The Wild West: The Last Days of Pro Wrestling’s Party Scene

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Brian Damage

It seems every week or so we hear or read about another former or current pro wrestler dying. It is a sad trend that quite frankly has numbed many fans almost to the point of being indifferent to the news. Today we look at whether the hedonistic lifestyles of old are actually now a thing of the past.

It is almost a shock if a wrestler doesn’t die at a young age. So many wrestlers have died battling alcoholism or drug addiction. We are left wondering, how did it get so bad? What could have been done to be prevented? During the 1990’s, when there was a huge surge in pro wrestling deaths Vince McMahon was often the focal point of interviews. It was understandable considering his WWE is one if not the biggest wrestling…errr…Sports Entertainment company’s in the entire world.

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McMahon would never back down in these interviews which often times became combative and accusatory. Vince get angry and get in the interviewer’s face etc. One thing that always stuck out to me during these hostile interviews is McMahon referring to the old pro wrestling days as the “wild west.” It was an era of self policing, if not straight out lawlessness. Pro wrestlers worked hard in the ring and partied even harder out of it.

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My ‘Wrestling with Sin’ series often talks about many of these after work incidents involving wrestlers as they interact with fans, women, police, drugs and alcohol. It was the norm back in the day after the matches to go to a bar and close it down. Drinking booze, maybe snorting a few lines of cocaine and partying with women eager to brag about being with a pro wrestler.

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Imagine doing this over a career of 10 to 20 years. There came a time when it wasn’t necessarily fun any more but just a habit. Drinking and/or doing drugs became as routine as taking bumps in an actual match. All that partying if sustained for several years, caught up to many wrestlers and sadly killed many of them. That was the wild west of professional wrestling.

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The list of wrestlers who have died via drug overdoes, alcoholism and the diseases they come with is staggering. We are still to this day seeing the remnants of former wrestlers who are now paying the ultimate price for their wild ways. That may change in due time.

Brian “Road Dogg” James who was one of those wrestlers with that “old school” philosophy abusing drugs and alcohol got himself fired from the WWE and TNA due to his addictions. While thankfully, Road Dogg got himself clean and sober…many will never get to that point. Road Dogg himself stated that the culture behind the scenes is changing. He credits wrestlers like Edge and Christian for changing the way wrestlers go about their lives after the cameras are off.

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Guys like Edge and Christian were athletes and geeks at the same time. They were more concerned about getting better and making it to the top of the ladder so to speak, then going out to a club or bar. It was culture shock to many backstage. Combine that with the the WWE taking a harder stand on substance abuse and the business has begun to change starting at the top.

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More so now than ever before, wrestlers are more consciences about what they eat and what they put into their bodies. On their off time they are either working out in the gym, trying to perfect their craft or playing video games. That is not to say that their isn’t drugs or other harmful vices still lingering on the Indy scene or even within the WWE or TNA. It’s just might be to a lesser degree.

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Professional wrestling is still a physical, arduous craft and it is not without injuries. While taking pain pills and drinking the pain away was more common back then and in some cases still is…others focus on physical therapy and things like DDP Yoga to push on. Sure, wrestlers still go out and party. You will still have the occasional wrestler DUI. It just seems now that more and more wrestlers get in trouble for their tweets and posts on social media then anything else. While some of the older guys from the other generation continue to die, will we see a new trend?

Are the Wild West days of professional wrestling over? Not quite yet but that lifestyle seems to be fading away ever so gradually. Let’s hope so, for everyone’s sake.

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5 thoughts on “The Wild West: The Last Days of Pro Wrestling’s Party Scene

  1. Can’t tell you how many times on my way home from work in the 80’s and 90’s I would see Andre the Giant at the bar on 8th Avenue in Manhattan downing a number of drinks BEFORE his match at the Garden.

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  2. McMahon may have referred to old school wrestling as the wild west, but most guys from that era made it to old age. It’s mostly wrestlers who were working in the 80’s and 90’s and abusing steroids, cocaine and opiates who have died at ridiculously young ages.

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  3. Pingback: This Week in Wrestling 2016 week 33 | Ring the Damn Bell

  4. I remember years ago, I think it was back in 1989, saw Ric Flair and Arn Anderson coming out of a bar in St. Louis. Arn looked like he could hold his liquor well, but Flair was ten sheets to the wind. Every other sentence out of his mouth was “Woo, I’m Ric Fucking Flair, bitches!” Finally, the tow of them entered a limo. Just before Anderson got in, he spotted me, knowing I saw the whole sorry routine. He just shrugged his shoulder and had a resigned, sad look on his face.

    I used to think I’d hear about him dying in the ’80’s, but obviously, that didn’t happen.

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