On Monday 25 June 2007 at around 2.30pm Eastern Time, police entered the home of Chris Benoit and were met with a scene that shocked the entire world, in and out of wrestling circles, and has left a sickening legacy on the world of wrestling as two innocent people lost their lives.
The Chris Benoit double murder suicide
On Sunday 24 June 2007, Christ Benoit was scheduled to face CM Punk on Vengeance Night of the Champions for the ECW Championship, a belt that Stephanie McMahon later stated Benoit was to win.
However, Benoit missed that event, along with that weekend’s house shows, due to, as he claimed, his wife and son vomiting and having to take them to hospital.
But over the course of a few days the full gruesome facts over what had happened at the Benoit house began to emerge causing a ripple of shock to pass through the world of wrestling and at the same time create a media storm like never seen before in wrestling circles.
In the space of three days Chris Benoit went from missing a pay per view event due to a family emergency to being paid tribute to on a Raw special to being removed entirely from the history of the WWE on day three. A quite incredible turn of events for a wrestler with a then glittering career and place in the Hall of Fame a certainty.
When the police entered the Benoit house on the Monday afternoon the full, and very grizzly, facts become apparent. A series of sickening and gruesome acts had taken place as both Nancy and Daniel Benoit were murdered, with bibles placed next to their bodies, before Chris Benoit hung himself from his multi-gym.
The world of professional wrestling is sadly associated with its star passing away far too early. The early deaths of professional wrestlers have been a vastly underreported story for years and the mainstream media in America make no time for it. Had Benoit killed only himself that weekend, the story would have gotten a mere fraction of the coverage it did. Tragically, this incident also involved the death of two innocent family members and led to a number of serious questions being asked about wrestling.
At first it was believed that the whole family had been murdered which led to the WWE cancelling the arranged storyline Raw and replacing it with a tribute three hour show.
Within 24 hours the picture had changed dramatically, however, and Vince addressed WWE fans via a television taping to state that the name “Chris Benoit” will not be mentioned on WWE television ever again. A promise that the company has rigidly stuck to since that date.
As for the tribute show, a standard tribute show with superstar after superstar lining up to provide a Benoit anecdote with many providing snippets about how much is family mattered to him, something now deeply unsettling to view. One superstar was noticeably different, however, and that wrestler was William Regal.
It is clear from Regal’s choice of words and his body language that he is completely uncomfortable with reaction to the situation so early without the full facts being known and speaks only of Benoit’s work rate, not of him as a person or as a family man. Something it is very difficult to find as anything other than telling.
Another case of roid-rage?
The media queued up to blame Benoit’s use of steroids on what happened, something not helped by a bizarre statement being released by the WWE stating that steroids played no part in this tragedy.
Many media outlets, supported by former wrestlers touring that circuit, simply attributed what happened to just another roided up wrestler. The toxicology reports go a long way to supporting that view.
When these reports were released they showed that Benoit had significantly elevated levels of testosterone in his system. His 220 pound frame was absolutely pumped full of it. A normal person has a testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio of 1:1, an athlete tends to have a ratio of 1:4 while the WWE allows 10:1. The ratio for Chris Benoit at the time of his death was a staggering 59:1. While Benoit tested positive for testosterone but negative for anabolic steroids he was not flagged up as a WWE wellness policy fail. It seems that while the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers testosterone and anabolic steroids to be the same thing, the WWE do not. It is therefore little wonder that Daily News sportswriter Christian Red declared that the WWE was “in full spin control”.
Even more remarkably both Linda and Vince McMahon appeared on television to back the company’s wellness policy with interviewers unable to land any significant blows on the pair. That is despite the evidence stacking up to show that the wellness policy was not the success the WWE were claiming.
While the toxicology reports indicated that Benoit did indeed have steroids as well as other drugs in his system at the time of his death they did not prove that the steroids were behind the murders or offer any reason to why Benoit committed the acts.
Nobody should defend steroid use, and Benoit almost certainly used them during the course of his career. But was roid rage the sole reason behind this tragedy? Roid rage is not known for being spread out over the course of multiple days so this gruesome act has roots that ran deeper that just steroid abuse.
The role of head trauma
Tests conducted on Benoit’s brain showed that it was “so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient” while also showing the advanced stages of dementia.
One of Benoit’s most famous moves, used part in homage to one of his heroes the Dynamite Kid, was a diving headbutt from the top rope. Benoit used this move even after returning from a year off with a broken neck. As well as that, Benoit is noted as being one of the few superstars that would take the dangerous chair shots to the back of the head. Both of these played a significant part in the concussions and other head problems that he suffered from. The whole point of professional wrestling is to give the impression you are being hurt while remaining pain free.
But what of Benoit’s mental state? Many of his co-workers refer to him being somewhat lost after the passing of his close friend Eddie Guerrero with other anecdotal evidence also raising serious concerns.
His former colleague William Regal recalls being invited around to Benoit’s house to watch wrestling matches but when he arrived at his house, Benoit failed to recall issuing the invite and refused to allow him to enter his property. Chris Jericho also tells a story about being offered a rose by Benoit to throw on Eddie Guerrero’s coffin at his funeral but Benoit walking away, after a lengthy discussion on the significance of the rose, without actually giving it to him.
Benoit suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, a form of brain damage that includes depression, cognitive impairment, dementia, Parkinsonism and erratic behavior. The texts messages sent by Benoit on the weekend of the tragedy also highlight a deeply troubling mental state:
Text Message 1 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:53am)- Chris Benoit’s cell phone
“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane, Fayetteville Georgia. 30215″
Text Message 2 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:53am)- Chris Benoit’s cell phone
“The dogs are in the enclosed pool area. Garage side door is open”
Text Message 3 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:54am)- Nancy Benoit’ cell phone
“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia.”
Text Message 4 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:55am)- Nancy Benoit’s cell phone
“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215″
Text Message 5 to one co-worker (sent 6/24 at 3:58am)- Nancy Benoit’s cell phone
“My address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215″
These texts are as unsettling and are a clear call for authorities to turn up at the scene. They also pose more questions than they provide answers. It is also worth noting that no attempts were made to hide the steroids. While other evidence such as his own diaries as well as Nancy’s photographs taken in the aftermath of claims of physical abuse towards her were destroyed, the steroids remained at the scene.
The former professional wrestler turned anti-concussion campaigner Christopher Nowinski stated that Benoit may have been suffering from repeated, untreated concussions throughout his wrestling career which ultimately leading to an unstable mental state.
The tests conducted on Benoit’s brain showed how damaged his brain was while tests conducted on the brain tissue revealed he did in fact suffer from severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy and had brain damage in all four lobes of the brain and brain stem. The conclusion from these tests was that repeated concussions can lead todementia, which can contribute to severe behavioral problems. Chris Benoit’s father suggests that brain damage may have been the leading cause of the double murder-suicide, a view derided as “speculative” by the WWE.
In Benoit, while at the end he was still lucid enough to wrestle brilliantly and complete the tasks of everyday living, his brain was damaged to the extent that his impulse and emotional control and restraint, and his rationality, were severely impaired.
Will Benoit’s in-ring achievements ever be recognized?
In 2003, Benoit was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame. After the double murder-suicide, his induction underwent a recall election in 2008. However, Benoit’s place in that Hall of Fame was retained as a member. While 53.6% supported his removal, that figure fell below the necessary 60% threshold.
The reaction from the WWE in the aftermath of the incident was a mess. The news of the deaths broke a few hours before Monday Night RAW was due to air and a clearly shaken Vince McMahon made an announcement that RAW would celebrate the career of Benoit, showing some of his best matches and moments.
Of course, this was before the details of the case broke, before it was known that Chris Benoit himself had committed these horrendous acts. Perhaps it was an emotional decision, but Vince McMahon again appeared at the start of the next TV taping, retracting his previous remarks and stating that Benoit would never be mentioned again in the WWE. It has been now more than five years since this tragedy and the promotion has not veered from that policy announced by McMahon on that night.
Will the WWE recognize Benoit’s achievements? I find that highly unlikely. Despite all of these championship wins, and many other honors in a glittering wrestling career, many of these successes have simply been airbrushed from history. What’s more, any video footage that does contain Benoit has him blacked out of the picture.
Few believed that Benoit, at his peak, would not have entered into the WWE Hall of Fame but not now. The image of Benoit and Guerrero celebrating in the ring at Wrestlemania 20 is one of the most iconic pictures in recent wrestling history as it showed that two smaller guys could indeed ascend to the top of the wrestling world. Yet within a few years both of those superstars had passed away.
Chris Benoit will be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers ever to set foot inside the squared circle but because of the heinous acts committed in and around the 24th of June 2007, it will be as a superstar that many fans will not feel right remembering fondly ever again.
One this is for sure, the debate will continue for years to come whether or not the WWE is correct to remove the Benoit from their record books and history. While it’s easy to just dismiss the murders as another wrestler with uncontrollable ‘roid rage, the nuances changed the course of wrestling forever.
The wider impact of this tragedy
It’s been a half decade since one of the WWE’s blackest days. It was an event that would truly change the landscape of the company and tarnish its all-important public image.
No one will ever know exactly what happened in the Benoit household. The actions of Benoit over the course of that June weekend highlighted the very worst of what excessive brain damage could do. The research that came from the incident started a series of studies that determined just how serious concussions could be. The Benoit murders occurred in June and by August of the same year the NFL had released its first new policy on concussions.
Personally speaking, I am still completely unsure over many aspects of this in a wrestling sense. I find it very difficult to watch his matches and that is a shame considering how many stand out matches he had. One of my favorite Benoit matches, against Bret Hart as a tribute to Owen, is a match I have not watched since the incident.
That is a purely selfish view from a wrestling fan. Ultimately, however, the impact was more seriously felt outside of wrestling with the tragic and needless loss of two lives. The remainder of the Benoit family will have to live the rest of their lives with the stigma associated with the heinous actions committed over that weekend in June 2007. At the heart of this tragedy is the fact that an innocent woman and her son were murdered in cold blood.
R.I.P to Nancy and Daniel Benoit.
More of my musings on the often crazy world of wrestling can be found on the blog I write with a couple of friends RingtheDamnBell Blog. You can follow the blog on Twitter @Ringthedamnbel1
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