Pro Wrestlers Who Died Before Turning 40

It's no secret that wrestling takes a toll on the body. After all, wrestlers have the same conditioning as other athletes (per Bleacher Report) and are always expected to put their bodies on the line. And it has led to an abnormal mortality rate among these childhood heroes, according to FiveThirtyEight. The commonly-known fact that wrestlers tend to die young is now as much part of wrestling lore as kayfabe. And forget about concussions and brain trauma, two of the common injuries on contact sports; the leading cause of premature death among wrestlers between 1985 and 2011 was heart disease, per BBC News. This is a direct result of the taxing nature of the wrestling industry, in which wrestlers are expected to fight several days a week with no off-season and then resort to unhealthy habits like drug use in order to cope with it.

The string of tragic deaths has initiated discussions on how to alleviate the problem. Bleacher Report has argued that maybe, just maybe, wrestlers should be granted time off. Although most of these deaths should raise questions about wrestling culture, some are unrelated. Read on to learn more about the wrestlers who have died too young.

Sara Lee

Wrestling fans were surprised when news of Sara Lee's death circulated the internet. Her mother, Terri Lee, announced the news on Facebook, and it seems as if all the wrestling world was taken aback; Lee was only 30 years old, and her cause of death was never reported. 

Her journey to wrestling began with competitive powerlifting, per CNN. She was then featured on the WWE reality show competition "Tough Enough" in 2015 and became the surprise winner after nearly being eliminated several times, reports Bleacher Report. But she was the fan-favorite, and she won $250,000 and a one-year WWE contract. She then made an appearance in the company's off-shoot NXT program and made her first match as part of a tag-team.

Lee married wrestler Westin Blake, and they had three kids together. After giving birth to a daughter in 2017, she continued wrestling training, according to Wrestling News. Many of her fellow wrestlers paid tribute to Lee on social media, including Chelsea Green, who posted happy photos of them together on Twitter. WWE wrestler Bull James then organized a GoFundMe campaign to help Blake and their children.

Owen Hart

Owen Hart's death was haunting for wrestling fans, and it once cast a shadow over WWE, raising questions about their ethics. It was May 23, 1999, and Hart was rigged up near the top of Kansas City's Kemper Arena to perform a stunt he had done before, reports CBS News. As part of his Blue Blazer entrance, Hart was supposed to descend to the catwalk, Sports Illustrated reports. But for the first time, Hart was using a quick-release harness that would allow for him to have a clean transition. However, the harness was triggered too soon, and Hart fell to his death from 78 feet in the air. Only 34 years old, he was survived by two children and his wife, Martha, who sued WWE. She believed the company had taken safety shortcuts for a stunt that professionals didn't consider safe. They eventually reached a $18 million settlement.

It had to be a traumatizing experience for, as CNN details, any one of the 16,000 fans sitting in the arena. Some mistook his body for a doll's or believed it was a scripted stunt, but the ring announcer reassured the audience that it was, in fact, real, and Hart's life was in danger. The incident occurred more than an hour into the show, but people watching on TV couldn't catch it. The program merely paused for 15 minutes before resuming, which many have considered heartless, per CBS.

Eddie Guerrero

For some WWE fans in the early aughts, the name Eddie Guerrero will conjure up good memories. But others have memories of him lying, cheating, and stealing to the top. Originally from El Paso (per El Paso Times), Guerrero began his career in Mexico and found his way to the States through Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), notes Bleacher Report. There he wrestled alongside Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho before making his way to World Championship Wrestling (WCW), where he won his first major U.S. title. In 2000, he joined WWE and had an entertaining storyline as female wrestler Chyna's love interest. It was around this time that Guerrero began struggling with an addiction to painkillers and alcohol and then separated from his wife. He was promptly released from WWE, but he managed to turn things around and was reinstated. This led to the pinnacle event of his career — his WWE Championship title in 2004.

But he wouldn't experience the glory for long. He died in 2005, and according to the autopsy report, it was due taking steroids and recreational drugs, which was bad news for his heart. He was 38 years old.

If you or anyone you know needs help 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).

Ashley Massaro

Ashley Massaro was only 39 years old when she died in 2019, reports BBC News. After being discovered in the WWE's Raw Diva Search, she earned a $250,000 one-year contract, but she went on to make a name for herself in the company from 2005 to 2008. The highlight of her career was the championship match against Melina at Wrestlemania 23. But her career wasn't able to go much further than that; Massaro died by suicide, per Yahoo! Sports. On top of that, there were many problems during Massaro's tenure. In 2006, Massaro took part in a WWE trip to Kuwait, during which Massaro said she was raped by a military doctor, via Yahoo! Sports. According to an affidavit that was made public after her death, Massaro said WWE head Vince McMahon warned her not to disclose the assault for fear it would disrupt their partnership with the U.S. military. Former wrestler Paul London said on Rene Dupree's podcast that Massaro had been repeatedly harassed by McMahon, who would bring her to tears, via Wrestling News.

Massaro also had issues from the long-term effects of concussions and took part in a class-action lawsuit against the WWE for not properly protecting her and other wrestlers from brain damage. Following her wrestling career, Massaro said she suffered from depression and memory-loss. Massaro later worked at a radio station and had a daughter, Alexa.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Perro Aguayo Jr.

If you ask pro wrestler journalist Dave Meltzer, Perro Aguayo Jr., was basically the Triple H of Mexico (via the Los Angeles Times). He was also the son of one of Mexico's most legendary luchadores, according to the Los Angeles Times. In his last fatal match, Aguayo was fighting WWE star Rey Mysterio, Jr., along with three other wrestlers (via YouTube). But in a move that proved to be fatal, Aguayo landed onto the ropes, and the resulting whiplash broke his neck. The injury triggered other health issues; it led to a cervical stroke which then led to a heart attack. Aguayo was only 35 years old when he died during the 2015 match.

A lot of attention was focused on the manner in which his injuries were treated. For 80 seconds, Aguayo lay helpless in the ring, while the match continued. While there was a doctor on staff, as well as a group of medical workers and ambulances on hand, Aguayo didn't receive immediate attention.


With a name that sounds like a nod to testosterone (per Sportscasting), a lot of assumptions can be made about Andrew "Test" Martin, and a lot of them would be right. He came onto the scene as Motley Crue's bodyguard, willing to throw fans off the stage, aligned himself with The Corporation, cozied up to the WWE CEO Vince McMahon's daughter, and then proceeded to win five championships with WCW and WWE. However, his career didn't pan out the way it could've, and despite the elaborate storylines he was given early on in his career, he mostly took part in mid-card programs, per Bleacher Report. After a second stint with WWE, he was suspended due to violations of the company's Wellness Policy after testing positive for testosterone, per ESPN. Test kept wrestling for other promotions before his death in 2009 at 33 years old, Sportscasting reports.

His cause of death was attributed to an accidental overdose of oxycodone. However, he caught the attention of noted concussion doctor Bennet Omalu, who analyzed Martin's brain posthumously. He found that Test's brain resembled that of an elderly Alzheimer's patient, ESPN reports. Before his death, Test mentioned he had eight funerals for wrestling colleagues and didn't want to have that same fate.

Kerry von Erich

Kerry Von Erich was part of a legendary family of wrestlers. Following in their father Fritz Von Erich's footsteps, Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike, and Chris became superstar wrestlers and competed in Fritz's promotion, the World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), per WWE. Kerry was the most famous and went on to compete for the WWE and won the Intercontinental Championship in 1990. But like most of his brothers, Kerry's career would be short lived, as he died at a young age.

Kerry suffered from substance abuse problems after a motorcycle accident led to his right foot being amputated, the Baltimore Sun reports. In 1992, he was sentenced to 10 years of probation for cocaine possession, but prosecutors were eager to send him to prison. Not a week after a warrant for his arrest was issued, Kerry's body was found at his father's ranch, having died by suicide. Kerry was 33 years old. His father, whose real name is Jack Adkisson, said tax problems, along with the death of his brothers, had weighed heavily on Kerry and led to depression. Four of the Von Erich brothers had already died, two of which were labeled as suicides, Oxygen explains. The string of tragedies have led people to believe the family was cursed, but their legacy will live on as one of the first successful wrestling families.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.


Umaga, with his tattooed face and 348-pound frame (per WWE), is kind of hard to forget. He came on the WWE scene in 2002, made the main roster in 2006, and was released only three years later (per Bleacher Report), but he managed to make a name for himself and participate in a few memorable fights. "The Samoan Bulldozer" put up a string of victories that could have only been ended by John Cena. His first match was against world champion Ric Flair, and he quickly racked up wins against other marquee names, but he never won a WWE Championship. He did, however, win the Intercontinental Championship two times, reports Sportscasting.

Umaga, whose real name was Eddie Fatu, was a member of the famous Anoa'i wrestling family, along with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Roman Reigns. But only six months after his stint with WWE ended, Umaga died at 36 years old. He had suffered a heart attack, which was caused by a deadly combination of painkillers and a muscle relaxant, The Columbian reports. His death initiated a discussion on the taxing demands of wrestling, notes CNN.


Along with Umaga, Yokozuna was another modern-day wrestler hailing from the Anoa'i family, reports Sportscasting. But also like Umaga, Yokozuna's career was cut short, and he died at only 34 years old. Debuting in 1992, Yokozuna set out upon a path of destruction at WWE and topped several superstars with his 6'4" and 600-pound frame, per WWE. He held the championship title two times, and the first win was one for the record books; after defeating legend Bret Hart for the title, it was taken from him only two minutes later by Hulk Hogan.

That said, Yokozuna, whose real name was Rodney Anoa'i, once didn't receive clearance for wrestling due to weighing 660 pounds, per Sportscasting. And ultimately, he remained with WWE for only five years and later explored his options elsewhere. But his independent career didn't last for long. He died in 2000 due to a pulmonary edema.

Shad Gaspard

The death of WWE star Shad Gaspard is particularly heart-wrenching. On May 17, 2020, Gaspard and his 10-year-old son went swimming at Venice Beach in Los Angeles but were caught in a deadly riptide, reports BBC News. Life guards came onto the scene but evidently could only save one, and in an act of sacrifice, Gaspard told them to save his son first. Gaspard did not survive, and he was only 39 years old.

Prior to becoming a wrestler, Gaspard was a celebrity bodyguard for Mike Tyson and Britney Spears. Once at WWE, he was known as "Da Beast" and became part of the fighting duo Cryme Tyme with wrestler JTG, per WWE. In 2009, they competed for tag team titles at SummerSlam. After leaving the promotion, Gaspard returned to his Hollywood roots and started an acting career, appearing in the 2015 film "Get Hard," per BBC News. Upon his death, he received tributes from The Rock, Dave Bautista, and Triple H, among others.

Brian Pillman

At one point of his life, Brian Pillman was a failed NFL football player who couldn't get teams to take a chance on him beyond the preseason, leaving him to find takers in the CFL, reports Bleacher Report. One of the factors holding him back was his size. He played defensive tackle, but many deemed him too small. But what held him back in one sport propelled him forward in another. Once a wrestler at WCW in 1989, with training from the storied Stu Hart up his sleeve, he developed a reputation for his in-the-air maneuvers, per WWE. People started calling him "Flyin" Brian. In 1996, Pillman took his aerial prowess and lively personality to WWE, but his time there would be short lived.

In 1997, Pillman died at 36 years old. The cause was heart disease, which may have been hereditary, per Bleacher Report. Behind the scenes, Pillman dealt with an addiction to alcohol and drugs during his wrestling career, which made it all the more impressive that he managed to pull through while he could.

Crash Holly

Crash Holly is often an overlooked member of the WWE's Attitude Era, but he was once a World Tag Team Champion as one half of the Holly cousins duo, per WWE. With his debut in 2000, Crash had a lot of spunk and used his small frame to his advantage. In fact, it was a joke between he and his cousin, Hardcore Holly, as they called themselves heavyweights despite both being smaller in size, Bleacher Report explains. Crash continued to provide comic relief through an ongoing bit after he won the 2000 WWE Hardcore Championship. Crash said that he could defend the title 24/7, no matter the location, starting a new tradition associated with the championship, WWE notes. The challenge found him trying to fight off other wrestlers at airport baggage claims, hotel rooms, and even at a circus. He eventually lost it after being hit with a trash can, notes Bleacher Report.

Crash, whose real name was Michael John Lockwood (via IMDb), later won the European Championship and the Light Heavyweight Championship, per WWE, but his career with WWE came to an end when he was released in 2003, according to Bleacher Report. In November of that year, Crash died by suicide after taking alcohol and muscle relaxants, per Bleacher Report. He was only 32 years old.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Adrian Adonis

Keith Adonis Franke, whose stage name was Adrian Adonis, had a short but memorable career as one of WWE's top villains. He came onto the wrestling scene with the American Wrestling Association (AWA) in 1979, where he won a title, and he soon joined the WWE roster, Sportscasting reports. In 1985, he made his heel persona more flamboyant, wearing pink clothing and overdone makeup. He was then called "Adorable" Adrian Adonis and used his effeminate style to antagonize others, which was quite the turn from his previous leather-jacket era. After a peak in which he fought Hulk Hogan for his championship title, Adonis was fired in 1987.

Adonis died a year later after a tragic car accident. He and three other wrestlers were driving on the Trans-Canada Highway when they suddenly swerved off the road, likely to avoid a moose, per UPI. The car landed into a brook, and three of the passengers died. Adonis was only 35 years old.

Lance Cade

Per Bleacher Report, Lance Cade came onto the scene as Shawn Michaels' protege, having been trained and given a contract by him in 1999 (via Bleacher Report). In fact, one of his biggest fights came against his former teacher, ending a career that never fully blossomed. In 2003, Cade made his WWE debut. He formed two different tag teams with Mark Jindrak and Trevor Murdoch, the latter earning him multiple tag team championships, notes the Bleacher Report. In 2008, Cade was released from his contract for reasons not fully clear, but it seemed like a comeback was on the horizon when he was rehired in 2009. However, an addiction to sleeping pills stunted that possibility, and Cade was again left without a WWE job.

In August 2010, Cade died at the tender age of 29, according to the New Haven Register. He had been suffering from an enlarged heart, possibly due to steroid or drug use. The medical examiner's report revealed that he had consumed a fatal mixture of drugs, which exacerbated his condition.