, his autopsy shows. In 1994 he testified that he had used anabolic steroids to build muscle mass and relieve joint pain.

• "Flyin'" Brian Pillman, 35, was taking painkillers and human-growth hormones when he died from heart disease in 1997, his widow said several years ago. Investigators found empty bottles of painkillers near his body in a Minnesota hotel room.

• “The Big Bossman” Ray Traylor, died in 2004 of a heart attack at the age of 42.

• Ray “Hercules” Hernandez died from heart disease in 2004 at the age of 46.

• “Road Warrior Hawk” Michael Hegstrand died in 2003 at 45 from an apparent heart attack. Hegstrand had battles with alcohol and drugs throughout his career and was an admitted steroids user.

• Terry Gordy died of a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 40 due to a blood clot. Gordy didn’t have a steroid-user physique, but his hard-core partying lifestyle was legendary.

• Frankfort, Ky. native “Miss Elizabeth” Hulette — the former wife of one-time WWE superstar Randy (Poffo) Savage and ex-girlfriend of Lex (Larry Pfohl) Luger died of a drug overdose in 2003 at the age of 42.

• Eddie Guerrero, 38, died in late 2005 as a result of acute heart failure, caused by undiagnosed arteriosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Although Guerrero had not taken alcohol or illicit drugs for nearly four years, his past excesses contributed to his heart failure. At the time of his death, he had recently used narcotic painkillers. On March 19, 2007, Sports Illustrated posted on its Web site an article in its continuing series investigating a steroid and HGH ring used by a number of professional athletes in several sports. That article mentioned several current and former WWE wrestlers, including Guerrero, who was alleged to have obtained hCG and the steroid stanozolol in early 2005. Guerrero’s best friend was Chris Benoit.

• Eddie Gilbert, at the age of 33, died in 1995 of a heart attack. Gilbert had used steroids and cocaine in his life, so either of these things could have contributed to the weakened state of his heart. His father, Tommy Gilbert, stated that injuries to his chest and heart muscle that occurred in a serious auto accident in 1983 could have been a factor. Eddie's alleged use of painkillers since the accident also could have contributed to his heart condition.

And so it goes.

The steroid scandal has gone mainstream in the last couple of years or so. It is particularly glaring now with the highly-suspect Barry Bonds and his march toward the all-time home run record and baseball immortality.

And there have been a few big-name professional athletes who have died young — perhaps because of steroid use.

Baseball star Ken Caminiti died at 41 in 1996 from a heart attack. He admitted using steroids.

Football standout Lyle Alzado is probably most remembered today for being one of the first major U.S. sports figures to admit to abuse of steroids. In the last years of his life, as he battled against the brain cancer that eventually caused his death in 1992 at the age of 43, Alzado asserted that his steroid abuse directly led to his final illness. Alzado was using natural growth hormone, harvested from human corpses, as opposed to synthetic growth hormones.

Meanwhile, steroid use and abuse has been an issue in the wrestling industry for well over two decades.

The backlash continues to hit home rather hard — and all too frequently.

Recommended for you