Road Warrior Animal passed away Wednesday. With his death, the spotlight on WWE's employment practices again takes the spotlight.
Road Warrior Animal has passed away.
In a statement released to his official Twitter page, his family confirmed that the WWE Hall of Famer—best known for his work with the Road Warriors tag-team group, where he was paired with the late Road Warrior Hawk—died Wednesday at the age of 60. An official cause of death was not immediately released, though TMZ confirmed that the wrestler (whose real name is Joseph Laurinaitis) was at the Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach, MO when he died.
While Animal’s passing is undoubtedly tragic, speculation is growing that his career in WWE may have contributed to his early demise. Why is it that so many wrestlers die so young?
Road Warrior Animal is not the first wrestler to die far before his time—and at the rate things are going, he definitely won’t be the last.
Russ Haas was the youngest WWE wrestler to die during his career. At just 27 years old, the man born Thomas Russell Haas died in December 2001 of heart failure. Louie Spicoli was another WWE wrestler who was also 27 years old when he died, in 1998, of a drug overdose.
Other WWE wrestlers who died before their time include Rick McGraw (who was 30 when he died of a heart attack), Crash Holly (who died by suicide in 2003 at the age of 32), Rodney Anoa’i (a/k/a Yokozuna, who died of a heart attack at the age of 34), and David Smith (a/k/a The British Bulldog, who didn’t even see his 40th birthday when he died of a heart attack in 2002). The list is endless. Watch the video below:
But why are wrestlers like Road Warrior Animal dying so young?
Whether we want to admit it or not, Road Warrior Animal is the rule, not the exception, when it comes to wear-and-tear on wrestlers’ bodies.
A 2014 study by Eastern Michigan University observed professional wrestlers who were active between 1985 and 2011 and found that they had a mortality rate that was nearly three times higher than the “average” person.
A similar study conducted by the BBC revealed that professional wrestlers die at a younger age than athletes from any other professional sport.
While WWE attempted to abate the surging death rate by offering the so-called “Wellness Program” beginning in 2006, owner Vince McMahon employs the wrestlers as “independent contractors,” and therefore, doesn’t have to provide them with health insurance.
This often leads to many wrestlers foregoing appropriate medical treatment when necessary. According to Adam Houck, a wrestling trainer and owner of Xtreme Wrestling Center, most of what the WWE offers as “care” is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.
And while the prevalent drug culture of the 1980s and 1990s did no favors to any wrestler, it’s ludicrous to suggest that people who work for a company all but full-time—while putting insane stresses on their physical bodies—don’t deserve basic health insurance or other employment protections.
The WWE’s contract with their wrestlers is so bad that John Oliver recently addressed it in an episode of “Late Night With John Oliver,” which you can see in the video below.
Naturally, in a statement, WWE denied Oliver’s claims:
John Oliver is clearly a clever and humorous entertainer, however the subject matter covered in his WWE segment is no laughing matter. Prior to airing, WWE responded to his producers refuting every point in his one-sided presentation. John Oliver simply ignored the facts. The health and wellness of our performers is the single most important aspect of our business, and we have a comprehensive, longstanding Talent Wellness program. We invite John Oliver to attend WrestleMania this Sunday to learn more about our company.
When asked to provide evidence that refuted Oliver’s claims, the company provided no follow-up.
Yes, wrestlers who join the WWE know what they’re getting into when they sign the contract. No amount of critique will bring Road Warrior Animal or any other wrestler who died too soon, back from the dead. However, if the WWE truly takes its well-being of its “performers” seriously, they need to do a lot more to get them the physical and emotional care that they need to perform at their best.