Being a professional wrestler is a dangerous job. Night in and night out pro wrestlers put their lives on the line for the sole purpose of our entertainment. Not only do these men and women risk life and limb inside the squared circle….but often do so just getting to the arena for the next show. Today we look at some of the dangers that face wrestlers in the pursuit of their in-ring dreams.
Wrestling is often a 365 days a year industry with hardly any days off. Just like a postal worker, nor rain, nor snow, nor black of night will cancel a scheduled show. That means, hook or by crook…wrestlers need to get to a show one way or the other. Lack of sleep is often the norm with wrestlers carpooling from one city to another. As with the many hours in traveling…there are times when accidents happen and in some cases….can be fatal.
This piece will look at some of the rigors and dangers of traveling for these performers and some instances where simply just getting to a new city on time, will ultimately be costly. Whether it is traveling by air or on the road….accidents have occurred and in these cases…have proven to be deadly.
On February 20th, 1975 four wrestling personalities Buddy Colt, ‘Iron’ Mike McCord, Gary Hart and Bobby Shane traveled from a show in Miami to Tampa in the middle of the night by Buddy Colt’s personal plane…a Cessna 182. While in the air, a storm came out of nowhere and forced Buddy Colt (who was piloting the plane) into a cloud bank.
Being blinded by the clouds and with zero visibility, Colt’s plane took a nosedive into the Tampa Bay. After impact, McCord, Hart and Colt were able to unfasten their seat belts and reach the water’s surface. All three suffered cuts and broken bones with McCord suffering two broken ankles. The three men were able to swim to a dock 300 yards away.
The one man who did not escape his fastened seat belt was 29 year old wrestler ‘King’ Bobby Shane. Shane was unable to escape his seat in time and drowned in the waters of the bay. Bobby Shane was considered by many a future star in the business who had a great mind for the psychology of professional wrestling. Former NWA world champion Jack Brisco recalled that the next night at the Tampa show when it was announced that the four heel wrestlers were involved in a plane crash with Bobby Shane perishing…the crowd actually cheered for their demise. This was, of course, during a time when wrestling was heavily protected.
Buddy Colt would soon retire from wrestling, Gary Hart would continue to wrestle/manage mostly in Texas and Mike McCord became a huge star in Memphis as Austin Idol. According to Jerry Lawler, Idol was once offered a job with the WWF, but apparently refused because it would force him to travel by plane…which Idol allegedly never did again after the crash.
That same year, on October 4th, 1975…a group of Mid Atlantic wrestlers were traveling from a show in Charlotte to a show in Wilmington, North Carolina. The wrestlers on the plane were Johnny Valentine, Tim Woods, Bobby Bruggers, a young Ric Flair and promoter David Crockett.
This crash wasn’t a case of foul weather…but rather human error from a 28 year old pilot who dump fuel right before take off, because the plane weighed too much from all the 200 plus pound wrestlers on board. The plane simply ran out of gas and proceeded to crash into several tree tops and utility wires before crashing to the ground.
The impact of the crash caused all of the passengers to be thrust forward to the front of the Cessna 310. Johnny Valentine suffered a broken back and was permanently paralyzed. Tim Woods suffered cracked ribs and a concussion, David Crockett suffered a dislocated shoulder, Ric Flair suffered a broken back and Bobby Bruggers suffered a broken back and bruised ribs. The 28 year old pilot died just two months later.
Flair fully recovered and became arguable one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. Tim Woods and David Crockett would also fully recover while Valentine and Bruggers were forced to retire because of the injuries they sustained.
On the Road
On July 4th, 1988, while on a tour of Canada….four wrestlers were traveling in New Foundland in a rented van. According to the driver…pro wrestler Mike Kelly…a moose ran onto the road and while swerving to avoid hitting the moose crashed the van into a lake. The impact of the crash killed pro wrestlers Pat Kelly, Dave McKigney and former WWF star Adrian Adonis almost instantly. Mike Kelly did survive the crash but suffered a career ending injury to his legs.
In July of 1976…wrestler/manager Sam Bass was traveling with a tag team known as the Dominoes (Pepe Lopez and Frank Hester) They were traveling between shows in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee. According to Jerry Lawler, Sam Bass (who was driving) was speeding at over 100 miles per hour when Bass’s car struck a tractor trailer and crashed into a bridge. Sam Bass, Pepe Lopez and Frank Hester died in that fiery crash.
WWF referee and son of Gorilla Monsoon Joey Marella died in a crash that also involved Harvey Whippleman back on July 4th, 1994. We have a more in depth look at that incident in a separate story here on the blog.
The life of a pro wrestler is not an easy one…and as you can see traveling on the road or in the air can be just as dangerous at times.