They say the quality of a man’s life is measured by how deeply he has touched the lives of others. Chris Candido’s untimely death on April 28 left fans, friends, and family shaken by the sudden loss of a man who brought joy to the lives of so many people.
In a posting on the USAProWrestling.net message board, Candido’s brother, Johnny, wrote that a blood clot brought on by complications from surgery to repair a dislocated ankle, a broken tibia, and a broken fibula suffered during a tag team match on TNA’s Lockdown pay-per-view on April 24 caused his brother’s death. Surgeons inserted a metal plate and screws into Candido’s leg on April 25 to help the bones heal, and one doctor even estimated that Candido would be back in the ring within six weeks. One day after his surgery, a wheelchair-bound Candido managed the Naturals to the NWA tag team championships during a television taping in Orlando. By all accounts, he appeared to be in good spirits backstage and was excited about his burgeoning on-camera role as a manager.
Lance Hoyt is honoured to have teamed with Candido in his final match, a tag team bout against Apolo and Sonny Siaki.
“The fact that I was in his last match with him, I consider that an honour. I didn’t know him that well. I knew him from TNA, and the Chris that I knew was an amazing, cool cat,” said Hoyt. “It’s sad to be in somebody’s last match. I consider it an amazing honour to at least have been out there with him for the last time he was actually in a wrestling match.”
Candido loved to help younger talent hone their skills. According to Les Thatcher, a trainer for Elite Pro Wrestling Training, Candido was particularly good with the young workers in the independent locker rooms, telling them not to make the same mistakes that he did. Candido also helped out during one of Thatcher’s training camps.
“I’m going to miss him. He was just a great friend,” said Thatcher. “If it wasn’t for his demons, he should be mentioned in the same sentence as two other Chrises, Benoit and Jericho. He loved to perform. He really did.”
Wrestling was in Candido’s blood. His grandfather, “Popeye” Chuck Richards, worked undercards for the WWWF. As a youngster, Candido accompanied his grandfather backstage, meeting legends like “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. As a teenager, Candido and his childhood friend Balls Mahoney dreamed about one day wrestling inside the very rings that they helped set up in the New Jersey area. Candido and Mahoney even trained together at Larry Sharpe’s Monster Factory before Candido debuted in Dennis Coraluzzo’s WWA promotion in the early 1990s. Candido traveled from show to show with his high school girlfriend, Tammy Sytch. Later, in Smokey Mountain Wrestling, Sytch would accompany Candido to the ring as his manager in what would become one of professional wrestling’s most famous pairings.
Former Smokey Mountain Wrestling promoter Sandy Scott was saddened by the news of Candido’s passing. He remembers Candido as a true professional, both inside and outside of the squared circle.
“He was a great performer and conducted himself well,” said Scott. “I never had problems with him. He was always a gentleman. He never got into any trouble with us. He went out there and put one hundred per cent into it. That’s all you can ask.”
Jim Cornette first booked Candido in Smokey Mountain Wrestling more than a decade ago. At the time, Cornette felt Candido was one of the brightest young stars in the business.
“I felt like that Chris was the best in the ring in the business at a young age, with the most potential, by far, of anybody,” said Cornette. “At that time, there weren’t a lot of young guys that were really good when they were still young. I had an experienced crew, and Chris just brought a whole bunch of fresh air to it. He was still in his early 20s, and had so much potential and could do so much stuff.”
Cornette calls Candido a throwback to wrestlers of years’ past. “He may have been one of the last old-time young veterans. He was really good at everything he did,” said Cornette.
Candido caught the attention of WWF brass and was signed to a contract in 1995. He debuted with Sytch as Skip and Sunny, collectively known as the Bodydonnas. Candido briefly held the WWF tag team titles with Dr. Tom Pritchard, known as Zip, before leaving the company.
Following his WWF stint, Candido headed to Extreme Championship Wrestling in October 1996. He teamed with Shane Douglas and Brian Lee in the first incarnation of the Triple Threat. Douglas was devastated to hear about the passing of a man he considered a brother.
“He was a great human being that would do anything for anybody. He’s truly one of the good guys in this business,” said Douglas. “I’m going to miss him terribly. I’m absolutely devastated by this. It’s a total understatement to say that Chris will be sorely missed.”
Between the ropes, few could match Candido’s extraordinary ability, said Douglas. “Chris was an extraordinary performer, completely underrated in this business. Truly one of the best performers I’ve ever seen in the ring. It came so easily to him. I feel sorry for the young kids in this business who won’t get the opportunity to work with and learn from him.”
In one of their final conversations, Candido revealed to Douglas how thankful he was to have the opportunity to perform on a national stage in TNA.
“The last thing we spoke about was how thankful he was that he had a job in TNA. Chris is one of those few guys who wouldn’t even bitch and complain when everyone else would. He would never join in the moaning and groaning. For that, he was refreshing to be around,” said Douglas.
Candido eventually resurfaced in WCW for a short time. Broadcaster Mike Tenay, who worked with Candido in both WCW and TNA, says Candido’s passing came as a sudden shock.
“He was so dedicated to the wrestling business and, basically, had lived his whole life to be part of the business,” said Tenay. “He was so excited to be back in the business again, and he knew that it was a chance that he couldn’t squander.”
According to Tenay, Candido was overjoyed to work for TNA during his final run.
“He was so excited about managing the Naturals. It was an opportunity to come back and be part of a national company again,” said Tenay, adding that Candido’s death was an “incredible disappointment because of everything that he had accomplished.”
After being released from the hospital on Sunday night, Candido returned to the Double Tree Hotel in Orlando to sign autographs and pose for photographs with fans.
“He was such a trooper. He didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital on Sunday night, so he went back to the hotel lobby in a wheelchair and signed autographs and took pictures with the fans,” said Tenay. “That just shows you how much he loved the wrestling business. He dedicated his life to the business.”
The wake for Chris Candido is on Monday, May 2nd, from 2 to 4 pm and 6 to 9 pm at O’Brien Funeral Home in Wall Township, NJ. (732) 449-6900. The funeral ervice is on Tuesday, May 3rd at 9:30 am St. Catharine’s Church, 215 Essex Avenue, in Spring Lake, NJ.
– with files from Greg Oliver
Top photo: Chris Candido with the headlock on Tracy Smothers, with Brian Hildebrand as the referee, and Tammy Sytch at ringside. Photo by Mike Lano, [email protected]