Ultimate Warrior Death Reveals Bigger Problem in Pro Wrestling

ultimate warriorJim Hellwig, better known as The Ultimate Warrior, passed away Tuesday April 8. His sudden death occurred only days after his return to WWE as a spokesperson and his indictment into WWE’s Hall of Fame. Although authorities have not yet released the cause of death, TMZ reports that Hellwig, who legally changed his name to Warrior in 1993, collapsed outside of his hotel in Arizona and was pronounced dead at the hospital.  The death of the middle-aged Ultimate Warrior came as a shock to fans that witnessed his spirited return to the WWE ring only a day earlier, but the Warrior’s death reveals a bigger problem in the world of professional wrestling.

Friends and fans of the Warrior expressed their shock at the wrestler’s sudden death, and many of his colleagues took to Twitter to reach out to Warrior fans and offer condolences to his family. The news of his death came off the heels of the Warrior’s first appearance in the WWE ring in 18 years. The Warrior climbed into the ring one last time the night before his death, donning a mask reminiscent of The Ultimate Warrior’s famous face paint. He was not there to wrestle, and instead delivered a bizarrely appropriate speech to rowdy fans about the fleeting nature of life saying, “every man’s heart one day beats its final beat.”  Naturally, when the news broke a day later, fans were praying it was not suicide.

It wasn’t suicide. Instead, the Warrior’s death is a tragic part of a frightening epidemic that is rarely addressed in the world of professional wrestling. Indeed, the Warrior’s death reveals a bigger problem in the WWE, a problem demonstrated by the average mortality rate of pro wrestlers.  The Warrior was only 54, and in the last 10 years alone at least 15 of WWE’s professional wrestlers have died of heart complications, drug overdoses, or suicide before reaching the age of 60. Although the WWE fights are staged, the hits the athletes take to their bodies are real, resulting in real long-term damage. Professional wrestlers belong to a culture of athletes who abuse their bodies with a range of performance enhancing and pain-killing drugs. While there has been no confirmation of drug abuse in the case of the Ultimate Warrior’s untimely death, drug abuse in the industry is something almost all professional wrestlers admit to.

ultimate warriorWhen a wrestler like the Ultimate Warrior dies in middle-age, fans and colleagues seem shocked, but the least common way for a professional wrestler to die is of old age. The industry encourages a vicious cycle of bodily harm and drug abuse. Many professional wrestlers use steroids, or gain dangerous amounts of body fat in order to possess the kind of body required to be a formidable presence in the ring. Over the years, the added bulk takes a toll on the body and heart, which must work harder than necessary to support the extra weight. Professional wrestlers often sustain severe injuries while performing stunts in the ring and then turn to painkillers to manage the pain, but the painkillers often act as a sedative so they then rely on stimulants to recapture their performance edge. This type of prolonged drug abuse is often deadly even after wrestlers are well into retirement.  Details of the Warrior’s death have not been released to the public but the Warrior’s body mass alone suggests, in the very least, steroid use.

This cycle of pain, drugs, and performance is commonplace within the culture of pro wrestling, and wrestlers who want to enjoy fame are expected to do whatever it takes to secure their place in an industry that often exploits its athletes, discarding them once they are no longer able to perform.  There is little support offered to the athletes who are injured or become dependent on drugs, and wrestlers are left with few options once their fleeting careers are over. There is no question that the world of professional wrestling is extremely competitive, and the Warrior was no stranger to the cut throat practices of the WWE over the stretch of his career. Wrestlers are on the road for over 300 days a year, they sustain severe injuries that often lead to drug abuse, but there is also a psychological component that the industry seems reluctant to address. There are very few options for a wrestler after their career has ended, so in many cases they they struggle with depression once their wrestling personas are no longer relevant.

Professional wrestlers have to be willing to go the extra mile to attain glory, doing whatever they must to perform, and many of those who rise to stardom very quickly watch their fame slip away, forgotten by fans until their final fall far from the spotlight.

Commentary by Sandra Pugliese


Interview with Jason Murphey

11 Responses to "Ultimate Warrior Death Reveals Bigger Problem in Pro Wrestling"

  1. womble   April 21, 2014 at 5:51 pm

    I’ve been in the business as a performer and i can tell you first hand that steroid ( and narcotic/alcohol) abuse is a large part of most workers lives. The problem as i see it is that the business relies on fantasy prone men and women who just want attention (as i was also) and are willing to die to get it. Pro wrestling seems to attract a lot of unstable and damaged people so they will do almost anything to get approval. I only left the business after i realized that i fit the description of damaged from childhood abandonment and abuse, i only pray that some of these workers get the mental and emotional help that they need.

  2. jimbo   April 14, 2014 at 9:16 am

    Plenty of wrestlers die of old age there are a few high profile ones have died earlier. Unless you know something that hasn’t been published you have no idea why Hellwig/Warrior died.

    Implying that he took a lot of shots to the body which might have caused his body to fail is a large leap in logic. He hadn’t wrestled for 18 years, and he only wrestled professionally for about 6. Yes, he was with the WWF during it’s legendary period of drug abuse but that doesn’t mean he did abuse drugs then or in the interveneing 18 years. 54 year old do die from natural causes often; often from heart failure of some sort.

    • Sandra Pugliese   April 28, 2014 at 1:35 pm

      Thanks Jimbo, as the article states it is a commentary about a problem which I believe exists in the industry. I have personally known people within professional wrestling, and have talked to them about this very problem. As for a “few high profile” wrestlers dying, a quick google search will reveal it is actually quite a significant number. You can find comprehensive lists of wrestlers who died before the age of 50. Thanks for the comment.

  3. victor   April 13, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    This is not a fine journalism. Has anyone seen an analysis of age of death and cause of former pro wrestlers? It seems to me that a few wrestlers and bodybuilders have died early from heart disease, but a lot of people do. Is there evidence that steroids or growth hormone accelerate the risks of heart disease – It seems as they would but I’m not sure.

  4. Rob   April 13, 2014 at 10:55 am

    Sure warrior used roids back in the day. I dault that he has been using the last few years for no reason. Just because the man is still big doesn’t mean he is using.. Can’t we just wait until the autopsy is done?

  5. annonymous   April 13, 2014 at 5:58 am

    What about the actors and actresses who go to rehab for drug addiction..or the actor who overdosed on heroin? Why don’t we see articles about that industry? After all, many famous actors and actresses suffered from drug and alcohol abuse.. We don’t know what our cause of death is going to be or when it happens..It just happens… people die everyday it’s part of life not drama.

  6. claude   April 12, 2014 at 11:43 pm

    This article brings realistic issues in pro wrestling to the table. The true face of this industry. What i dont get is the connection to U.W. his death. The article states that “drug abuse by the warrior is not proven and it was no suicide. W
    Then why link such an article to the warriors namedr?

  7. Geir Gunnarsson   April 12, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    Tho it is very true that wrestlers do abuse their bodies thru their careers, I am not so sure about the rampant drug use you claim “almost all …admit to” What study/research claims that? Let’s not kid ourselves, Pro wrestling is a very dangerous sport, but any wrestler who has even the slightest knowledge about the industry knows the dangers, knows what will be asked of them, so they are not going into this blind. Fun and the rush they get comes at a cost but as Bill maher said: “Give me 64 Sammy(Davis) years, I’ll be happy. I’d rather have that than a 150 Ken Star years.)

  8. Terri Brockway   April 12, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I really fear for today’s wrestlers such as my favorite, john cena. I was a huge w
    A huge Warrior fan and still am, this saddens me deeply!! Rip Warrior
    You will never be forgotten!!

  9. nj   April 10, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    sandra your comments are right on the money. I was a huge warrior fan and still am. but the abuse the wrestlers bodies recieve and the way they are placed on the scap heap after their useby date is deplorable. these men are athletes and they do put their bodies on the line in the name of entertainment. the culture of pro wrestling condones the sacrifice at any cost and win at any cost mentality that leads to many abuses and fearing one may lose their spot and the income that is derived from it.
    now that the wwe is a shareholder company profits are the driving factor. the problem is many young men and women will do whatever it takes to get the top spot. death and abuse is just seen as an occupational hazard that one must endure to make it to the top.

    • Sandra Pugliese   April 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm

      Thanks nj, of course exploitation of talent happens across the board in the entertainment industry, but gambling with one’s life is almost expected in professional wrestling.


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