Wrestlers Who Have Sadly Died In 2023

The year 2023 saw its fair share of excellent wrestling, fantastic debuts, and memorable moments across all promotions, but there were some extremely tragic moments throughout the year as well when wrestling fans across the globe had to come to terms with the deaths of some of their favorites. From hardcore legends to some of the most brilliant minds in the business all gone too soon, the year 2023 will stick out in the minds of wrestling fans as tragic. From legends like Terry Funk and "Superstar" Billy Graham, to stars lost too soon in life like Bray Wyatt and Jay Briscoe, here, we remember the performers who died in 2023.

Bray Wyatt

One of the saddest and certainly most shocking deaths in wrestling in 2023 was the passing of Bray Wyatt, the real-life Windham Rotunda, at the age of 36. The third-generation wrestler died of a heart attack in his sleep on August 24. A doctor had recommended Wyatt wear a portable defibrillator after suffering heart problems caused by the COVID-19 virus. He was found by his fiancée, former ring announcer JoJo Offerman, after she became concerned when the alarm on the machine went off for a long period of time. Wyatt was pronounced dead at a local hospital that day. Authorities said Wyatt was not wearing the defibrillator at the time of his death.

Wyatt worked for WWE from 2009 to 2021, when he was released. The late star was brought back into the company when Paul "Triple H" Levesque gained creative control. He returned to WWE with much fanfare at Extreme Rules 2022, involved in a story with his real-life brother Bo Dallas, who portrayed the Uncle Howdy character. Wyatt was removed from television after beginning a feud with Bobby Lashley prior to WrestleMania 39, due to, at the time, an undisclosed illness. 

Wyatt started on WWE TV in 2010 when he joined the reality show version of "WWE NXT" as Husky Harris. He joined the heel stable known as The Nexus on the main roster. Wyatt was taken off TV and sent to Florida Championship Wrestling, which was then WWE developmental, in 2011. He returned with Erick Rowan and the late Luke Harper as the Wyatt Family in 2012, on "NXT." Throughout his career, Wyatt engaged the WWE audience with his spooky persona, ranging from the cult leader of the Wyatt family to The Fiend character with a horrifying mask.

Terry Funk

WWE Hall of Famer Terry Funk, a legend in the hardcore wrestling sphere, died on August 23 at the age of 79. The "Funker" was reportedly wheelchair-bound and "badly crippled" prior to his death.

Funk began his wrestling career in the '60s in a tag team with his brother, Dory Funk, Jr. He broke out as a singles star in the NWA and in December of 1975, he bested Jack Brisco for the promotion's title. Funk first appeared in the WWF in 1985 and he teamed with his brother at WrestleMania II. He also competed in WCW, where he had a legendary rivalry with Ric Flair. He was a well-known name in All Japan Pro Wrestling alongside Dory. He's perhaps best known to fans as an innovator of hardcore wrestling alongside Mick Foley, with their 1995 feud that included barbed wire and more, a memory to many wrestling fans.

Funk was a pioneer in Extreme Championship Wrestling at 50 years old. He headlined the promotion's Hardcore Heaven show in 1997 before returning to the WWF as Chainsaw Charlie, partnering once again with Foley's Cactus Jack persona. His final WWE match occurred in 2006 when he teamed with Tommy Dreamer and Beulah McGillicutty to face off against Foley, Edge, and Lita. He was inducted into WWE's Hall of Fame in 2009.

Jay Briscoe

Jay Briscoe, the real-life Jamin Pugh, a legend in Ring of Honor, died at 38 years old on January 17. Briscoe died in a car accident while driving with his daughters in Delaware. According to the Delaware State Police, a woman driving a truck "failed to remain in her lane" for unknown reasons and collided with Briscoe's truck head-on. Briscoe was reportedly not wearing a seatbelt. His daughters were hospitalized but survived.

Briscoe and his brother, Mark, were 13-time ROH World Tag Team Champions and also held gold in New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Impact, Game Changer Wrestling, and more. Jay Briscoe made his wrestling debut at just 16 years old, in May 2000, wrestling with his brother in a Delaware-based promotion. The brothers, who started to call themselves "Dem Boyz," debuted as a team in ROH in 2003. They were the reigning ROH Tag Champions when Briscoe died, having captured the titles from FTR at ROH Final Battle in 2022. Jay Briscoe also held the ROH World Championship twice as a singles star. The Briscoe brothers were inducted into the ROH Hall of Fame in the augural class of 2022. 

One of the most popular and successful tag teams of the decade, fans clamored to have The Briscoe Brothers wrestle in AEW. It's been reported they were banned from wrestling for the company because Warner Bros. Discovery, who owns the channels AEW airs on, said no, despite AEW President Tony Khan's best efforts. It reportedly stemmed from previous controversial remarks made by Jay, which he had apologized for. Following his death, Briscoe was honored with a show about his legacy on AEW television and his brother now appears in ROH.

Iron Sheik

A former amateur wrestler in his home country of Iran, turned iconic star who spanned many decades of fandom, The Iron Sheik (Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri) died on June 7 at the age of 81. The master of the suplex and Camel Clutch and the longtime rival of Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter died peacefully, according to a message posted to his popular X (formerly known as Twitter) account.

Sheik made his WWWF debut in 1979 at WWE's spiritual home of Madison Square Garden. He left the company numerous times throughout his career, appearing in WCCW, AWA, NWA, and WCW. In 1991, Sheik returned to the WWF under the name Col. Mustafa. Sheik had a storied career that included such notable events from winning the WWF Championship in 1983 from Bob Backlund, to a tag title run with Nikolai Volkoff in 1985, and finally to one of the most famous matches in history against Hulk Hogan in 1984 where Sheik lost the championship, and helped launch the career of Hulk Hogan. His last match in the company was at WrestleMania X-Seven, where he appeared in a one-off to win a Gimmick Battle Royal. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005. Sheik's official X account, whether the legend was ever behind it or not, continues to berate Hogan to this day.

Billy Graham

The year 2023 also saw the loss of "Superstar" Billy Graham, who passed away at the age of 79 on May 17. The WWE Hall of Famer suffered from many health issues for well over a year before his passing. The star had undergone a liver transplant after being diagnosed with liver disease and cirrhosis. He had also suffered heart failure. He contracted the COVID-19 virus, an ear infection that spread to his skull, renal failure, and more before being taken off life support. News of his passing was shared on social media by fellow legend Ric Flair.

Graham debuted in WWE when it was still known as the World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) in 1975. He won the WWWF Championship from Bruno Sammartino in 1977 and held the title for 10 months, a move WWE calls "the longest reign for any ring villain in WWE history to this day." While that was his only title during his time with the WWWF, he gained gold in many other promotions throughout his career. He briefly returned to the WWF in the late 1980s and was also a broadcaster and manager in addition to his wrestling career. His influence inspired the likes of Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Scott Steiner, and even Hulk Hogan. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004.

Bushwhacker Butch

WWE Hall of Famer "Bushwhacker" Butch (Bob Miller) died at the age of 78 on April 2 following a brief illness and a stay in intensive care after arriving in Los Angeles for a WrestleMania appearance. His death was announced by the daughter of his longtime tag team partner, "Bushwhacker" Luke on Instagram, and Luke also confirmed the news to TMZ. His death was reportedly caused by forgetting to pack medication for high blood pressure during his travels.

Luke broke into the business alongside his best friend in the 1960s, wrestling in their native country of New Zealand. The pair would eventually venture to American soil and the NWA under the name The Sheepherders, where they were known for their wild wrestling style and often violent bloodbaths. They won several championships in the NWA before heading to the WWF at the end of 1988, and calling themselves The Bushwhackers. They competed at multiple WrestleManias and even ventured into pop culture, wrestling on an episode of "Family Matters." The Bushwhackers were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.

Droz

Another tragic passing in 2023, former WWF and ECW star Darren "Droz" Drozdov passed away at the age of 54 from natural causes on June 30. Droz went to the WWF after a career in the NFL. He debuted in the company in 1998 with a gimmick that saw him throwing up, but he's best remembered for his time in The Legion of Doom, which culminated in a memorable segment that saw him take part in an angle where Hawk was pushed from the titantron. 

He also spent time in ECW in 1998. Droz's in-ring career sadly ended following an accident during an untelevised portion of an October 1999 episode of "WWF SmackDown" in a match with D'Lo Brown. During the match, Droz landed on his head, breaking two vertebrae in his neck, paralyzing him from the neck down. A statement from his family following his death focused on the positives of his life, praising him for living life to the fullest following the accident.

Lanny Poffo

"The Genius" Lanny Poffo died at age 68 of congestive heart failure on February 2. The news was announced by "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan on Instagram, and Poffo's cause of death at the time was unknown. 

Poffo was also known in the WWF as "Leaping" Lanny. His career began in the territories in the 1970s in different NWA promotions, as well as in International Championship Wrestling, a company originally owned by his father, Angelo Poffo. Poffo was in the WWF from 1985 to 1992. He joined his brother "Macho Man" Randy Savage in WCW in the mid-1990s, however, he never had a televised match. He didn't wrestle his final match until January 2020 when he appeared for Survival Championship Wrestling. Poffo also appeared on an episode of AEW in 2020 during a tribute to the legends of Memphis wrestling. "The Genius" was known for his heel poetry in the ring, but also for his work in books outside, including a biography comic book, as well as an anti-smoking poetry book aimed at children.

Jerry Jarrett

Legendary wrestling promoter Jerry Jarrett died at the age of 80 on February 14 after battling esophageal cancer. The news was initially announced by longtime Continental Wrestling Association wrestler Dutch Mantell on Twitter.

Jarrett was best known for founding the Memphis-based CWA alongside Jerry "The King" Lawler in 1977. He worked as both a wrestler as well as a promoter, making his in-ring debut for NWA Mid-America in 1969. He retired from in-ring competition in 1988, but competed in a few matches for the United States Wrestling Association, of which he also promoted, in 1993 and 1995. Jarrett went on to become a 15-time NWA Mid-America Southern Tag Team Champion. He also spent years doing consulting work with both WCW and the WWF. In 2002, Jarrett and his son Jeff co-founded Total Nonstop Action (TNA). Jarrett was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 2018.

Mike Mantaur Halac

Once known as one of the WWF's most absurd characters, Mike "Mantaur" Halac died peacefully in his sleep on July 11, according to his daughter, at the age of 55. His daughter said Halac was no longer in pain after falling and injuring his back earlier in the day. The news was also announced by Eric Simms of ESS Promotions on social media, as he had booked the star to appear at an upcoming event.

Halac was once known and perhaps achieved his greatest fame as Mantaur, a dead on arrival gimmick during the WWF's New Generation era. Mantaur was billed as half-man and half-beast upon debuting in the World Wrestling Federation in late 1994. He was briefly managed by Jim Cornette. When the gimmick was dropped, Halac returned to the WWF as a member of The Truth Commission stable and he was known as Tank in 1997. He also competed as Bruiser Mastino in ECW and appeared only once in WCW in a dark match.

Absolute Andy

Andreas Ullmann, better known as the German wrestling star Absolute Andy, tragically died in his sleep at the age of 40 on November 23. It was announced he "lost his long battle against [an undisclosed] illness" by German promotion Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw). In a statement, the promotion said he "fell asleep in the presence of his wife."

Ullmann was GWP World Champion two times and held wXw tag team gold five times over 330 matches for the promotion. He took over as Director of Sports in 2020. He wrestled his final match in January 2022. He vacated the wXw Shotgun Championship in March due to illness. The star faced the likes of Bryan Danielson, as well as GUNTHER while with the promotion. WWE's GUNTHER mourned the loss of Ullmann on social media. The two last faced off in the 30-man ShortCut to the Top match in 2019.

Comments