By Mike Mooneyham

Dec. 30, 2007

The pro wrestling industry will not soon forget 2007.

Never before in the history of the business has one story garnered such mainstream attention as the Chris Benoit double murder-suicide in late June. It was a gruesome, grisly tragedy that far transcended professional wrestling, yet its link to the business added another dimension that made the story even more sensational.

The face of pro wrestling would forever change the day the 40-year-old Benoit, wife Nancy and 7-year-old son Daniel were found dead in their suburban Atlanta home. The wrestler, who had been universally respected for years as one of the most accomplished performers in the business, took his own life by hanging himself after strangling his wife and suffocating his son. Bibles were placed near the bodies. The horrific incident drew a staggering level of public interest in the days and weeks that followed.

The story opened the floodgates for serious discussion and action concerning a number of hot-button topics including steroids, painkillers, concussions and congressional hearings. Benoit’s extensive use of steroids and prescription medication exposed loopholes in WWE’s drug-testing policy and drew media scrutiny.

The ramifications of the Benoit rampage are still being felt, and most likely will for years to come.

A nasty legal battle is expected in the wake of WWE’s recent rejection of a deal offered by Benoit’s estate. WWE has adamantly insisted that it had absolutely nothing to do with the Benoit tragedy, and balked at paying $2 million to Benoit’s two surviving children from a previous marriage. The Benoit estate would have renounced any future claims against WWE in exchange for the settlement.

Chris and Nancy Benoit

Chris and Nancy Benoit

Medical experts in September detailed the many concussions Benoit suffered over the years while performing. The tests showed that Benoit’s brain was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. The research team claimed the damage was the result of a lifetime of chronic concussions and head trauma suffered while Benoit was in the wrestling ring.

Michael Benoit, overseeing his son’s estate, alleges the WWE knew of the head injuries, but failed to provide treatment to any of their performers or much-needed rest. He believes years of head trauma his son suffered while in the ring contributed to the killings.

“Had the WWE taken the slightest interest in its wrestlers – before it became the object of the interest of district attorneys and Congress – there is little doubt that Chris Benoit and his family would still be with us today,” Cary Ichter, Michael Benoit’s Atlanta-based attorney, recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Despite the overwhelmingly negative publicity, WWE has weathered the storm, finishing the year strong with plans for major worldwide expansion in 2008.

– Among those celebrating birthdays last week were Bill “Masked Superstar” Eadie (60), Bill Goldberg (41), Joanie “Chyna” Laurer (38), Dennis “Mideon” Knight (39) and Lanny “The Genius” Poffo (53).

– Among the many wrestling personalities we said goodbye to in 2007: Harry “Cowboy” Lang (Jan. 4, age 56); Cocoa Samoa (Ulualoaiga Onosai Tuaolo Emelio) (Jan. 9, age 62); Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow (Jan. 19, age 45); Bob Luce (Feb. 8, age 70); Jim Melby (Feb. 11, age 57); Mike Awesome (Mike Alfonso) (Feb. 17, age 42); Ray “Thunder” Stern (Walter Bookbinder) (March 6, age 76); Bad News Brown/Allen (Allen Coage) (March 6, age 63); Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd (March 11, age 68); Arnold “Golden Boy” Skaaland (March 13, age 82); Abe Coleman (March 22, age 101); Harold “Sonny” Meyers (May 7, age 83); Ferrin “Sandy” Barr (June 2, age 69); Sensational Sherri Martel (Sherri Russell) (June 15, age 49); Princess Tona Tamah (Tona Ford) (June 15, age 72); Nancy “Woman” Benoit) (June 22, age 43); Chris Benoit (June 24, age 40); Biff Wellington (Shayne Bower) (June 24, age 42); Moondog Nathan (Nathan Brian Randolph) (July 4, age 37); John “Eliminator” Kronus (George B. Caiazzo) (July 18, age 38); Ronnie P. Gossett (July 23, age 63); Tor Kamata (McRonald Kamaka) (July 23, age 70); Karl Gotch (Karl Charles Istaz) (July 28, age 82); Frank Butcher (Francisco Garcia) (Aug. 2, age 84); Bronko Lubich (Sandor Lupsity) (Aug. 11, age 81); Brian “Crush” Adams (Aug. 13, age 43); Dewey “Missing Link” Robertson (Aug. 16, age 68); Frank Fozo (Aug. 23, age 79); Karloff Lagarde (Carlos de Lucio Lagarde) (Sept. 1, age 79); Billy Darnell (Sept. 7, age 81); Enrique Torres (Sept. 10, age 85); Zack Murray (Sept. 23, age 61); Sean “Shocker” Evans (Oct. 2, age 36); Rey “The Great Kabooki” Urbano (Oct. 16); Lillian “The Fabulous Moolah” Ellison (Nov. 2, age 84); El Gran Markus (Juan Chavarria Galicia) (Nov. 15, age 68); Dave “Angel of Death” Sheldon (Nov. 24, age 54).

An upcoming column will take an in-depth look at one of those legends who left an indelible mark in the tag-team rich Carolinas territory during the ’60s.