Monday, June 25, 2007

Professional Wrestling is a Heartbreaking Thing to Watch

Yes, I know, I know. Professional wrestling, right? Already you think less of me for even breaching the topic, your eyebrows raised in surprise, because intelligent-sounding people aren't allowed to enjoy the presumed lowest common denominators of entertainment. Well, humour me on this one for a bit.

Though it comes nowhere close to the admiration and respect that the profession garners in Mexico (which is a subject I'd like to write a book about one day, albeit I'll have to learn Spanish first), professional wrestlers are received more fondly by Canadians than they might be in other countries. You may recall that Bret Hart was voted the thirty-ninth Greatest Canadian, being called back later by the CBC to serve as the television advocate for Don Cherry's nomination. His father, the late Stu Hart, was no less revered -- and Stu Hart trained an entire generation of beloved Canadian wrestlers, including seven of his eight sons. (The eighth son became a referee; Stu also had four daughters, all of whom married wrestlers.)

Now, professional wrestlers die at a seemingly disproportionate rate to the rest of the population; the rockstar life-on-the-road mentality and the obvious inherent physical toll of the job mean that in any given year at least half a dozen past and present big names die untimely and unfortunate deaths.

A lot of these deaths would appear in retrospect to be preventable; sometimes alcohol, sometimes pills, sometimes sheer physical overexertion, sometimes painkillers, and often some combination of the above. But just as many happen out of the blue, in ways nobody could have prepared for; suicides, plane crashes, early heart attacks, diabetes, fatal drops while being lowered in a harness from the ceiling.

One of the wrestlers Stu Hart trained was Chris Benoit, considered by many around the world to be the best pure wrestler in the industry. (It's referred to as the 'industry', I suppose because of the tangles in calling it the 'sport'.) Last night, Chris Benoit left a major WWE pay-per-view event on short notice to fly back to his home, citing a family medical emergency; today, not twenty-four hours later, he was found dead in his home along with his wife and son.

The entire family, dead overnight. Jesus.

It isn't easy, over the years, to stick with professional wrestling as a form of entertainment; even the most ardent supporter of the discipline will admit that it's over the top, that it doesn't make a lot of sense from an athletics perspective, that the North American storylines are incomprehensibly stupid, so on and so forth. Wrestling fans get years of practice defending the simplest of hobbies against a seemingly endless parade of critics, because watching a prearranged athletic performance is clearly less intellectually important than remaining up to date on Paris Hilton news.

All that is fine, and it comes with the territory. The worst part about enjoying professional wrestling isn't the withering scorn of your peers, the countless hours of terrible matches you have to sit through to find one or two good ones, or even the knowledge that all the loose 'storylines' are terrible because the scriptwriters seem continually incompetent. These are minor concerns.

The worst part of it all, by far, is watching and knowing that countless many of the people onscreen will be dead sooner than anybody expects.

Other people grew up with Care Bears, or with Hot Wheels, or with reruns of sitcoms that they never quite 'got' as kids to begin with; ten years from now Care Bears will still be Care Bears, Hot Wheels will still be Hot Wheels, and the later seasons of the Simpsons will still be brutally unfunny. But there were some of us -- yes! There were! -- that grew up with professional wrestlers as the faces of our childhoods. And precious little can strike you harder and faster than watching the faces of your childhood dying off rapidly -- many of them dying far too young, and many of them dying in the most unfortunate of ways.

Yes, a lot of them die ignominiously -- from steroid abuse, or from cocaine, or from fast living, or from whatever other self-inflicted end you can reconcile with the life of a wrestler. But Chris Benoit, who by all accounts lived a clean life and did his best to be a good man, left one of the WWE's biggest shows of the year when he found out that his wife and son were coughing up blood; he went home to look after his family, because that is what good men do, and now all three of them are dead for reasons we can't even begin to understand yet.

The promotions's flagship program, WWE RAW, was to air tonight as normal; all previous plans have been shelved, and tonight will likely instead be a tribute show to Benoit. It will be no less heartbreaking than the tribute show to Owen Hart, when he died unexpectedly and much too young, nor will it be less heartbreaking than the tribute show to Eddie Guerrero for the same reasons.

I'm still going to the Cadence Weapon show tonight, because I did already pay for this ticket. (Cadence Weapon is well known as a wrestling fan himself, as his album title will attest; Cadence Weapon being from Edmontown, where Benoit is a hometown hero, I'm sure he's heard the news by now.) I'll catch the reairing of tonight's show when I get home, work tomorrow be damned.

And to think that I was grumpy this morning because I missed a concert. Boy, do I feel petty now.


k2 said...

I'm watching the RAW Tribute show now, and Chavo's interview brought tears to my eyes. I'm crying for a guy I never met... because he was a Big Damn Hero and a consummate professional and he died taking care of his family.

Keith said...

I'm in shock.....

Tristan said...

I watched the tribute show, always liked Benoit back from the Four Horseman days. So many conflicting reports, he left the show to go home, he never went to the show but called in..

now, it appears, according to, he killed his wife and kid, then himself, as they state it's a murder-suicide.

That certainly makes tonight surreal. I can't imagine how the people who had such heartfelt emotions tonight are feeling right now if this is true.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was a little weird that Eddie and Chris won their first WWE titles on the same night (WM 20) and they both died. Weird right?

Keith said...

The whole his family being ill and now this double murder suicide statement sounds like whatever happened was something out of a horror movie.

Stuff is not making sense at all.

Anonymous said...

Chris Benoit killed his family.

Until the investigators say otherwise, he is not a man.

I'm not a big wrestling fan, but I did read up on some of his interviews today where he said his family was most important to him. Something obviously made him snap, and I'm sure we'll find out about it in the coming days/weeks. But there are other ways to handle situations in life than killing your family and then yourself.

Sad, sad, sad.

James Howard said...

And these are the news reports that I come back to.

(The Cadence Weapon show was lovely, by the way. Had a great time. Obviously that'll be material for a different post.)

When I left, all we knew was that something was horribly wrong and three people were dead; when I came back, Chris Benoit had been accused of murdering his family and for reasons I don't exactly understand Google had been routing everybody to here.

It's most likely that we won't find out anything concrete one way or the other for weeks -- perhaps for months -- until the official investigations are concluded; in the meantime Chris Benoit will be considered a murderer, the same way Michael Hutchence was considered a case of autoerotic asphyxiation.

He may well have killed them, yes. We don't know, and we're all equally in the dark on this one. The murder implications are preceded in the news reports by "The station (WAGA) said that investigators believe (...)", which means that we're all operating so far on the anonymous word of an unidentified television worker at a local FOX outlet.

On the other hand, it is reported that the murder instruments were found inside the house -- so if Chris Benoit didn't kill the entire family, then by elimination it means that Nancy Benoit must have. (I'm assuming for the moment that it wasn't their son Daniel. This is a kneejerk conclusion that may come back to haunt me, literally and figuratively.) And that alternative doesn't make things any better for anybody; it still means that a presumably loving spouse and parent snapped and murdered an entire house of people, and it still means that three people are dead and nobody can explain why.

The almost four hundred (!!) people that visited the site since I left for the concert aren't going to like me saying this, but it must be said: I don't have all the answers. I'm sorry, folks, but I don't know what to tell you. I really don't.

Professional wrestling is a heartbreaking thing to watch.

James Howard said...

Oh, and:

"The details, when they come out," said Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard, "are going to prove a little bizarre."

Yeah, no kidding. It's all bizarre now.

Tyler said...

With this guy being my current favourite wrestler on Television, one of my favourite Canadian wrestlers and favourite wrestlers on time, and now hearing that he may have possibly murdered his family.

This is a billion times worse than hearing that Austin was a wife beater.

Every second week, I find a reason to give up watching wrestling because it just gets more depressing. This tops them all. I'm not sure what to believe anymore.

vidstudent said...

First off, you're supposed to tell us when you dump your LJ and get a Blogger account so we can find you.

That trivial bit out of the way...whoa.

I'm not much of a wrestling patron, but I do recall a Chris Benoit match. It was him vs. Triple H, with the story being a wear-down match prior to the upcoming PPV for HypeHypeHype *coughhack*. What stood out was Mr. Benoit pretending he was Alex from Street Fighter 3 and triple-backdropping Triple H on whatever occasion felt right. He was jobbed that match, and he still looked good.

Whatever happened, sorrow and prayers follow.