On June 24, 2007, Chris Benoit ended his life after murdering his wife Nancy and son Daniel over the course of the weekend. After a firestorm of media frenzy, all that is left is for those who were directly affected – fans and the wrestling fraternity – to reflect on the tragedy that will be known about forever.
“Everybody was shocked. It is very sad. It hurts always more when you find out it is one of your peers, and Chris was such a good, calm funny guy. There are some people when they are sick they do things, and that is why the WWE has taken the lead on taking care of wrestlers and make sure they have help if they need it,” Sylvain Grenier, who at the time was part of the WWE, said. “It helps the next generation of wrestler because we have to react and try and understand what happened. We all feel concern and guilty about it but we all can change something about it to make it better.”
Former WWE Diva Terri Runnels was out of the business for several years before the tragedy, but knew Benoit and considered him a friend.
”I got pulled in to several interviews, which at the time I was happy to do but the more I was misquoted I started saying no to interviews. That really pissed me off being misquoted as saying something against my wrestling brothers. To this day I still think there is something that I and most people never knew about. I don’t get it. It is one thing to fly off the handle and have a roid rage and another to do what he did. I have seen roid rage many times in my life and that is not what that was. Chris was such an intensely private human being, maybe he even hid them from his wife. No one knew what he was going through. All I know is the person I knew, there is absolutely no way he could have done that to his child and wife. I know it happened, but I can’t make sense of it happening.”
“It saddens me. It is a tragedy, and everybody has their own thoughts and ideas. The only person that really knows what went on there and why is the good lord above. It is a sad, sad situation. I feel terrible for anybody involved especially the children, all of them,” said Al Snow. “You have got to assume it is something bigger then wrestling. The biggest victims would be Chris, Nancy and their son, and Chris’ other children. They lost their father and now have to live with this horrible thing. The other victims are his family, his mother and father, Nancy’s mother and father. We the wrestling community all suffered but nowhere near what those people are going through, they have to live with this for the rest of their lives. We are just going to have to remember it and go ‘that was bad.’ Any empathy or sympathy should go out to the three of them and their family.”
In November of 2007, Chris Jericho spoke candidly about his thoughts on the tragedy with SLAM! Wrestling. Those thoughts haven’t changed, he says.
“Why would they? One year anniversary, two week anniversary, 75 day anniversary, it isn’t something you want to mark on any calendar. It is something that stays with you for the rest of your life. I don’t put any stock into the anniversary of it because my thoughts haven’t changed since the day it happened and never will change.”
All four wrestlers I spoke to for this piece continue to remember the positives of the Chris Benoit they knew.
“Chris was born in La Salle, Quebec and spoke French really well. Many times in the ring when we were wrestling he was talking to me in French, which shocked me at first but helped me out a lot,” recalled Grenier. “He was a great guy, great competitor and was very hard working and a great dad and good loving husband. Sometimes things happen and people get sick and need help. If they don’t get it at the right time then sad things happen. I think we should all learn from it and look at the good times because life is short.”
“I was one of those people who went back to my room, ordered room service, and go to bed I didn’t party. There were times where Chris and I would have dinner in the hotel restaurant after the show, strictly friendship, and him being a good soul. I would sit there and dump some things on him and he was so gracious. He was not only that way with me but so many of the young guys. He was like a father, literally, to a lot of them. I would challenge you to find someone who could say a negative word about it,” said Runnels.
The tragedy quickly became a media circus, with wrestlers like Marc Mero, Chyna, Lex Luger and many others speaking out against the wrestling industry, and many uninformed critics targeting Vince McMahon, WWE, and the wrestling business.
“I hated the fact that they wanted to blame that on Vince McMahon. To me again, yes he needs to be responsible when it comes down to giving the boys enough days off and letting them be with their families, which he was doing before the Benoit thing happened,” said Runnels. “Let’s just say Chris had worked at IBM and did what he did, you couldn’t blame IBM for their employee’s actions. I don’t think you can blame Vince McMahon for problems that Chris had that nobody knew about. I don’t see that as probable or fair.”
“I understand that we as a society tends to jump on a conclusions when something so terrible happens and everyone jumped on the steroid train. I think the reason that everybody does is because it is such a terrible situation that we do everything we can to try and come up with an understanding or reason for it and then we can distance ourselves from it. We can say ‘it was steroids, and I don’t do steroids so that will never happen to me or my family,’” added Snow. “I can tell you that there was probably a lot more going on there. Anything I would say or anyone else would say would be an assumption and a speculation and I don’t want to make the same mistake that so many make these days by assuming or speculating on a public forum and then stating it as fact. I certainly have no clue and no way of knowing why. It is a tragedy for everybody. EVERYBODY. It is easy to demonize and come up with a reason so you can then justify in your mind that it will never happen to you, and it is never that simple.”
Snow was the head trainer in WWE developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling at the time, and had to deal with the tough task of trying to answer students questions about the circumstances surrounding the death of someone they respected.
“It was hard. What do you say? Basically what I said just now is what I told them. It was hard on everybody. The only entity that knows what was going on is God and I am not going to presume I know more then him or her. If you are in a public spotlight for anything people love to see you succeed, but they love even more to see you fail and love to see dirt get thrown on somebody. That is just the society we live in.”
“Because it was a hot topic, steroids, nobody really understands it. It happens to normal people, it just happens from time to time. When I was studying about it and learning about it, I talked to a psychiatrist and learned it is never just one reason, it is a combination of things that set off a chain reaction of events and a domino effect. I am smart enough to know that, most people that were involved in the situation were jumping to conclusions, because that is what people do,” said Jericho. “People legitimately cared for about ten minutes then moved on to the next thing. I live with this every day of my life so I have a different mindset and I am not interested in debating it with anybody because I know what I feel and know what I know. That is one of the things, when it was going on and everyone and their mother felt they had to get up and say their piece, most of those opinions were just plain asinine in my opinion.”
Although one would hesitate to use the word positive to describe anything coming out of this tragedy, its impact has been felt on the industry in a way that will hopefully protect the current generation of stars from making the mistakes of their predecessors.