By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 12, 2007

First in a series

Marc Mero is a man on a mission.

The task, he says, is daunting, but it’s one that he’s more than ready to meet head on.

Mero is at the forefront of a campaign to clean up the wrestling industry. He never asked to be the leader of the movement, but says he’s accepted his role and the responsibility that comes with it.

The recent double murder-suicide involving Chris Benoit and his family convinced the former pro mat star that it was time to stand up and be counted.

If he can save just one more life, it will all be worth it, he says.

“I’m going to be a voice and I’m going to state my opinion and tell the truth.”

Mero, who has compiled a morbid death list over the years of opponents who have died far too young, says the business is drowning in its own excesses that include performance-enhancing drugs, painkillers and a potentially dangerous lifestyle. And nobody’s doing anything about it.

Until now.

Marc Mero

Marc Mero

Mero, who was a regular on the talk-show circuit in the weeks following the Benoit tragedy, says the recent call by a congressional committee asking WWE for documents regarding its drug-testing policy is a step in the right direction. He says if the wrestling industry can’t clean up its own mess, then maybe it’s time for Congress to step in and intervene.

“Congress is getting involved now. They’re asking for hard facts. How was Chris Benoit able to fly underneath the WWE radar for a whole year when he was getting 10 months supply (of steroids) every three or four weeks?”

Mero points to improvements made in Major League Baseball as a result of congressional hearings in 2005.

The difference in wrestling and baseball, says Mero, is that “They’re just hitting a lot more home runs. They’re not dying.”

Mero knows firsthand the less glamorous aspects of the business.

“I have one of the worst backs you’ve ever seen. My heart valve needs to be replaced. It could be something hereditary, but my doctors told me steroids definitely didn’t help it. Right now I feel great and I’m in the best shape of my life – I’m around 200 pounds and light and lean. But I was lucky.”

Mero quit using steroids in 1994 while working for WCW. His biggest problem in WWE, he says, was pain medication.

“It feels so much better to wrestle when you’re not in pain. You can have much better matches, and you can make your matches,” says Mero, who has undergone eight surgeries.

Mero sees his current challenge as a unique opportunity to make a difference.

“I’m about doing the right thing. It’s not about bashing Vince (McMahon) or bashing wrestling. I’m a millionaire because of that industry. I’m living the most amazing life. I’m actually one of the success stories that’s come out of this. And people who want to bash me and say I wasn’t a star … that doesn’t even matter. It’s not worth arguing about.”

The fact is that Mero, 47, was a star in the business during the ’90s – with WCW as the Little Richard spin-off Johnny B. Badd and with WWE as “Wildman” Marc Mero. He was good enough to win the WCW TV title on three different occasions and was given a run as the Intercontinental champ in WWE. He walked away from a guaranteed contract of $350,000 per year.

But that really doesn’t matter to Mero. What does is that he helps spread the word that changes need to be made before another name is added to his list.

Marc Mero’s Death List

Marc Mero has compiled a list of performers he wrestled during his career who have died before reaching the age of 50. Although they died of various causes (in many cases heart failure or suicide), the underlying cause for most is believed to be drug and steroid abuse.

1. Eddie Guerrero (38) 11/13/2005, heart attack/drug related

2. Davey Boy Smith (39) 5/17/2002, heart atttack/drug related

3. Rick Rude (Richard Rood) (40), 4/20/1999, drug related (GHB)

4. Curt Hennig (44), 2/10/2003, acute cocaine intoxication

5. Road Warrior Hawk (Michael Hegstrand) (45), 10/18/2003, heart attack/drug related

6. Big Boss Man (Ray Traylor) (41), 9/22/2004, heart attack

7. Hercules Hernandez (Ray Fernandez) (47), 3/6/2004, heart attack

8. The Renegade (Richard Wilson), 2/22/1999, suicide

9. Bobby Duncun Jr. (34), 1/24/2000, drug overdose

10. Johhny Grunge (Mike Durham) (39), 2/16/2006, overdose on somas

11. Mike Awesome (Michael Alphonso) (42), 2/17/2007, suicide

12. Bam Bam Bigelow (Scott Bigelow) (45), 1/19/2007, overdose on drugs

13. Terry Gordy (40), 7/16/2001, heart attack

14. Pez Whatley (54), 1/18/2005, heart attack

15. Rocco Rock (Ted Petty) (49), 9/21/2002, heart attack

16. Biff Wellington (Shayne Bower) (42), 6/20/2007, heart attack

17. Jumpin’ Joey Maggs (Joey Magliano) (37), 10/15/2006, suspected overdose

18. Chris Candido (Chris Candito) (34), 4/28/2005, complications from surgey

19. Owen Hart (34), 5/23/1999, wrestling-related accident

20. Earthquake (John Tenta) (42), 6/7/2006, cancer

21. Chris Benoit (40), 6/25/2007, suicide and two murders

22. Junkyard Dog (Sylvester Ritter) (45), 6/1/1998, car accident

23. Brian Pillman (35), 10/5/1997, heart problem complicated by drugs

24. Dick Murdoch (49), 6/15/1996, heart attack

25. Jerry “The Wall” Tuite (35), 12/5/2003, heart attack