By Mike Mooneyham

July 18, 2007

Pro wrestling star Chris Benoit had elevated levels of testosterone in his system when he apparently strangled his wife, suffocated their 7-year-old son and hanged himself last month in their suburban Atlanta home, but there were no signs of additional anabolic steroids in his system, according to toxicology reports released Tuesday.

Benoit’s body contained 10 times the normal level of testosterone, which appeared to have been injected shortly before he died, as well as the anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the narcotic pain medication hydrocodone, authorities said. Dr. Kris Sperry, Georgia’s chief medical examiner, said the level of testosterone revealed nothing conclusive about the wrestler’s state of mind before his death.

“There’s no way to know how this could’ve affected Chris’ behavior,” Sperry told reporters at a press conference in Atlanta. “With respect to testosterone … there is nothing conclusive that could be said.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which performed the drug tests, said Benoit tested negative for alcohol, although an empty wine bottle and a number of beer cans were found near his body.

The tests also indicated that the couple’s son, Daniel, was likely sedated with Xanax, a common tranquilizer, before he was killed since a high level of the drug was found in the boy’s system.

Chris Benoit

Chris Benoit

Sperry said it was impossible for the tests to determine whether or not Daniel suffered from Fragile X syndrome. A WWE official had claimed the boy required growth hormones for the disorder, although surviving family members have adamantly denied that the child had such a condition.

The wrestler’s wife, Nancy, also tested positive for prescription drugs. She showed therapeutic levels of Xanax, as well as the painkillers hydrocodone and hydromorphone, in her bloodstream. It was noted that she had been recovering from major back surgery. She also was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.184, though it was unclear whether that alcohol had been produced in her body as a result of the decomposition process.

It is not known whether Benoit was responsible for giving them Xanax or the other drugs before he killed them.

Sperry said that it also wasn’t clear from the tests how frequently Benoit was using the steroid or in what dosages. Nor were the tests able to conclude whether the 40-year-old wrestler had used other performance-enhancing drugs in the past.

A large quantity of anabolic steroids had been found in the Benoit home, which fueled speculation about whether the drugs caused him to snap. Court affidavits showed that the wrestler’s personal physician, Dr. Phil Astin, had prescribed Benoit a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids every three to four weeks from May 2006 to May 2007. Astin has since been indicted for improperly prescribing drugs to two patients other than Benoit. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sperry noted that Benoit might have been taking testosterone just as easily for “testicular deficiency.” Testosterone can be used by athletes to improve performance and is considered a form of doping in some sports.

Fayette County (Ga.) District Attorney Scott Ballard said he is satisfied Benoit is responsible for the deaths. Police said Benoit first killed his 43-year-old wife, who died of asphyxiation, and later killed his son as he lay in bed, hours before Benoit hung himself with a cord on his weight machine.

WWE, meanwhile, continued to downplay the steroids angle and trumpeted its drug-testing plan as a credible deterrent to the abuse of banned drugs.

“WWE understands that the toxicology reports for Chris Benoit indicate that he tested positive for testosterone and negative for anabolic steroids,” WWE said in a press release Tuesday. “On Mr. Benoit’s last drug test in April 2007 administered by Aegis Labs, he tested negative for anabolic steroids and for testosterone. Given the toxicology report of GBI released today, it would appear that Mr. Benoit took testosterone sometime after his April 2007 test and the time he died. WWE understands that his dealings with Dr. Astin are currently being investigated, and WWE has no knowledge of whether Dr. Astin prescribed testosterone for Mr. Benoit at some point after the April 2007 tests.

“For over 20 years, the WWE has been demonstrating our concern for the well being of our contracted athletes, instituting drug testing in 1987 leading up to our current wellness program which began on Feb. 27, 2006, administered by Dr. David L. Black of Aegis Sciences Corporation – one of the world’s foremost drug-testing authorities. We believe our wellness program is at the very least comparable to those of professional sports and is a program that will benefit WWE superstars for generations to come.”

At least one member of the WWE Board of Directors, though, isn’t sold on the company’s wellness policy. Board member Bill Bowman expressed his concerns in a recent interview with The New York Times.

“People feel something is amiss here – that’s within their right,” said Bowman, who is the chief executive of Major League Baseball Advanced Media. ” Is it the right plan? Are no corners being cut? Is there no winking going on? Those questions need to be asked and re-asked.”

The WWE policy says that a wrestler’s testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio could be as high as 10 to 1 without necessarily being considered a positive. The World Anti-Doping Agency considers it a positive test any time the ratio is 4 to 1 or higher. Bowman wondered if the thresholds for a positive steroid test should be lowered.

“Dr. Black says the thresholds are comparable to other leagues, but I don’t know if they are,” he said. “I want to know if the program is appropriate to the issues that confront us now.”

Black told the Times that WWE testing has yielded eight positives for steroids, including several wrestlers who tested positive a second time. A first positive test leads to a 30-day suspension and a second positive leads to a 60-day suspension. A third positive yields a termination. So far, no wrestler has tested positive a third time, Black said.

Benoit reportedly had tested for drugs four times as part of the wellness program and had tested negative for steroids in his last test before he murdered his wife and son. WWE has not disclosed the results of the previous three tests. Former WWE performer Lance Storm (Lance Evers) has been among those calling for an industry clean-up.

“This industry does have a drug problem and people need to start admitting it and addressing the problem at hand,” said Storm. ” I’m not saying that WWE is at fault here or that it’s roster consists of nothing but a bunch of drug-crazed pill addicts and steroid monsters, but WWE’s constant spin that they ‘put smiles on people’s faces’ and that they focus on and promote ‘entertainment’ – not ‘size’ – is a bit hard for me to stomach. I was so disappointed with the Larry King show with (John) Cena and (Chris) Jericho. Yes, WWE does put smiles on people’s faces, and yes, they will promote entertainment in addition to size, but neither of those statements have much to do with anything except changing the subject and avoiding the issue.

“In my opinion WWE needs to stand up and say, ‘Yes, drugs are a problem in our industry,’ and admit that they now realize that their wellness program isn’t doing enough. I truly believe that they implemented that program with good intentions yet they seem to defend it with half-truths and obfuscation. I think this business has been stuck in the old kayfabe era of wrestling so long that everyone still spins and denies out of habit. Steroids and pain pill addictions are a very real problem in pro wrestling as they are in society as a whole, yet no one wants to admit what at this point should be painfully obvious. Now is not the time for denial or even blame placement. Now is the time for change. Now is the time for cleaning up this business, and saving lives. The status quo isn’t working; people are dying.”