The Tragic Life Of Eddie Guerrero

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Eddie Guerrero should have been legendary for all the right reasons. Born into a legacy he never could have lived up to, Eddie worked tirelessly to become the version of himself that he envisioned. He traveled from the United States to Mexico, Japan and Canada, perfecting his craft. He was signed to the biggest promotions wherever he went, enjoying his time with his family when he wasn't wrestling in front of fans. 

After a car accident, Guerrero became addicted to alcohol and painkillers. The addiction would take over his life, as he told Brock Lesnar in one of the greatest promos of all time. "Through all that time ... not only did I wind up losing my job, I lost my wife, I lost my kids, and I lost myself." But Eddie was able to find all those things again, getting clean after multiple attempts at rehab, and win back the trust of his wife, his kids, and Vince McMahon. He was given another chance and he desperately held onto it, working his way back from the independent scene all the way to a WrestleMania XX victory defending the WWE Championship. But just as quickly as he had earned it all back, he was gone. Taken in his prime, we will never know what heights "Latino Heat" could have risen to, but it's easy to speculate that they would have been spectacular. Let's look back on the tragic life — and the redemption of — Eddie Guerrero.

Eddie was born into an influential wrestling family

Eduardo Gory Guerrero Llanes was born October 9, 1967 in El Paso, Texas. The fourth son born to Salvador "Gory" Guerrero , Eddie had a huge legacy to live up to as a second generation performer and the youngest of four prominent wrestlers in his immediate family.

Gory was a well known wrestler and promoter in Mexico, winning championships with Empreza Mexicana de la Lucha Libre (EMLL) as well as several titles in the U.S. He was half of a tag team with the most influential luchador of all time, El Santo, and the innovator of both the Camel Clutch and the Gory Special submission holds. In his book "Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story," Eddie mentions that his father and brothers taught him how to wrestle. He tells the story of when Gory set up a match between himself, his nine-year-old son Eddie, and his six-year-old nephew Chavo, Jr. at the Tigua Indian Fair, remembering, "He totally put us over, too. The great Gory Guerrero did the job for two little boys!"

Eddie's brothers, Chavo, Hector, and Mando, were all prominent wrestlers in the states and Mexico as well. Chavo had some prominent storylines in WWE, most memorably winning the Cruiserweight championship with his son in 2004. Hector, sadly, is probably best remembered as the Gobbledy Gooker, which is often remembered as one of the worst gimmicks in WWE history. Mando had success in tag team action in the AWA, and in trios matches with his brothers.

Eddie Guerrero hated wearing a mask, which led to a groundbreaking moment

While Eddie was blessed with natural in-ring talent and some of the best training by way of his legendary father and gifted brothers, he still put in plenty of work. He wrestled for New Mexico Highlands University on a scholarship, then moved on to EMLL in 1986. He went on to wrestle in local events in both the U.S. and Mexico, including a few dark matches for WCW and the NWA. Then he headed overseas, working for New Japan Pro Wrestling and meeting lifelong friend Chris Benoit. Afterward, Eddie returned to Mexico where he began working for CMLL (formerly EMLL) under a mask as Máscara Mágica. Eddie was lured by a bigger paycheck and, as he said in his book, "the fact that my cousin was the booker definitely influenced my decision." Guerrero said he was uncomfortable under the mask, and questionable booking decisions led to him leaving. At the time, Eddie was being recruited by new promotion AAA, and he decided to try his luck with them. 

On November 27, 1992 Máscara Mágica made his first appearance for AAA in a six man match. Before the bell rang, teammates Máscara Sagrada and Octagon helped Guerrero remove his mask, resulting in a brawl. He grabbed a mic and explained to the crowd that he would be representing his father and his family as Eddie Guerrero. "The lucha tradition is that the only time a wrestler strips off his mask is when he loses it in a match," Eddie explained in his book. "No one had ever done something like that before."

Eddie lost a tag team partner shortly after an historic match

During his time in AAA, Guerrero initially teamed up with El Hijo del Santo. Their friendship would eventually dissolve and Eddie would turn on his former friend to team with "Love Machine" Art Barr in 1993. Eddie described his friendship with Barr as more of a brotherhood, recalling in his book that "He made me laugh so much, I couldn't help but love him." As the two worked together more they became Los Gringos Locos, a reviled tag team that used their American roots and rivalry with Mexican hero El Hijo del Santo to infuriate the mostly Mexican crowds at AAA shows. In an interview with RF Video, Eddie recalled getting maced and pelted with garbage by fans.

AAA's first American pay-per-view show, When Worlds Collide, would feature Guerrero and Barr in the greatest match of their lives. Held at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena and co-hosted by World Championship Wrestling, the match featured Los Gringos Locos losing a Hair versus Mask match against El Hijo del Santo and Octagon. The match was one of the best of Eddie's wrestling career, garnering five stars from Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer.

That would be the last match Art Barr would ever wrestle. As Slam Wrestling recounts, Barr would pass away in his sleep while home for Thanksgiving on November 23, 1994, at 28. In his RF shoot interview Guerrero mentions that he was blindsided by the news: "I got a call in Japan...I couldn't accept it."

Despite fans' fond memories, Eddie was in ECW less than a year

Extreme Championship Wrestling is one of those companies that holds a special place in the memories of pro wrestling fans lucky enough to have witnessed it. While it is best remembered for its bloody hardcore matches and bombastic performers like Sandman, Sabu, and Raven, ECW signed a number of technical wizards in Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit to their roster as well.

Eddie Guerrero joined ECW in April 1995, defeating 2 Cold Scorpio for the ECW World Television Title at their Three Way Dance event. He would go on to have a rivalry with Dean Malenko that, according to Bleacher Report and many others, would alter how fans saw ECW. While the hardcore matches would remain ECW's bread and butter, the addition of real pro wrestling savants made ECW a real independent force in pro wrestling. 

Unfortunately, none of the technical masters stuck around very long. August 26 of 1995 marked the last time Guerrero and Malenko would step into an ECW ring, as they had a best two out of three falls match as a farewell to the Philadelphia faithful. The well regarded match was memorable for both the technical skill of the performers and the "please don't go" chants after the match ended in a draw. Benoit would follow the two to WCW in August 1995.

Sadly, Eddie wasn't supposed to be a solo act in ECW. In his book, Guerrero said that Paul Heyman "saw the show, or so the story goes, and was so impressed, he decided to sign Los Gringos Locos to ECW. Paul E. envisioned a huge feud between us and Public Enemy[.]" Unfortunately, Barr passed away shortly after Heyman contacted him and Guerrero.

Eddie's time in WCW was cut short by a car accident and a strained relationship with Eric Bischoff

Eddie began wrestling for WCW four days after his last match with ECW, facing off against Dean Malenko. Eddie would go on to win his first title with WCW a year later, defeating Diamond Dallas Page at Starrcade 1996 for the vacant United States Heavyweight Championship. From there, an intense rivalry with Rey Mysterio would lead up to one of Eddie's best matches of his career, a Cruiserweight Championship mask versus title match at Halloween Havoc. Despite that all-timer, Eddie would lack direction in WCW afterward, leading to disagreements with Eric Bischoff.

A New Year's party at Eddie and his wife Vickie's home led to an argument between the two, and Eddie decided to take an unsafe dose of Renutrient, a legal form of GHB, and drive to the store early that morning. He fell asleep at the wheel and drove his Trans-Am off an embankment. In his book, Eddie remembers police telling him that "The embankment basically acted like a ramp ... they knew this because they found parts of the car in the treetops[.]" Eddie had renegotiated his WCW contract shortly before the accident, and Bischoff spoke on the timing on his podcast. On an episode of "83 Weeks" (h/t 411Mania), Bischoff said "Eddie was of the mind that I was gonna stop the renewal conversation ... I did the exact opposite -– I executed the agreement we had before he got into the wreck."

Guerrero was injured in his first official WWE match

After making the decision to leave WCW, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn would debut on January 31, 2000. Dubbed "The Radicalz," the group interfered in a match between the New Age Outlaws and Al Snow and Steve Blackman. That led to Guerrero and Saturn's first official WWF match against Road Dogg and Billy Gunn. Unfortunately, during the closing moments of that match Eddie went for his trademark Frog Splash and landed awkwardly, dislocating his left elbow. The New Age Outlaws would pick up the victory, but Eddie would be out of action for a few weeks. 

In his book, Eddie says that Vince and Stephanie McMahon were in his hospital room when he woke up from anesthesia. Eddie said Vince told him "We'll use it. We'll get it over. You'll be okay." Sure enough, Eddie was allowed to recover briefly before getting right back to work, helping Dean Malenko secure a victory over Essa Rios and starting his legendary program with Chyna, where we were introduced to "Latino Heat."

Addictions to painkillers and alcohol led to Eddie Guerrero's WWE release

Eddie was incredibly candid about his battles with addiction, and he talked about his pain from his New Year's Day car accident with Slam Wrestling. "I'm dealing with a reconstructed ankle and three fractured vertebrae that I'll have for the rest of my life. I have constant pain," he said. In his book, Eddie spoke about the strained relationship he had with his wife, Vickie, and how the weekend of WrestleMania X-Seven was "kind of a last hurrah" for the two. Vicki would leave Eddie shortly after the event.

At that point in his life, Guerrero was dependent on pills and alcohol to get through the day and his friends knew it. In "Cheating Death, Stealing Life," Eddie remembered a meeting with Jim Ross and Bruce Pritchard instigated by Eddie's friends Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit, who saw his condition worsening. A week later Eddie showed up to a show in Minneapolis "completely messed up" and Ross gave him a choice: go to rehab or lose his job. He went to rehab, relapsed, rediscovered religion, tried AA, and relapsed again. That last time ended with Eddie's arrest and the news that Vince McMahon had released Guerrero from his WWE contract. On his podcast, Pritchard said, "Eddie needed to have ramifications and Eddie needed to lose something, I think, to realize that if he doesn't change his ways, things will be bad."

Eddie's real-life addictions were used in a WWE storyline

Things started looking much brighter for Eddie after rehab. His independent work got him rehired by WWE. He was able to reconcile his relationship with his daughters and, eventually, his wife. He was in programs with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Ric Flair. Then he was moved to "SmackDown" and won tag team gold with his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr. By 2004, Eddie was a real challenger for the WWE Championship title, then held by The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar. Guerrero won a "SmackDown" Royal Rumble to get the match at No Way Out, and he would not disappoint.

The road to that championship match was a rough one. Lesnar used Eddie's battle with addiction and his release from WWE against him, bringing up Guerrero's recent history during an infamous promo on the "SmackDown" prior to their championship match. Preceded by a mariachi band, Brock entered the arena in a sombrero, dancing along to the music before addressing Eddie. Lesnar would poke at Guerrero's background, saying "I really hope you are addicted — addicted to losing!" Eddie, to his credit, dug right back at Brock, opening up to him, the audience, and the world about his addiction and his recovery. Eddie was the better man that night, and after that promo the crowd was firmly in his corner going into No Way Out.

One of Eddie's career highlights will always be linked to another tragic wrestling story

Arguably the biggest match of Eddie Guerrero's career was his WrestleMania XX match against Kurt Angle. In the WWE produced DVD "Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story," Eddie talked about how important this event was to him. Guerrero said "in this WrestleMania, I was in one of the three main events — what an honor ... and I got to wrestle Kurt Angle, that's another honor." Eddie and Kurt had a great match in which Angle worked Eddie's midsection and ankle relentlessly. After repeatedly getting caught in the Ankle Lock, Eddie loosened his boot. Commentary speculated that he was trying to release pressure on his ankle. Angle took the bait, and Guerrero was able to slip out of the boot on Angle's next Ankle Lock attempt and counter into a rollup. With a little help from the ropes, Guerrero retained his championship.

It was an unforgettable match and one that garnered high praise, receiving four stars from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. However, the lasting image from that WrestleMania is that of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, two friends with similar journeys, celebrating their victories on the biggest stage in all of professional wrestling to close out the show. Without getting too far into Chris Benoit's own tragic story, and with hindsight being what it is, seeing these two share an embrace to mark the end of a long and difficult road for them both is even tougher when you realize how tragically their stories would end.

Kurt Angle had a backstage fight with Eddie, and a match he wishes they could take back

On an episode of "Talk is Jericho," Kurt Angle talked about a backstage fight with Eddie. Angle says Guerrero got mad backstage because Eddie believed Kurt was working stiff during a beat-down segment. Angle, Luther Reigns, and Mark Jindrak swarmed the ring, but Kurt maintains he wasn't anywhere near Eddie during the attack. "I said, 'Eddie, I didn't touch you.' He said, 'Bulls**t. You were stiffing me, you were beating me up.' I pushed him. I didn't know what to do, he made me so mad so I pushed him." The two ended up fighting until Big Show separated them, but resumed their brawl when Angle went to Eddie's locker room to apologize. Guerrero told him "I'm not ready yet," which was enough to set Angle off again.

On "The Kurt Angle Show," Angle talked about a lumberjack match he was involved in that he regrets. "Eddie was having problems with his energy," Kurt remembered. "He was having a lot of issues with energy and ... I think it was his heart[.]" The match was pre-taped, so Angle says WWE was able to edit it to be presentable. "We were able to clean it up ... it was a night that I regret, and I wish I could take back because Eddie was always the greatest in-ring performer, one of the greatest I've ever been in the ring with, and that wasn't Eddie Guerrero that night."

Chavo Guerrero, Jr. held Eddie as he died

In a conversation with Chris Jericho (h/t WWF Old School), Chavo Guerrero described the night before Eddie's death. Chavo explained that while Eddie had been clean for four years, the lasting effects of addiction led to Eddie's passing. Chavo said, "So you know, he fought every day to stay off those, he really did. But they say with Vicodins and somas and all that stuff was that it gives a lot of scar tissue on your heart because you abuse them so much ..."

Chavo and Eddie got to fly to Minneapolis together the night before. Chavo remembered Eddie getting on the plane late but choosing to give up his first class seat to ride with Chavo in coach. "It was like just a treat to sit next to each other and we're on different shows at the time so we didn't see each other all that much," Chavo recalled. They got to their hotel together, booked separate rooms, and made plans to work out together the next morning.

Hotel security would contact Chavo in his room to tell him his uncle had passed out in his room. After the lock was removed, Chavo immediately checked on Eddie. He remembered Eddie's body still being warm when he got on the ground to check on him, but he said he "saw him go from warm to cold ... I'm sitting here with my brother basically dying in my arms ..." Despite managing to overcome his demons, Eddie Guerrero died of heart failure on November 13, 2005. He was 38 years old.

Even after his death, Eddie was involved in controversial storytelling

After Eddie passed, WWE chose to use his death to propel Rey Mysterio to a World Heavyweight Championship. Rey won the 2006 Royal Rumble match, entering at number two in a lowrider Chevy as a tribute to his friend. He then entered into a rivalry with Randy Orton, who was the last person Mysterio eliminated to win the Rumble. During Orton's attempt to goad Rey into putting his WrestleMania title shot on the line at 2006's No Way Out show, a "SmackDown" promo saw Randy telling a conflicted Mysterio that "Eddie ain't in heaven ... Eddie's down there — IN HELL!"

On former WWE announcer Jim Ross's "Grilling JR" podcast, Ross remembered the promo and shared his feelings about it. Ross said, "It didn't work, it was distasteful. It was the wrong kind of heat ... I didn't like that ..." While the segment was poorly received by JR and others, it did end with Rey Mysterio winning the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 22.

Eddie Guerrero left a lasting legacy and inspired many current wresters

Sasha Banks told "Ariel Helwani Meets" how she reacted to learning about Eddie's passing. She said she won tickets to Guerrero's memorial show in Minneapolis, but she hadn't learned about Eddie's passing until she was at the arena. "A fan came up to me and told me Eddie Guerrero passed away that night and everything inside of me just broke. I couldn't believe that my hero passed away. I was crying like a little baby, I was in my mom's arms just bawling." But she, and others, carry on his legacy, including breaking out his finishing move.

Eddie was using a jackknife splash off the turnbuckle as his finisher back in CMLL, but Art Barr decided he wanted to try it and perfected it. According to DodWrestlePod, 2 Cold Scorpio saw Art perform the splash, commenting that Barr "looked like a frog" while doing the move. Hence, the Frog Splash was born. Eddie would go on to use that move again after Art passed away, starting a legacy that continues to this day.

Sasha, Rey Mysterio, and Rey's son Dominick have been known to bust out the occasional Frog Splash, Three Amigos suplex, or "Latino Heat" shimmy. Sasha and Ricochet have used what Taz dubbed "the smoking gun," tossing a foreign object at an opponent and feigning an attack, usually resulting in a rollup victory or a DQ.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).