I decided to write this article because two things happened this week, the death of Matthew Osbourne AKA Matt Borne and the reopening of the 30 year old cold case involving Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka.
Now, a few years ago, a friend and myself were approached to write a book on this subject, but for various reasons, fell through. As great and as lighthearted pro wrestling can be…there is also another side…a much darker side. An underbelly if you will, that involves sex, lies, drugs, murder and cover-ups. There are many tales that I have heard or witnessed throughout the years and today, I will share just a few.
Former WWF tag team champion Adolfo Bresciano or better known as “The Canadian Strongman” Dino Bravo was found shot to death in his own home in Quebec. He was shot a total of 17 times, with 7 of those shots directly into his head. It wasn’t any random act of violence that took Bravo’s life, but rather a well orchestrated hit allegedly by members of a Canadian mafia. You see, as it turns out, Dino Bravo was involved in some illegal activities such as smuggling illegal cigarettes. As word has it, because Dino Bravo was so well known as a former pro wrestler, he took a lot of business away from the mafia and a message was sent.
Harrison Norris aka “Hard body” Harrison a former body builder and WCW wrestler was arrested and charged with kidnapping women and forcing them into prostitution. He apparently lured 8 women into two of his Georgia homes with promises of training them to be pro wrestlers. When inside, they were drugged, beaten, tortured and forced to preform sex acts with a variety of customers. Harrison was eventually arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
Countless wrestlers have died over substance abuse, whether it was cocaine, heroine, alcohol, pain killers or steroids the list is endless. Some names include, Terry Gordy, Eddie Gilbert, Gino Hernandez, Eddie Fatu, Brian Pillman, Eddie Guerrero, Art Barr, Davey Boy Smith, Curt Hennig and Buzz Sawyer just to name a few. Some tales are more interesting than others. For example, Herb Abrams was a wrestling promoter who formed the UWF (Not the Mid-South Version) but a later version based out of California. One day, Herb was seen running through his office screaming, totally nude, breaking anything and everything around him with a baseball bat. When the police came to arrest him, his body was covered in vaseline and cocaine…he later died of a heart attack while in police custody. Back in 1983, after a cocaine binge with his mistress, a 23 year old named Nancy Argentino was found dead in the hotel room of WWE Hall of Famer, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka. According to Snuka, Argentino passed out, hit her head on a toilet and eventually died. Others have a different account of what happened. Allegedly Snuka in a cocaine fueled raged slapped Argentino so hard that she went into convulsions and died. Snuka was cleared of murder charges, but lost a wrongful death civil case and ordered to pay $500,000 in damages, a fine he has never paid.
Sex has also been a subject of controversy in pro wrestling. While it is no secret that many have affairs with groupies and the like…no scandal or Urban Legend is bigger than the one you’ve never heard about….Ever wonder why Randy Savage isn’t in the WWE Hall of Fame? Why back in 1994, Savage had abruptly left the WWE with no reason as to why? Rumors are rumors…but sometimes rumors turn to stories with actual facts and when more and more different people talk about the same story with the same facts…all of a sudden, things make more sense. How can Vince McMahon once refer to Randy Savage as someone like family…to all of a sudden refuse to have his name ever mentioned on TV or in the locker room ever again? Could it be true? The story of how a divorced Randy Savage found love in a girl….but not just any girl, the daughter of Vince…Stephanie McMahon? Their affair spanned months, but the worst part of it…Stephanie was 14 years old at the time. During those days, McMahon was trying to build up the WWF to be taken more seriously…a scandal like this, if ever got out…would destroy everything he had worked for. So once the affair was brought to Vince’s attention, Savage was cut loose, even blacklisted from several promotions the McMahons had a working relationship with. While the exact details of the affair were never made crystal clear…some have said that Stephanie did get pregnant and aborted the baby…others have said, Vince caught them in the act…but all, who were once high up the WWF chain back then…all said it happened…something happened and Vince snapped. Truth or Legend? You decide…
In 1992, before the Savage scandal, the WWF was embroiled in a much more publicized sex scandal. A former ring attendant Tom Cole and former wrestler Barry O accused WWE officials of sexual misconduct…forcing the two to perform sexual acts for job security. The three officials that were named were Pat Patterson, Terry Garvin and ring announcer Mel Phillips. Garvin and Patterson resigned, while Phillips was fired. The WWE eventually settled out of court. Patterson eventually returned to the company.
Wrestlers have died at the hands of other wrestlers…No, not the accidental deaths of such stars as “Iron” Mike DiBiase or King Kong Kirk…but actual murder. The most famous being the stabbing death of Frank Goodish aka “Bruiser Brody” at the hands of fellow wrestler Jose Gonzales aka Invader #1. A “business” discussion between Brody and Gonzales ended up with Brody being stabbed in a shower and later died. Gonzales who allegedly fatally stabbed Brody was eventually acquitted of murder. Of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the brawl that nearly ended the lives of two wrestlers. After a typical night of boozing and partying, Sid Vicious and Arn Anderson got into a heated argument that led both to be stabbed 24 times with a pair of scissors…only Arn was stabbed 20 of those times to Sid’s 4 stab wounds. Thankfully for both, they survived.
Anybody remember the Happy go lucky former WWE Spanish commentator Hugo Savinovich? Did you know that the night prior to Wrestlemania 16 he was ready to commit suicide? The only reason he did not, was his long time friend Savio Vega saved him. Why? Hugo at one point in time had serious drug issues, he was also arrested and sent to prison for what I believe was a statutory rape charge, ie sex with a minor. Thankfully, Hugo turned his life around and now preaches God and inspiration to those who need it most.
Doug Gilbert, the brother of the late “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert, single handily took down a small Memphis promotion called “Power Pro Wrestling” by doing a shoot interview. In his shoot, Gilbert revealed to the audience that the only reason Brian Christopher was being pushed, was because he was the son of Jerry Lawler. (A big reveal at the time) He also accused Lawler of raping a 13 year old girl and accused Memphis promoter Randy Hales of being a crack addict. Power Pro Wrestling never recovered.
We all know about the Matt Hardy/Lita/ Edge love triangle….how about the Undertaker/Brian Lee/Jodi Lynn triangle? Mark “The Undertaker” Calaway and fellow wrestler Brian Lee Harris were very close. Apparently, Brian thought they were so close that he was allowed to share Mark’s wife Jodi Lynn. While the Undertaker was on the road, Brian Lee and Jodi had an affair. Mark found out, divorced his wife and Brian Lee was pretty much run out of the industry. Stacy Carter aka Miss Kitty in the WWE was married to Jerry Lawler. In the middle of a story line involving Right to Censor, Carter was inexplicably released. It was so unexpected, Lawler quit the WWE in protest. The excuse why she was cut was her negative attitude, but the real reason was that she was having an affair with a WWE developmental wrestler and subsequently fired. Lawler and Carter divorced shortly after and he returned to the WWE.
In Japan, Kensuke Sasaki, while training students in the famed New Japan Dojo, felt one student named Hiromitsu Gompei wasn’t giving 100%. Sasaki was so enraged with the 22 year old, he began violently suplexing and working him over. So much so, Gompei died from his injuries.
Speaking of Japan, the man who brought fame and popularity to the sport, Rikidozan, was stabbed with a urine soaked knife at a Tokyo night club in the 1960’s by a member of the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) and died from his wound a week later. The organized hit was in retaliation for Rikidozan going too stiff on a wrestler backed by the Yakuza.
“The Gentleman” Chris Adams, was by far, nothing like his nickname. The man who was responsible for training a young Steve Austin, was himself, a very big star in the Texas based territories. Chris battled several addictions during his lifetime. In the final year or so of his life, Adams and his girlfriend were discovered unconscious due to an overdose in an apartment. His girlfriend died of the overdose and Adams was charged with manslaughter. While awaiting trial, Adams got into a drunken, heated argument with a friend. His friend pulled out a gun and shot Adams in the chest killing him…His friend was cleared of all charges and ruled self defense.
Pro wrestling is often times considered a soap opera for men…but what if a wrestler was gay? How would he be received by both wrestlers and fans? Chris Kanyon suffered with these questions his entire career. Around 2006, Kanyon finally came out of the closet and admitted he was a homosexual. Five years later, not able to cope with the various pressures of being an openly gay wrestler, bi-polar etc…committed suicide by ODing on anti-depressants. Depression is a common theme with some wrestlers and at times, results in suicide. Such was the case with Mike, Chris and Kerry Von Erich who felt they couldn’t live up to the Von Erich name. Rick Wilson better known in WCW as ‘The Renegade’ committed suicide not long after being released from WCW. Mike Lockwood, better known as “Crash Holly” in the WWE, was released from the company, served divorce papers and killed himself.
ECW Gangsta “New Jack”, no stranger to trouble, admitted he tried to intentionally kill fellow wrestler Vic Grimes in a scaffold match. His reason, he and Grimes had a previous scaffold match which was botched leaving New Jack with permanent blindness in one eye. Although New Jack admits the botch was partly his fault, he didn’t like that Grimes bragged to several wrestlers that he hurt New Jack. So in a rematch, New Jack wanted to send the message loud and clear, that you don’t show him up ever. New Jack intentionally threw Grimes off the scaffolding too hard which he hoped would cause Grimes to miss the tables below and crash into the ring post ala Owen Hart. Grimes survived the fall, but suffered a dislocated ankle.
A little known wrestler and trainer by the name of Medardo Leon, Jr. also known as Ricky Lawless, was shot dead by a jealous husband who found out Lawless was having an affair with his wife. The murder was chronicled in the magazine, Hustler. Lawless most famous student was Axl Rotten.
During the Golden Era of pro wrestling, the most powerful organization was the National Wrestling Alliance or the NWA for short. It consisted of several promoters across the country that formed a governing body, that decided who would carry its world title, who would win what matches, so on and so forth. The NWA became so powerful and successful, it generated $25 million a year. How did it get become so strong? In the early days of its existence, it acted like a wrestling mafia. You either did business with them, or you didn’t do business at all. It involved corruption of politicians, journalists and police and shakedowns, threats and even in some extreme cases….murder of local promoters. It got so out of hand, the United States Department of Justice investigated the NWA’s practices. Only a few promoters had the guts to break away from the NWA during this era…most notably Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association and Vince McMahon Sr’s World Wide Wrestling Federation.
These are just a snippet of the stories and tales of the dark side of pro wrestling. There are so many other stories to be told….