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.
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