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Life Lessons From The Deaths Of 7 Professional Wrestlers

Professional wrestling is far more than “fake fighting.” It is political maneuvering, public speaking, comedy, acting, choreography, and intensive training in preparation for excessive physical abuse, all jammed into a grueling schedule that usually doesn’t end until you’re fired, you quit, you retire or you’re dead.

As a die-hard fan of professional wrestling, I appreciate what I consider to be a true art form far more than the casual observer, and as a comedian, my love for wrestling is further enhanced by a feeling of kindred spirit with the grapplers as they fight for a career in an industry that only has a handful of openings for superstardom at the top of the ranks. Going “all in” with your life as an attempt to become a professional entertainer in any right without having a backup plan is a huge risk.

Having been to live events for independent promotions like Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, I’ve seen numerous wrestlers who, although excessively talented in the ring, will never make it past their current status of “guy who wrestles in a Veterans Hall for a couple hundred bucks.” It’s the same for a lot of stand-up comedians who are still plugging away on stage in the back of a bar into their late 30’s or 40’s for a paycheck consisting of free drink tickets. Are they funny? Like, REALLY funny? Some, yes. They’re piss-your-pants hilarious, but for whatever reason, you’ll never see them on Showtime or Comedy Central, because it just ain’t happening. Not everyone can “make it.” Unlike the 80’s, talent is in excess of the cash flow to support the industry.

After I graduated, I decided to give myself the ultimate Post Grad Problem: to dedicate my life to getting out of the career I was trained for (Advertising, Michigan State University) and chase an insane, impossible dream of becoming a professional comedian. Although not wholly necessary, this choice has put my body through the rigors of alcohol abuse, drugs, horrible relationships, divorce, living in squalor, and sometimes involving myself in circumstances that could possibly end my life.

The existence of an aspiring comedian can be grueling, but it is nothing compared to the stresses and notorious subsequent substance abuse aligned with being a professional wrestler (at least in previous decades). There is no other sport where you’ll find such a laundry list of iconic superstars who have met their maker far before their time. I look to them as cautionary reminders that no one is invincible, not even human cartoon characters who border on being living superheroes. If I want to go perch fishin’ in Michigan when my dome is chrome and my nuts are grey, then I’ve gotta pump the motherfucking brakes here and there or I’m gonna end up in a box just like these guys.

RIP: “Ravishing” Rick Rude
AGE: 40
CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart failure from mixed medications

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Most of those “fat, out of shape, sweathogs” Rick made fun of in the ring are probably still sitting down on their big comfy butts to enjoy whatever the new burger is at Wendy’s. There’s no point in being the “Sexiest Man Alive” if you can’t keep breathing to enjoy it. So maybe just shovel in a little more Arby’s and don’t worry having a 6-pack sponsored by pills.

LIFE LESSON: TUMMY MUSCLES AIN’T THAT COOL ANYWAY SO DITCH THE PAIN KILLER ADDICTION AND GET SOME FUCKIN’ ARBY’S EVERY ONCE IN A WHILE.

RIP: The Ultimate Warrior
AGE: 54
CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack/cardiovascular disease

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Warrior was obviously no stranger to the juice, but he was also notoriously angry with Vince McMahon as well as others in the company. After amends had finally been made enough to induct him into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 5, 2014, he made his first appearance on RAW in 18 years on April 7. On April 8, he collapsed and died.

Sometimes you have to let your grudges go and leave the job behind. Having changed his name legally to “Warrior,” it seems Jim Hellwig could not. It ate him alive until his demise.

LIFE LESSON: LET SHIT GO. FUCK ‘EM. DON’T BE THE GUY WHO DIES THE DAY AFTER HE RETIRES BECAUSE HE’S GOT NOTHING ELSE TO LIVE FOR. AND DON’T BE SUCH A PSYCHO.

RIP: Junkyard Dog
AGE: 45
CAUSE OF DEATH: Asleep at the wheel, single-car accident

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After his death, JYD, the man who sang “Grab Them Cakes,” a superstar of his profession, was laid in an unmarked grave.

LIFE LESSON: PULL OVER FOR A POWER NAP. AND SAVE SOME MONEY AWAY FOR A TOMBSTONE JUST IN CASE YOU EAT IT AND EVERYONE YOU KNOW IS EITHER BROKE OR HATES YOU.

RIP: “Macho Man” Randy Savage
AGE: 58
CAUSE OF DEATH: Heart attack before crashing into a tree

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Having never been treated for his enlarged heart and advanced coronary artery disease, it’s believed that Macho had no idea that he had any heart problems at all.

LIFE LESSON: GO TO THE FUCKING DOCTOR FOR CHECKUPS. IF MACHO MAN CAN JUST DROP DEAD AT 58, YOU COULD AT 40.

RIP: Miss Elizabeth
AGE: 42
CAUSE OF DEATH: Acute toxicity from painkillers and vodka

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Most widely known as Macho Man’s hot-as-fuck manager, Miss Elizabeth died in the presence of her boyfriend, Lex Luger, 11 days after he was arrested for beating her up in their garage. Two days later, Luger was arrested again for rear ending a car while under the influence of being all fucked up on various shit with a 9mm handgun as well as Miss Elizabeth in the car.

LIFE LESSON: AVOID TOXIC, CO-DEPENDENT RELATIONSHIPS AND DON’T HANG OUT WITH THAT PIECE OF SHIT, LEX LUGER.

RIP: “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig
AGE: 44
CAUSE OF DEATH: Acute cocaine intoxication

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No matter how perfect it makes you feel, dying from a coke overdose in a hotel room at age 44 is about as imperfect as you could hope for as a way out of this world. If you can’t stay awake without gack, stay alive to party another day, order a pizza, and go to bed. If you really need excitement, see if you can tug two off before the driver gets there.

LIFE LESSON: TAKE A PASS ON THE BLOW AND JACK YOUR DICK WHILE YOU WAIT FOR PIZZA INSTEAD.

RIP: Chris Benoit
AGE: 40
CAUSE OF DEATH: Suicide by hanging

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In 2007, Chris Benoit *allegedly murdered his wife and 7-year-old son before taking his own life by hanging himself in the weight room of his home. The WWE has since, for the most part, rendered the World Heavyweight Champion non-existent from their archives, refusing to mention him by name in any capacity.

LIFE LESSON: DON’T DO SOMETHING SO HEINOUS THAT THE BODY OF YOUR LIFE’S WORK AS WELL AS YOUR PERSONA IS ERASED FROM EXISTENCE.

*While researching this article, I spent the majority of my time going down Chris Benoit murder conspiracy rabbit holes and am now quite skeptical about the facts of the case.

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Mike Burns

Mike Burns is a comedian, author, and writer of television. He was born in Saginaw, MI and lives in Los Angeles, via Chicago via New York. Mike graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Advertising that he threw in the trash. He's also the creator of @DadBoner and the author of "Power Moves: Livin’ The American Dream, USA Style by Karl Welzein."

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