The Tragic Death Of The Dynamite Kid

Thomas Billington, aka the Dynamite Kid, didn't exactly fit the conventional image of the professional wrestler. Measuring in at just 5'8", he was quite a bit smaller than the sport's heavy hitters like Hulk Hogan and the 7'4" colossus Andre the Giant. But he didn't let his short stature impede him in the ring. Determined to use wrestling as a means to escape his father's fate in the English coal mines, he built a strong reputation in Japan, where his feud with Tiger Mask made him a fan favorite in the 1970s. He would find additional fame by fighting alongside his real-world cousin Davey Boy Smith in the legendary tag team the British Bulldogs in the 1980s.

According to Wrestler Deaths, Dynamite and Davey Boy had some expert, high-flying skills, but "[a]s good as both men were in the ring, they used steroids in order to put on muscle mass so as to look good alongside the WWF's larger-than-life size wrestlers." With their trusty mascot, an English bulldog named Matilda, the two watched their popularity skyrocket as their muscles bulked up more and more from the steroids. But the drugs were just the beginning in a long, slow process that would ruin the Dynamite Kid's body in the latter decades of his life and most likely contribute to his tragic death in December 2018.

The Dynamite Kid broke his back during a match in 1986

That was when the first domino fell in the long, painful process that led to the Dynamite Kid's death. In a video posted to YouTube, but not televised at the time, bootleg footage reveals the Kid severely injured his back during what should have been a routine maneuver. The British Bulldogs were taking on The Magnificent Muraco and "Cowboy" Bob Orton in Hamilton, Ontario. The video features a passage from his 1999 autobiography, in which he wrote that his opponent "dropped flat on his belly, so I had to jump over him to get to the other ropes... as I jumped, literally in mid stride, I felt something go in my back."

Wrestlers should really use safe words or something, because Dynamite's opponents didn't catch on to the fact that the immobile wrestler had seriously injured himself. The Kid had to crawl to the ropes with a broken back in order to tag his partner in, just so the other two would leave him alone. He spent the rest of the match laid out on his back while the other guys duked it out for several minutes, until it finally ended. After the match Dynamite was carried out of the arena on a stretcher. Wrestler Bret Hart shared, "He blew out two discs in his back. He had to be taken to the hospital and there was talk that he would never wrestle again."

Because of that injury, the Dynamite Kid would add prescription pain killers to his drug regimen, worsening the effects of substance abuse on his body.

The Dynamite Kid continued to wrestle, but never fully regained his former glory

According to the WWE, The Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith had won the WWF Tag Team Championship in April 1986, but that back injury would make it their only title. They dropped the title to the Hart Foundation in January 1987. The Dynamite Kid was so debilitated from the injury the month before that Smith actually had to carry him to the ring. The Bulldogs parted ways in 1988, but the Kid continued to wrestle regularly until 1991. He returned to the ring one last time in 1996 for a tag team event in Japan that pitted him against his greatest nemesis, Tiger Mask. As noted in his Fandom wiki, the Dynamite Kid's body "had clearly degenerated to the point where he was practically skin and bones ... his tights were very loose." Still, he was able to take one opponent down with a piledriver to help his team win the match. But he couldn't celebrate for long. At the airport the next day, he suffered a seizure — his second since his back injury — and had to be hospitalized. 

He'd had several concussions and back and leg injuries, primarily due to his signature "Diving Dynamite Headbutt," and the Kid had to have part of a leg amputated. The Dynamite Kid, who also experienced heart problems and a stroke (via Newsweek), spent his final years confined to a wheelchair. The specific cause of his death on December 5, 2018, his 60th birthday, was never officially released.