Drugs, lies and death – The inside story
Many of us have grown up watching WWF(E)/WCW and now, TNA Wrestling. The American people grew up watching more of territorial wrestling – the AWA, NWA, AAA, Smokey Mountain, ECW, etc. The modern era of Professional Wrestling is very clean cut; a lot of effort is put into presenting clean characters. After all, if you’re marketing these people and catering to youngsters, you don’t want to set a bad example. If a guy is seen doing drugs now, he would immediately be released and sent to rehab; it doesn’t matter if it is in WWE or TNA. Especially in WWE, since you have drug tests and wellness policies which have become stringent over time.
Back during the 80s and 90s, wrestling was a much tougher business. There were tons of people, but only few spots on the card. Most of the times, you had to work even if you were injured, even if you were in pain. You couldn’t let someone else take your spot on the card. Professional wrestling was much harder than what people gave it credit for. The physicality in this “circus” is much more than what the stuntmen in Hollywood prepare for. All the bumps and the bruises are real; it is only the entertainment aspect which is “scripted”. And back in the good old days, this was what the guys had to go through, and without the controlled environment as it is today.
Back in the 70s and 80s, professional wrestling was territorial. For every territory, there was a major company, and it was agreed beforehand that no company from one territory would venture in the other. And even then, there were many guys wanting to break out in the world of pro wrestling. It was a big deal; you could travel, get rich and famous, but only if you gritted your teeth and endured pain. Or that was what everyone thought. The truth is far from that. Even after going through the excruciating pain, there was no guarantee of success. Only a handful of people could truly connect with the fans, and the “promoters” from other territories would pay big cash for these people. And these guys would travel all over the world, especially to Japan, which was considered the home of pro – pure Wrestling, or “Puroresu”, and it still is.
You had to go out, two to three times a week, and take all these bumps and shots. And what happens when you’re unable to attend another show? No pay. Their wallets would be dry, as pro wrestling was all they knew. They never took acting lessons, they never learned how to showboat. There were generations of families which made pro wrestling their lives. For example, the sad tale of the Von Erichs. Considered to be one of the most respected and traditional wrestling families, the Von Erichs gave a lot to the wrestling business. And why is this tale sad? Because all the Von Erich brothers died young, and only one lived long enough to reach the age of 35! Three of the brothers died by committing suicide!
There have been tales of some great talents who passed away due to drug abuse. You talk about someone like Eddie Guerrero, or Brian Pillman, Davey Boy Smith or Umaga. The list is endless. And the major reason for all of those was drugs, or steroids. Wrestling is one of the toughest fields to be a part of. Back in the day, you never had proper testing for drugs in companies. After all, the promoters wanted larger than life characters, guys with great physique, great build, and the easiest way to achieve that was by taking steroids. And how would you get over the pain so fast, so that you can go to the next event in a day and do it all over again? That’s when people started over dosing on pain killers. You combine pain killers with alcohol, and you have a lethal combination that can end your life in an instant.
The wrestling business isn’t as glamorous as it seems either. You had guys wanting more, wanting something else. To get away from all the pain for a while. And you bring in cocaine, bring in different kinds of drugs. It is the saddest part of wrestling history. Somewhere along the line, you forget why you loved the business in the first place. Why you ever got into it to begin with. It doesn’t matter anymore, the spotlight, the thrill of entertaining the fans worldwide. All you want to do is ride high, live on the edge, and do it all over again the next day. And sadly, this was the situation. And when the Monday Night Wars started, it escalated. People wanted to be in the spotlight even more, and the large roster couldn’t get all the air time, so you had to take more bumps, take more risks just to get a couple of minutes on TV. And that’s when they started taking more pain killers, more pills, more steroids, more cocaine… and before you know, you have a long list of dead guys on your hand.
The performers aren’t the only ones to be blamed. The promoters, now called “the owners”, wanted these guys to do more. New kinds of matches and new risks were introduced. And a lot more was expected from these guys. They’re only human, there is a limit to their physicality. And when that line is crossed, physicality turns into fatality. And that is why the pro wrestling business is so dangerous. The various measures taken up after Chris Benoit’s death have ensured that the wrestling business has proper testing. The Wellness Policy has become more defined, which was nonexistent couple of decades ago. At least now, measures are being taken to keep those who entertain us alive and well.