Gino Hernandez had everything in front of him. Good looks, a great ring presence and an attitude that exuded confidence. He was a solid worker and just as apt on the microphone. Hernandez was on the way toward true stardom when his career was cut short by a drug overdose that took his life at 28 years old.
A mainstay in both Joe Blanchard’s promotion in San Antonio and World Class Championship Wrestling, Hernandez’s fate was like so many of the superstars of his generation – including the tragedies of the Von Erich family.
Hernandez is just one of hundreds of professional wrestlers who died too young and never realised their full greatness. In this case, the word potential isn’t warranted. You knew how great Hernandez, David and Kerry Von Erich and others were from the time they stepped inside the ring for the very first time.
It’s hard to say why wrestlers die so young. Each case is different, each tragedy taking a toll on the business. As a fan growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, it was a different business, a different world. Kayfabe kept the doors closed on what really happen backstage.
Nights when it was common for Ric Flair and Terry Funk to party into the wee hours of the morning and for Robert Fuller and his gang in Tennessee to excessively overdo it night after night. The one thing that ties every death together is the business – the high stakes, ultracompetitive nature of getting an edge to get ahead.
With it comes the stresses of travel, the constant grind of performing while injured and the “demons” in every city. Ask Jake Roberts about drug use. Ask Ric Flair about a lack of sleep and spending more money on spilt liquor than some people make in a year. Ask the late Roddy Piper about his trips to Puerto Rico with Flair and others.
Wrestlers live the rock star lifestyle and with that kind of enjoyment comes responsibilities some are not willing to handle.
Steroids, painkillers, alcohol and other and various sundries – they are all there for the taking. Flair outlined his womanising in his autobiography. Hulk Hogan talked about steroid use. The use of steroids contributed to the deaths of Chris Benoit and by extension, his son and wife. Sheri Martel died of an accidental overdose.
I often wonder why some wrestlers handle the business better than others. Why do The Rock and John Cena seem to be better suited for this business while it all but destroyed Benoit, Chyna and Hernandez? There is no easy answer.
If professional wrestling is an addiction to some degree for its fans, then the need for it must be that much greater inside the locker room. It affects both the men and the women of this business. Eddie Guerrero got a hold of it before it destroyed him and yet he still did at an early age unrelated to the ills of the rigours of the ring.
Whether it is drugs or alcohol or suicide or injury or what have you, wrestling is just as tough outside the ring as it is inside the squared-circle. Competitors are bigger, stronger and faster than they were 20 years ago. They are climbing over each other to grab the brass ring while the McMahons watch to see who will survive.
I’ve referred to it as human stairclimbing at its worst. There are no specific reasons why wrestlers die so young. The Renegade died of depression that led to suicide from a gimmick that failed miserably. Benoit from repeated brain trauma and steroid usage. Others because they pushed themselves too far.
It’s a combination of toxicity and fear of failure. In the end, it destroys those who it affects most. No one is left unaffected. But it is still an issue no one can solve to this day.
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