WWE Wrestler Death Rates Investigated

A lot of people have been talking about Benjamin Morris' 538 piece, "Are Pro Wrestlers Dying at an Unusual Rate?" Like Morris, I am neither an actuarial scientist nor a demographer. So, our interpretations of the data should be taken with a grain of salt. My results were somewhat different from Morris€™ due to a difference data set and changes in how we calculated actuarial predictions. Differences in methodology from Morris I also used Social Security Actuarial Life Tables, but my €œexpected mortality rates€ for the age groups were not the same as Morris'. For each wrestler, I calculated what their age would have been as of today. Then, based on gender, I looked up the number of lives (out of 100,000) that were expected to still be alive and converted that to a percentage. His analysis looked at wrestlers who were on 20+ WWF PPVs through 2002. I went with a lower threshold 5+ PPVs expanded through 2013. However, I did not count every single manager or person who was ever in a royal rumble/battle royal. I also relied on some analysis that I completed in 2010 where I looked at 529 WWF wrestlers from 1980 to 2010


(Based on how old a wrestler would be as of today, this compares what percentage by age/gender would be expected to have died versus how many actually have.)25 to 30 years old: 18 alive, 0 dead (actual 0.0%; expected 2.1%) 30 to 35 years old: 41 alive, 1 dead (actual 2.4%; expected 2.7%) 35 to 40 years old: 35 alive, 1 dead (actual 2.8%; expected 3.3%) 40 to 45 years old: 44 alive, 1 dead (actual 8.3%; expected 4.7%) 45 to 50 years old: 29 alive, 4 dead (actual 12.1%; expected 6.3%) 50 to 55 years old: 33 alive, 8 dead (actual 19.5%; expected 8.4%) 55 to 60 years old: 19 alive, 5 dead (actual 20.8%; expected 11.8%) 60 years and older: 23 alive, 5 dead (actual 17.9%; expected 20.6%) Combined Group: 242 alive, 28 dead (actual 10.4%; expected 7.1%)Please note: the calculation of €œexpected mortality€ in each of these age ranges was based on the specific composition of wrestlers by gender/age within the group. (For instance, the 36 wrestlers in the 35 to 40 year old bracket were 27 men, 9 women. 7 would be 35, 10 would be 36, 6 would be 37, 6 would be 38, and 7 would be 39. With a different composition of wrestlers stratified by age and gender, the €œexpected mortality rate€ for this group may be slightly lower or higher.) Similar to Morris, here€™s the summary of findings including using the binomial distribution that this is by chance:
The 50-55 age group (with 8 deaths: Bam Bam, Brian Adams, John Tenta, Davey Boy Smith, Kerry von Erich, Luna, Bossman, Warrior) has the largest variance from expectations in terms of probability with six heart/drug related deaths. Overall, the rate of deaths among wrestlers examined was about 63% higher than the expected group.

Causes of Death

The breakout of the 28 Wrestling Stars that died in the sample examined: Adrian Adonis: died July 4, 1988 (accident) Andre the Giant: died January 27, 1993 (heart) Kerry von Erich: died Feb 18, 1993 (suicide) Dino Bravo: died March 10, 1993 (murder) The Junkyard Dog: died July 2, 1998 (accident) Rick Rude: died April 20, 1999 (heart) Owen Hart: died May 23, 1999 (accident) Yokozuna: died October 23, 2000 (heart) Davey Boy Smith: died May 18, 2002 (heart) Curt Hennig: died Feb 10, 2003 (drugs) Hawk: died October 19, 2003 (heart) Crash Holly: died November 6, 2003 (suicide) Hercules Hernandez: died March 6, 2004 (heart) The Big Bossman: died September 22, 2004 (heart) Chris Candido: died April 28, 2005 (blood clot) Eddie Guerrero: died November 13, 2005 (heart) John Tenta: died June 7, 2006 (cancer) Bam Bam Bigelow: died January 19, 2007 (heart/drugs) Bad News Brown: died March 6, 2007 (heart) Chris Benoit: died June 24, 2007 (suicide) Brian Adams: died August 13, 2007 (heart) Test: died March 13, 2009 (drugs) Umaga: died December 5, 2009 (heart/drugs) Lance Cade: died August 13, 2010 (drugs) Luna: died August 27, 2010 (drugs) Randy Savage: died May 20, 2011 (heart) Viscera: died Feb 18, 2014 (heart) The Ultimate Warrior: died April 8, 2014 (heart)


We can look at each PPV year for WWF. We€™ll compare among our dataset what percentage of the wrestlers we would have expected to have passed away based on age/gender and what percentage actually has:
Looking at the specific data, we'll see that 1994 is especially high, not only because there were 9 wrestlers (41% of the 31 wrestlers) from that PPV year that have passed away, but that's greatly above the 9% (about three) that would been expected.
Because a wrestler death is "retroactive" in this chart (i.e. if a major PPV star from Wrestlemania I passes away, we'd see the affect from 1985 onwards), it's near impossible to definitively state whether the lower-than-expected trend since 2003 is indicative of a new era, or not.

Breakdown Of The Groups

Lastly, here is the breakdown of the groups. The age in parentheses is the age the wrestler would be today (for purposes of the tables). Deceased are noted by stars around the name. 25-30 Years Old AJ Lee (27.1, F), Alicia Fox (27.8, F), Big E Langston (28.1, M), Cody Rhodes (28.8, M), Dean Ambrose (28.4, M), DH Smith (27.7, M), Drew McIntyre (28.9, M), Eve Torres (29.7, F), Hornswoggle (27.9, M), Jey Uso (28.7, M), Jimmy Uso (28.7, M), JTG (29.4, M), Kaitlyn (27.5, F), Kelly Kelly (27.3, F), Kenny Dykstra (28.1, M), Roman Reigns (28.9, M), Seth Rollins (27.9, M), Zack Ryder (28.9, M) 30-35 Years Old Antonio Cesaro (33.3, M), Ashley (34.9, F), Beth Phoenix (33.4, F), Brian Kendrick (34.9, M), Brie Bella (30.4, F), Brodus Clay (34.2, M), Chris Masters (31.3, M), Damien Sandow (31.7, M), Daniel Bryan (32.9, M), Darren Young (30.5, M), David Otunga (34, M), Dolph Ziggler (33.7, M), Epico (32.1, M), Evan Bourne (31.1, M), Fandango (32.7, M), Heath Slater (30.8, M), Jack Swagger (32.1, M), Jillian Hall (33.6, F), Jimmy Yang (32.9, M), Joey Mercury (34.8, M), John Morrison (34.5, M), Justin Gabriel (33.1, M), Kofi Kingston (32.7, M), **Lance Cade (33.1, M)**, Maria (32.2, F), Maryse (31.2, F), Michael McGillicutty (34.6, M), Michelle McCool (34.2, F), Mickie James (34.6, F), Natalya (31.9, F), Paul London (34, M), Primo Colon (31.3, M), Randy Orton (34.1, M), Rene Dupree (30.3, M), Ryback (32.4, M), Shad (33.3, M), Sin Cara (31.3, M), Ted DiBiase Jr (31.4, M), The Miz (33.5, M), Trevor Murdoch (33.6, M), Tyson Kidd (33.8, M), Wade Barrett (33.7, M) 35-40 Years Old Alberto Del Rio (36.9, M), Billy Kidman (39.9, M), Bobby Lashley (37.8, M), Brock Lesnar (36.8, M), Candice Michelle (35.6, F), Carlito (35.2, M), CM Punk (35.5, M), Danny Basham (36.5, M), Elijah Burke (35.9, M), Ezekiel Jackson (36, M), Gail Kim (37.2, F), Hurricane Helms (39.8, M), Jamie Noble (37.3, M), Jeff Hardy (36.6, M), John Cena (37, M), Layla (36.8, F), Lita (39, F), Matt Hardy (39.6, M), Maven (37.4, M), Melina (35.1, F), Molly Holly (36.6, F), Mr Kennedy (38.1, M), MVP (37.5, M), Nick Dinsmore (38.3, M), Rey Mysterio (39.4, M), Rhyno (38.5, M), Rob Conway (39.4, M), Santino Marella (35.1, M), Sheamus (36.2, M), Shelton Benjamin (38.8, M), Sylvain Grenier (37.1, M), Tamina Snuka (36.3, F), **Test (39.1, M)**, Titus O'Neil (37, M), Torrie Wilson (38.7, F), Trish Stratus (38.3, F) 40-45 Years Old Ahmed Johnson (43.9, M), Brian Christopher (42.3, M), Bubba Ray Dudley (42.8, M), Charlie Haas (42.1, M), Chavo Guerrero Jr (43.5, M), **Chris Candido (42.1, M)**, Chris Jericho (43.4, M), Christian (40.4, M), Chuck Palumbo (42.9, M), Chyna (43.3, F), **Crash Holly (42.7, M)**, Dawn Marie (43.5, F), D-Lo Brown (43.5, M), Doug Basham (41.9, M), D-Von Dudley (41.7, M), Edge (40.5, M), Gene Snitsky (44.3, M), Jazz (40.6, F), Jon Heidenreich (41.8, M), Jonathan Coachman (41.7, M), Luther Reigns (42.6, M), Mark Henry (42.9, M), Matt Bloom (41.4, M), Mosh (44.9, M), Nunzio (42.1, M), Rob Van Dam (43.3, M), Ron Killings (42.3, M), Rosey (44, M), Scott Taylor (40.8, M), Sean Waltman (41.8, M), Shane McMahon (44.3, M), Spike Dudley (43.7, M), Stevie Richards (42.4, M), Super Crazy (40.4, M), Tajiri (43.6, M), Taka Michinoku (40.5, M), The Big Show (42.2, M), The Great Khali (41.6, M), The Road Dogg (44.9, M), The Rock (42, M), Thrasher (44.9, M), Tommy Dreamer (43.2, M), Triple H (44.7, M), **Umaga (41.1, M)**, Val Venis (43.1, M), Victoria (43.2, F), **Viscera (42.2, M)**, Vladimir Kozlov (42, M) 45-50 Years Old Batista (45.3, M), Booker T (49.1, M), Bradshaw (47.4, M), Brian Knobbs (50, M), Brian Lee (47.4, M), Bull Buchanan (46.3, M), **Chris Benoit (46.9, M)**, David Heath (45.2, M), Dennis Knight (45.3, M), Dustin Rhodes (45, M), **Eddie Guerrero (46.5, M)**, Glen Jacobs (47, M), Goldberg (47.3, M), Jeff Jarrett (47, M), Jerry Sags (49.8, M), Kurt Angle (45.4, M), Lance Storm (45, M), Mick Foley (48.9, M), **Owen Hart (49, M)**, Perry Saturn (47.5, M), Raven (49.6, M), Rikishi (48.4, M), Sable (46.7, F), Sabu (49.4, M), Savio Vega (49.7, M), Scorpio (48.5, M), Shawn Michaels (48.7, M), Sho Funaki (45.7, M), Steve Austin (49.3, M), Tazz (46.5, M), The Undertaker (49.1, M), William Regal (45.9, M), **Yokozuna (47.6, M)** 50-55 Years Old Al Snow (50.8, M), Animal (54.2, M), **Bam Bam Bigelow (52.6, M)**, Barry Darsow (54.5, M), Bart Gunn (50.3, M), Billy Gunn (50.4, M), Boris Zhukov (54.4, M), **Brian Adams (50, M)**, Bryan Clark (50.1, M), Charles Wright (52.9, M), **Davey Boy Smith (51.4, M)**, Dean Malenko (53.7, M), Don Harris (52.5, M), Hardcore Holly (51.2, M), Ivory (52.4, F), Jacqueline (50.3, F), Jacques Rougeau (53.9, M), **John Tenta (50.8, M)**, Ken Shamrock (50.2, M), **Kerry von Erich (54.2, M)**, Kevin Nash (54.8, M), **Luna (52.3, F)**, Marc Mero (50.8, M), Mark Canterbury (50.1, M), Marty Jannetty (52.2, M), Mike Enos (50.9, M), One Man Gang (54.2, M), Pat Tanaka (52.7, M), Paul Roma (54, M), Rick Steiner (53.1, M), Ron Harris (52.5, M), Samu (50.9, M), Scott Steiner (51.7, M), Sid Vicious (53.8, M), Steve Blackman (50.6, M), Tatanka (52.9, M), **The Big Bossman (51, M)**, **The Ultimate Warrior (54.8, M)**, The Warlord (52.1, M), Tom Prichard (54.7, M), Virgil (51.9, M) 55-60 Years Old **Adrian Adonis (59.6, M)**, Bret Hart (56.8, M), Brutus Beefcake (57, M), **Curt Hennig (56.1, M)**, Fit Finlay (55.5, M), Fred Ottman (57.7, M), Haku (55.2, M), **Hawk (57.2, M)**, **Hercules Hernandez (58, M)**, Jake Roberts (58.9, M), Jim Neidhart (59.2, M), King Kong Bundy (56.5, M), Koko B Ware (56.8, M), Lex Luger (55.9, M), Mike Rotundo (56.1, M), Raymond Rougeau (59.2, M), Rick Martel (58.1, M), **Rick Rude (55.4, M)**, Ron Simmons (55.9, M), Scott Hall (55.5, M), The Barbarian (55.6, M), The Dynamite Kid (55.4, M), Vader (58.9, M), Wayne Bloom (56.1, M) 60 Yeards Old and Above **Andre the Giant (67.9, M)**, **Bad News Brown (70.5, M)**, Bill Eadie (66.3, M), Butch Miller (69.5, M), **Dino Bravo (65.7, M)**, Don Muraco (64.6, M), Dusty Rhodes (68.5, M), Greg Valentine (62.6, M), Harley Race (71, M), Hulk Hogan (60.7, M), Jerry Lawler (64.4, M), Jim Duggan (60.3, M), Jimmy Snuka (70.9, M), Luke Williams (67.3, M), Nikolai Volkoff (66.5, M), Paul Orndorff (64.5, M), **Randy Savage (61.4, M)**, Ric Flair (65.2, M), Ricky Steamboat (61.1, M), Roddy Piper (60, M), Sgt Slaughter (65.6, M), Ted DiBiase (60.3, M), Terry Funk (69.8, M), The Honky Tonk Man (61.2, M), The Iron Sheik (71.1, M), **The Junkyard Dog (61.4, M)**, Tito Santana (60.9, M), Vince McMahon (68.7, M)

Lingering Questions

There's a lot of unanswered questions about how best to compare wrestler death against the general population. Should we compare against other sports? (At least one analyst looked at Football players and mortality and declared the result "not statistically significant".) Are wrestler deaths more likely to due drug & alcohol problems, steroid abuse, frequent concussions and the year-round/non-stop schedule? Are there issues with undiagnosed mental illness? With WWE's new wellness policy in place, will we continue to see higher than expected mortality among what would be 50 to 55 year-olds? I don't claim to have the answers. A larger study that I did a few years ago, found that 11% of the prominent wrestlers from 1980 to 2010 had died. 70% had passed away before age 50 and more than half of them were due to heart problems or drug overdoses. I also looked proximity of when the wrestler was in the WWF and when they died and found that during 1990-1994 over a fifth of the prominent wrestlers who died from that period passed away just 8.5 years after 1994 which was more wrestlers in a shorter time period as compared to previous (1980-1984, 1985-1989) and later (1995-1999, 2000-2004) timeframes. Let's hope that for the sake of these wrestlers, their fans, and the friends & family that care deeply about these people, the epidemic of young wrestler deaths can be halted.
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I'm a professional wrestling analyst, an improviser and an avid NES gamer. I live in Saint Paul, Minnesota and I'm working on my first book (#wrestlenomics). You can contact me at chris.harrington@gmail.com or on twitter (@mookieghana)