By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 19, 2007

Second in a series

The news Monday that yet another professional wrestler had died at a relatively young age made headlines across the country.

But to Marc Mero, who has led an effort to clean up the business, it was just another name on a morbid list of wrestlers who have failed to reach the age of 50.

That’s not to say Mero wasn’t saddened to hear about the passing of Brian “Crush” Adams, who was found dead at his home in Tampa, not that far from Orlando where Mero runs a high-end gym. Mero had talked to Adams a couple of weeks earlier, and the 6-6, 300-pounder sounded in good spirits, asking to come down and see Mero’s facility.

The cause of the 44-year-old wrestler’s death remains a mystery, and further tests have been ordered following an autopsy.

Mero hastened that it would be too early to speculate, but he couldn’t help but wonder if his friend had fallen victim to a disturbing trend in the wrestling profession.

“Who knows how he died, but it seems to be the typical MO of ‘a wrestler found dead.’ And he was one of the guys I was closer to, and it’s just like, here we go again,” says Mero.

Adams had a history of steroids, having been arrested in 1995 on charges of illegal possession of steroids and weapons while living in Hawaii, which led to his WWE release.

Mero, like many, believe a number of elements – not just steroids – were involved in the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide in June. Steroids, painkillers, depression all likely played a part. But, he says, they’re all by-products of a business that has a high mortality rate.

“Welcome to the world of professional wrestling,” says Mero. “It’s not one particular thing. It’s the wrestling cocktail.”

Mero, who retired from the business several years ago, recently spoke with a forensic psychologist and his wife, a toxicologist, who told him alcohol, which was found near Benoit’s body, and Xanax, which was found in his system, can be a very unpredictable combination.

“Some people can go sleep, and some people can absolutely freak out. They don’t even remember what they did. And obviously mixing this with steroids and pain medication … your body is only wired a certain way, and it can short-circuit.”

Mero still struggles trying to comprehend how Benoit, who he wrestled many times in WCW, could have killed his wife and 7-year-old son.

“It is one of the most baffling things. We all know he loved his son. What caused him to go over the edge and snap like that? One thing we don’t talk a lot about is depression. There are many wrestlers who are depressed. I remember once thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’ve got all this money in the bank, everywhere I go people are going to recognize me,’ and you try to find happiness through other means. It’s a very, very strange life. There are guys who can do it, and those who can’t.”

The media, he says, put an emphasis on steroids because it seemed to be the most sensational hook to the story.

Chris Benoit -

Chris Benoit

“They jumped on the steroid bandwagon since it was a double murder-suicide,” says Mero, who adds that WWE’s explanation of what constitutes steroids makes little sense. “The testosterone they’re talking about … we would have loved to have gotten our hands on that. Now when you get it from your doctor, it’s not called steroids, it’s called ‘hormone replacement.’ I only wish there had been doctors back then, although there were doctors doing it illegally.”

“I don’t see these problems that much in baseball or football with doctors prescribing because they don’t get to pass go and collect $200 like they do in WWE,” he adds. “So if we really tighten up the drug program and change the testosterone level from 10/1 to 4/1 like in the other sports and you get to retake it, and if you produce a prescription from your doctor, you pass it. That’s something I think will take care of itself.”

Benoit’s personal physician, Dr. Phil Astin, was charged with providing more than a million doses of prescription drugs and steroids – in just two years – to patients other than Benoit. A federal agent’s affidavit said Astin prescribed a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids to Benoit every three to four weeks between May 2006 and May 2007.

“We really have to get down to these doctors because that’s bad,” says Mero. “Some of them are writing scripts over the Internet. They need to give them some strict penalties. I think because of Dr. Astin coming to light, a lot of doctors are getting real worried, and I guarantee you that a lot of pictures of professional wrestlers on the walls of doctors’ offices throughout the country have been taken down.”

United we stand

Mero has heard his share of criticism from the naysayers.

They claim he hasn’t been in a WWE locker room in eight years. Or that he wasn’t a major star. Some say he’s doing it just for publicity.

Mero owns a personal training studio in Orlando that caters to top athletes and entertainers. He scoffs at suggestions that he’s taking his high-profile stance to drum up business and cash in on the publicity.

He says most of his clientele is from a 10-mile radius and, in fact, he’s probably losing business due to the time taken away from his facility to travel for interviews. “I don’t get paid one cent for one interview. I don’t even have them pick me up in a car. I drive myself to these things.”

Mero has answers for all his critics. He makes it clear, though, that his main objective is affecting change in an industry that he says is sick. He wants the dying to stop and wrestlers to be afforded basic employee rights and benefits.

The majority of responses has been very positive, he says, although some are from those still in the business and don’t want to come out in support of Mero. He understands their dilemma.

Some of the criticism has even come from those who basically want the same thing: a cleaner, healthier wrestling industry with a level playing field for all.

Former WCW and WWE performer Lance Storm recently bashed Mero for taking steroids to make it in the business, claiming that Mero was perpetuating the very drug problems that he was trying to stop, and that he took steroids to get a job he didn’t deserve.

“I have no bones to pick with Lance Storm,” replies Mero. “He kind of called me out, and that’s fine. But as for taking the job away from someone more deserving, I believe with all my heart that if I wasn’t the guy to get that spot, the guy right behind me was doing the same thing. That was a time in the business when steroids were very prevalent. Not that they’re not now – they’re just called ‘hormone replacement’ now. Back then we knew it was illegal to take them. We didn’t get them from the doctor. We got them from the black market.”

As for his place in the wrestling business, says Mero, “WCW writers thought I was good enough to be a three-time WCW television champion. Vince McMahon thought I was good enough to be their Intercontinental champion. When I met Vince, he gave me one of the first guaranteed contracts in WWE history in 1996.”

Mero says he was in line for an even bigger push.

“They were considering putting the world strap on me right away, but you know what happened coming in with my ex (Rena “Sable” Mero). Part of the storyline after I blew out my knee was that she gets the rocket pack on her. I was the fall guy. But who cared? The Brinks truck was backed up to our house. It didn’t matter. Look at Ric Flair. He’s probably done more jobs than anybody. When people say I wasn’t talented or never was anybody, I’m doing what the storyline tells us to do.”

Mero says he wrote Storm back and urged him to work together.

“Instead of arguing, let’s work together to save future superstars. United we stand, divided we fall. Instead of attacking me, let’s look at the positive and see how we can work together. We’re both trying to do the same thing.”

Former WCW boss Eric Bischoff, with whom Mero shared a contentious relationship during his run as the brash and outlandish Johnny B. Badd, also has taken shots. Bischoff included Mero in a group with other vocal critics such as Debra Marshall and Lanny Poffo, likening them to “a bunch of addicts at a crack festival, trying to become the spokesperson for an industry in which they have been irrelevant for years.”

“If it were not for the painful circumstances surrounding this issue, these three would have a regular gig on Saturday Night Live,” Bischoff posted in a recent blog. “Hopefully accurate information will come out soon that will allow for a meaningful discourse surrounding this issue. In the meantime, somebody get the hook and get these clowns off the stage.”

“Perhaps Marc Mero and his Botox-laden face will fill up the screen and wave his list just one more time,” Bischoff added.

Mero laughs at the remarks.

“They can attack me all they want. I live a great life. I feel young and I like to look young. Hey, I’m guilty, but he’s a good guy to cast the first stone. But let’s look for solutions. Let’s move on. I still like Eric, and I’d still have a beer with him in a bar, but not the Gold Club,” jokes Mero, alluding to Bischoff’s court testimony in 2001 on his role in alleged sex shenanigans at the posh Atlanta strip club.