As everybody knows, 2009 was a bad year for celebrities. Among the dozens of literal casualties were Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Brittany Murphy, Natasha Richardson, Dom DeLuise, Billy Mays, Steve McNair, Walter Cronkite, Ted Kennedy, Patrick Swayze and, of course, Eddie Fatu.
OK, so I’m willing to bet you don’t know who Eddie Fatu is. That’s not much of a surprise. It might help if I told you he also went by the moniker “Umaga,” but even then, unless you’re a 13−year−old boy, I doubt you’ll have any idea who I’m talking about.
He was a professional wrestler, most notably a performer for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) for five years. He died on Dec. 4, 2009 of a heart attack at the age of 36.
But my plan is not to write specifically about Umaga, his legacy and how tragic it was that he died at an early age. Because his story, sadly, is not a unique one.
Between 1985 and 2006, 89 wrestlers died before the age of 50, according to Congressman Cliff Stearns (R−Fla.). Meanwhile, numerous wrestlers have been linked to steroid usage. (See how I phrased that? Now Vince McMahon can’t sue me for libel.)
I’m not saying that every wrestler who passed away before his time did so because of steroid abuse. But the whole situation is analogous to that of a wife smashing in the windows of her cheating husband’s car with a golf club and then the husband being found unconscious in the street — it’s pretty easy to draw your own conclusions.
Now, wrestlers obviously know the danger that they’re putting themselves into, whether they take steroids or not. Wrestling is a violent, punishing profession, and a lot of guys do it until the very end. “The Wrestler” (2008) was dead−on in its portrayal of most professionals — at least the ones not named “The Rock” or “Stone Cold” — and how their lives tend to deteriorate.
But just because the wrestlers know what danger they’re getting themselves into doesn’t mean that somebody shouldn’t look into all these suspicious deaths. If this were a real professional sport (or, rather, if it were Major League Baseball) Congress would have already had a hearing about it. And to his credit, Rep. Stearns tried his best to organize one. I guess nobody in Congress cared, because it’s not going to win them points with their voters like questioning baseball players will.
The stories of these men are numerous and tragic — there are suicides, strokes, drug overdoses. But one in particular blows you away.
Chris Benoit was a likable wrestler — no flash, no costume, just a straight−up badass. He was ripped to high heaven, and his special move, the “Crippler Crossface,” is one of the few that I still remember (maybe because the name is so awesome).
On June 25, 2007, Benoit, his wife and his seven−year−old son were found dead in his home. It was later determined that, over a three−day period, Benoit himself had committed the double−murder and suicide. His wife was bound and gagged before he strangled her, while his son was drugged with Xanax before meeting the same end. Benoit then finished himself off with a weight machine.
No motive was found for the crime, but toxicology reports stated that Benoit had anabolic steroids, among other drugs, in his system at the time of the incident.
Police said that there was not enough evidence to suggest that the steroids were in fact linked to the incident, and I’m in no position to refute that. But I’m also not an idiot. Murder−suicides don’t happen every day, and they don’t happen without a reason.
The phenomenon of wrestlers dying early needs to be investigated. And it needs to happen before there’s yet another tragedy — whether it’s as public as those of Benoit or as anonymous as Umaga.
David Heck is a senior majoring in philosophy. He can be reached at David.Heck@tufts.edu.