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Umaga Latest Wrestler to Die Young


Edward Fatu, better known as Umaga, died today at age 36 of a heart attack, according to his family. The former World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) intercontinental champion was discovered by his wife at home, not breathing and with blood coming out of his nose, before he was rushed to the hospital.

Umaga was an American Samoan who was trained by his uncles, the Wild Samoans Afa and Sika. He first wrestled for the WWE using the same Jamal before adopting the name Umaga. He was the main draw for WrestleMania 23 in 2007, which was the biggest selling paid-per-view event in the history of wrestling.

Umaga’s demise at such a young age draws attention to the fact that an unusual number of professional US wrestlers do not live to see 40 or 50. One reason may be drug use. Umaga was fired by the WWE in June 2009 for violating their drug-testing policy for a second time and refusing to under rehabilitation. Drug use among wrestlers, including steroids, alcohol, painkillers, and illicit drugs, is not uncommon and may contribute to their early deaths.

According to Lance Evers, a semi-retired wrestler who commented for the Heraldsun.com in July 2007, “From my 17 years in the business, I know probably 40 to 45 wrestlers who dropped dead before they were 50.”

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Bam Bam Bigelow was only 45 when he consumed a deadly mixture of cocaine and benzodiazepine, which cause his heart to stop in January 2007. Davey Boy Smith, nicknamed the “British Bulldog,” died in 2002 at age 39 from heart failure reportedly caused by steroid use.

Eddie Guerrero (Eduardo Gory Guerrero Llanes) died at age 38 in 2005 after suffering acute heart failure. Guerrero had had a history of alcohol and painkiller abuse. During his career he had wrestled in many venues, including Extreme Championship Wresting and the WWE.

In 2007, 40-year-old pro wrestler Chris Benoit (“The Canadian Crippler”) strangled his wife, suffocated his seven-year-old son, and then hung himself. Investigators found anabolic steroids in the Benoit home, bodybuilding drugs that can cause paranoia, depression, and explosive emotional outbursts called “roid rage.”

Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig was only 44 when he was found dead of a cocaine overdose in February 2003 in Florida. His father also blamed steroids and painkillers for his son’s death. Curt Hennig wrestled for, among others, the American Wrestling Association, World Championship Wrestling, and the WWE (then the World Wrestling Federation, WWF).

In December 2005, the WWE instituted random drug testing to detect illicit drugs, steroids, and prescription drug abuse among its wrestlers after the death of Eddie Guerrero. The early demise of wrestlers still continues, however, as demonstrated not only by the death of Umaga but many others. Wrestlers who perform for the WWE or any other organization seem to be at risk of alcohol, steroid, prescription medication, and illicit drug abuse. Because much of a wrestler’s income depends on how often they compete, use of drugs can help those who are injured to continue wrestling. These abuses, along with rigorous travel and training schedules, appear to contribute to or cause an undue number of early deaths among wrestlers.

ESPN, Dec. 5, 2005
Heraldsun.com.au July 2, 2007
The Sun, Dec. 4, 2009
World Wrestling Entertainment