Wrestlers Who Didn't Live To Be 40

Despite the existence of kayfabe, pro wrestling is a dangerous world and many wrestlers have had their careers — and in some cases, their lives — cut short in the ring. Unfortunately, in-ring tragedy isn't the only way many of these performers have tragically died. The demands of the wrestling business have led to multiple instances of substance abuse and mental decline, often causing wrestlers to take their own lives. Outside of this, many wrestlers pass away due to accidents or natural causes, with some examples shaking the industry to its core. 

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Sadly, fans will never know the true potential the following stars could have reached, even though many of them ticked off impressive milestones before their untimely passing. Ultimately, all people can do is remember them and the impacts they made on the industry, their fans, and peers. With that in mind, here are some of the most notable examples of wrestlers who didn't live to be 40.

Crash Holly passed away at the age of 32

Crash Holly — real name Michael John Lockwood — initially made his debut for WWE in 1998, quickly forming a tag team with his kayfabe cousin, Hardcore Holly. Together, the two captured the WWF Tag Team Championships on one occasion, and even grew their family once Molly Holly joined their ranks. 

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Outside of his runs alongside his kayfabe cousins, Crash was known for 22 reigns with the WWE Hardcore Championship, falling short only to Raven, who captured the belt on 26 different occasions. This run garnered the star quite a fan following, and he was one of the most over performers in the hardcore division due to his underdog escapist antics that earned him the nickname "The Houdini of Hardcore." Crash also captured the WWE European and Light Heavyweight Championships.

In 1999, Crash married his wife, Christeena Wheeler, and the couple had one daughter. Sadly, Crash died on November 6, 2003, at the house of fellow pro wrestler Stevie Richards. Crash was found with a pool of his own vomit around his face, and empty prescription bottles and a bottle of alcohol nearby. Wheeler had filed for divorce around the time of his death, and his passing was ultimately ruled as a suicide.

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Former WWE star Test died at 33

Andrew "Test" Martin seemingly had all the traits to become a major star in WWE's Attitude Era. Despite winning the WWF Intercontinental Championship on one occasion, however, he never realized his true potential in pro wrestling. Martin was notably paired with Albert, forming the T&A tag team under the management of Trish Stratus.

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In 2004, Martin was released from WWE after a six-year tenure with the promotion, leading to a brief run on the independent circuit before returning to WWE in 2006. Unfortunately, he struggled to get over and after failing the WWE Wellness Program, Martin was suspended for 30 days and later released. Martin then made his TNA debut in 2007, teaming up with the likes of Abyss and Sting. He retired in 2008, though he wrestled a few more matches after his announced retirement date. 

Outside of wrestling, Martin struggled with substance abuse and was arrested twice on DUI charges. According to his parents, Martin had completed a rehab program in 2008. Tragically, he passed away on March 13, 2009. The official cause of death was cited as an accidental overdose of oxycodone. In the aftermath of his passing, Martin's brain tested positively tested for CTE, which could have added to the demons he was battling.

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Kerry Von Erich died at 33

The tragedy of the Von Erich family is infamous in the world of professional wrestling. Kerry Von Erich's career began all the way back in 1978, when he was only 18 years old. Von Erich then established himself before joining his brothers and feuding with many of the top stables at the time, including The Fabulous Freebirds. During his run as a singles star, Von Erich notably defeated Ric Flair, capturing the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. Von Erich found more success as a singles star over the years, and had a brief tenure in WWE as The Texas Tornado.

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Sadly, Von Erich's life was changed forever in 1986, after a motorcycle cost him his foot. He kept this information from everyone, including his colleagues, and managed to continue wrestling. Unfortunately, the pain from his amputation led to a painkiller addiction and several arrests. Von Erich's second arrest led to a heavy charge and would have resulted in lengthy jailtime. However, on February 18, 1993, the day after his arraignment, he ended his own life with a gunshot to the heart. 

Owen Hart was 34 when he passed away

Owen Hart followed the rest of his family into pro wrestling, starting his career in 1983. Early in his career, Hart often had to clash with his brother, Bret Hart, or was compared to him. Despite this, Hart eventually set himself apart, winning fan approval along the way.

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During his WWE tenure, Hart captured gold multiple times, including the Intercontinental and European Championships, as well as several runs as one half of the WWE World Tag Team Champions. He also won the King of the Ring Tournament in 1994. With all these accolades and many pushes, Hart seemed poised to eventually become a main event star to rival the legacy of the rest of his family.

In his final WWE storyline, Hart turned heel after an encounter with Dan Severn, returning as The Blue Blazer and parodying other wrestlers. During the fateful Over the Edge 1999 pay-per-view, he parodied Sting's entrance from the rafters, but his entrance gear malfunctioned and he fell 70-feet fall onto the top rope. Controversially, the show continued after he was declared dead after being transported to the hospital. Hart is survived by his wife, Martha Hart, and their two children.

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Yokozuna died at the young age of 34

Yokozuna was one of the biggest heels of his era, remembered for high-profile feuds with the likes of The Undertaker and Hulk Hogan. It's a well-known fact that Yokozuna was not Japanese, as his gimmick implied, but Samoan-American and a member of the highly acclaimed Anoaʻi family. His real name was Agatupu Rodney Anoaʻi. 

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Before his tenure with WWE, Yokozuna competed in New Japan Pro-Wrestling as the Great Kokina from 1988. He signed with WWE in 1992, initially appearing alongside his family members as a Samoan before quickly being rebranded as Yokozuna. While dominating as Yokozuna, he captured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on two occasions and reigned as one-half of the WWE Tag Team Champions with Owen Hart. He also won the 1993 Royal Rumble.

Unfortunately, Yokozuna was released in 1998. He then had a brief stint on the independent circuit, reuniting with the likes of Jake "The Snake" Roberts. On October 23, 2000, while on a wrestling tour in UK, Yokozuna passed away in his sleep due to a pulmonary edema. He is survived by his two children. 

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Despite his heel persona, Yokozuna was beloved by many of his peers. The Undertaker has claimed that his death heavily weighed on him, as the pair were close friends behind the scenes.

Brian Pillman's death at 35 ended a promising career

Brian Pillman never captured gold in WWE, but he was involved in many memorable angles during his run with the promotion. However, years before he broke into the WWE scene, Pillman established himself as "Flyin' Brian" in WCW.

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Pillman initially had a singles run in WCW, capturing the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship on two occasions. However, in 1993, he would begin a hunt for a tag team partner, ultimately creating the Hollywood Blonds alongside "Stunning" Steve Austin and winning gold on two separate occasions. After the tag team dissolved, Pillman rebranded himself as the "Loose Cannon" and eventually became a member of The Four Horsemen.

In 1997, Pillman signed with WWE and eventually feuded with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who was the face of the promotion. Infamously, during an episode of "WWE Raw," Pillman and Austin were involved in the controversial "Pillman's Got a Gun" segment, which was one of the more heated angles of the Attitude Era. Later that year, Pillman joined the Hart Foundation.

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Pillman missed his scheduled match at WWE In Your House 18: Badd Blood and was later discovered dead by hotel staff in his room, with initial reports claiming he died of a heart attack. Austin would later explain that his heart attack was caused by a undetected atherosclerotic heart disease. Pillman is survived by his wife, Melanie Pillman, and their six children, including Brian Pillman Jr./Lexis King.

Umaga died at the age of 36

The "Samoan Bulldozer," much like his cousin Yokozuna, was one of the scariest heels of his generation. Umaga is best-known for his run with the WWE, and his initial undefeated streak that established him as a major heel.

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Before he painted his face and became a ruthless machine, Umaga broke into WWE as Jamal alongside his cousin, Rosey (Matt Anoaʻi, the older brother of Roman Reigns) back in 2002. Collectively known as 3-Minute Warning, they were mainly used as enforces for Eric Bischoff, but their run together was short-lived as Umaga was released in 2003.

The former Jamal competed in TNA and All Japan Pro-Wrestling before returning to WWE 2006 as the "Samoan Bulldozer," Umaga. Despite being dominant and feared, he only captured the WWE Intercontinental Championship on two occasions. Unfortunately, Umaga was released from WWE again in 2009, due to failing the Wellness Policy and refusing to enter a rehab program. 

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Umaga's battle with substances would ultimately claim his life. On December 4, 2009, his wife found him unresponsive on their couch. He passed away at the hospital due to a combination of heart and liver disease, worsened by drug usage. Umaga is survived by his wife and four children, one being Zilla Fatu, who has since followed in his footsteps as a wrestler.

Bray Wyatt shocked the industry when he passed away at 36

Bray Wyatt's death is still fresh in the hearts and minds of many pro wrestling fans. The late WWE Superstar's legacy speaks for itself, and the outpouring of love from his fans and peers is a testament to his legendary status. However, even a personality as beloved and influential as Wyatt had a humble beginning.

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WWE fans were introduced to Wyatt when he made his "NXT" debut as Husky Harris when the brand's product was still a pseudo-game show. After his eventual elimination, he returned to WWE as a member of the Nexus, with the group receiving some main roster after feuding with John Cena and other notable stars. Wyatt later returned to "NXT" in 2012, as both he and the brand were repackaged, marking the establishment of the Wyatt Family.

Between 2012 and 2017, Wyatt wreaked havoc with his stable and even captured the WWE Championship. In 2019, Wyatt reinvented himself as "The Fiend" and became one of the company's most praised — and feared — characters. He also won the WWE Universal Championship during this time. Shockingly, Wyatt was released in 2021, only to return again in 2022 with a revamped character.

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Unfortunately, his run was cut short as Wyatt suffered from an undisclosed illness from February 2023, reportedly worsened by his bout with COVID-19. Tragically, on August 24, 2023, Wyatt passed away due to a heart attack in his sleep. He is survived by his fiancée, JoJo Offerman, their two children as well as his two children from his previous marriage.

Jay Briscoe passed away at the age of 38

Jay Briscoe and his brother, Mark, were never considered mainstream stars. However, Ring of Honor and its fans viewed The Briscoes as the heart and soul of the promotion due to their loyalty to the brand. The duo eventually gained some wider recognition when they were signed by Tony Khan's ROH and became affiliated with AEW, where Mark Briscoe is employed to this day.

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Briscoe's career began in 2000 and he initially became known for his runs in Combat Zone Wrestling, Jersey All Pro Wrestling, and ROH. Briscoe mainly competed alongside his brother, capturing the Tag Team Championships in CZW, Game Changer Wrestling, House of Glory, Impact Wrestling, NJPW, and ROH, where they won the titles on 13 different occasions. Notably, Briscoe also had a singles run in ROH, and became the ROH World Champion twice.

Unfortunately, Jay Briscoe died on January 17, 2023 after he was involved in a head-on collision with another car while driving with his daughters (who survived the accident). Briscoe is survived by his wife, three children, brother, and extended family. The wrestling world paid tribute to Briscoe following his death, indicating that he had friends and admirers across the entire industry.

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Eddie Guerrero's death at 38 is still mourned by many today

Eddie Guerrero is one wrestler who arguably passed away in his prime. "Latino Heat" was one of the biggest stars of his era, and his final tenure with WWE is often fondly recalled, even when he was a devious heel. On top of that, many of his peers continue to praise him even today, with JBL claiming that he owes his career to Guerrero

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While he started wrestling at a young age, Guerrero's career took off once he signed with WCW in the 1990s, eventually forming the Latino World Order. In 2000, Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Chris Benoit jumped to WWF forming the Radicalz stable. He would later establish his "Latino Heat" character before being released in 2001. Guerrero then had a brief stint on the indies and NJPW, before returning to WWE in 2002. This would be his final run with the promotion, leading to his most iconic feuds and capturing the WWE Championship on the same night Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship.

On November 13, 2005, Guerrero was found by his nephew, Chavo, passed out on the floor of his hotel room. By the time the ambulance arrived, Guerrero had already died from acute heart failure due to underlying atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. He is survived by his wife, Vickie Guerrero, their two daughters, and his third daughter from another relationship.

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Davey Boy Smith passed away at 39 while planning to return to wrestling

Davey Boy Smith, aka The British Bulldog, is another person in or close to the Hart Family who tragically passed away before turning 40. While Smith was never a main event star, he captured gold on many occasions and was booked as a top mid-carder. His career led to a WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2020.

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Smith originally joined the WWE in 1984 along with most of the biggest names from Stampede Wrestling. He was one half of the The British Bulldogs, a tag team formed with his cousin, The Dynamite Kid. During the '90s, Smith left WWE only to return a few years later. His final run with the promotion occurred in 1999, after he returned from a stint with WCW. During this last run with the promotion, his gimmick was reimagined, and he competed in jeans while boasting a short hairstyle.

In 2000, Smith left WWE again, taking a brief hiatus before planning his return in 2002. Unfortunately, Smith battled many demons over the years, and was addicted to prescription opiates and had many run-ins with the law. He passed away in May 2002 after suffering a fatal heart attack while on vacation with his girlfriend. He is survived by his two children, one being Davey Boy Smith Jr., who had a short run in WWE and now competes on the independent circuit.

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Shad Gaspard tragically died at 39 while saving his son

Shad Gaspard is remembered for his tenures with WWE as one-half of the Cryme Tyme tag team. The duo had moderate amounts of success on the main roster, despite never capturing gold. Gaspard and JTG were fan favorites due to their catchy theme and presentation. Unfortunately, Gaspard's history with WWE was brief and included two releases.

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Cryme Tyme made its "Raw" debut in 2006 after joining forces while still in OVW. The duo had numerous feuds with the many tag teams at the time before they were released in 2007. The two then had a brief stint on the independent circuit before returning to WWE in 2008. Unfortunately, this run would only last until 2010, as Gaspard was released from WWE on his own. He then returned to the indies, and had a brief run in Japan, before being reunited with JTG in 2014, when WWE released him as well. 

While he continued to wrestle alongside JTG until his death, Gaspard had many projects outside of wrestling, including motion capture for video games and acting. On May 17, 2020, Gaspard, his son, and other swimmers were caught in a rip current while swimming in Venice Beach. When lifeguards reached them, Gaspard instructed them to save his son. Due to this, Gaspard was swept underwater and drowned. Gaspard is survived by his wife and their son, and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2022 after posthumously receiving the Warrior Award. 

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  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

  • If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or, if you're a Service member or Veteran, by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

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