Home > Uncategorized > The Circumstances Surrounding (and Fallout of) the Benoit Family Tragedy

The Circumstances Surrounding (and Fallout of) the Benoit Family Tragedy

Amidst some sensationalistic and wildly inaccurate reporting of the Benoit Family Tragedy which has overshadowed some of the more legitimate points raised by the mainstream news media, in the past several days we’ve learned more about the man and his life in the past several years that sheds at least some light on this situation.

I won’t go too much into the mainstream news media’s coverage of the event other than to say that the difference between coverage on the cable news networks (including trying to make a story that wasn’t there about the edit of a Wikipedia entry and FoxNews/Bill O’Reilly’s insinuation that Kevin Sullivan may have had something to do with this and the recent death of Sherri “Sensational Sherri” Martel) and the print media is like night and day. As much as people may point to the print media for its fall from grace in the past decade or so – some of which is deserved – for the most part the coverage has ranged from very fair to excellent.

Before I continue, I need to note a few things.

Much of the information compiled in this entry was attained from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, columnist Alex Marvez, and Bryan Alvarez of Figure 4 Weekly. Links to the Wrestling Observer site (which includes tons of information as it pertains to this story) and F4W are included on my regular lists link on the main page of my LiveJournal.

Despite what’s come to light in the past several days and all the mitigating factors that may have contributed to Chris Benoit’s decision to take the lives of his wife and child before taking his own, it can’t be said enough that no one thing can push somebody to commit such a horrible act, nor does it alleviate them of any responsibility. In previewing the next issue of his Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer put it best:

“I believe that while in the end, there is no way to not be outraged at the situation, nor any valid excuse whatsoever, you will see what is a very complex, sad and horrifying story. I don’t believe it’s a roid rage story. I don’t rule out steroids being one of numerous aspects that could have played a part in the story. There were numerous stresses, personal, professional, and Chris had a dark side.”

Those last five words are very important, and I can’t stress enough how much I agree with Meltzer on that specific point.

We could (and most likely will) debate for years as to whether certain factors contributed to the events that occurred and/or brought this out of a man who had been described by both friends and acquaintances as a mild-mannered and highly professional individual. Make no mistake, however, that he did indeed have this in him to commit such an awful act – drugs, concussions, and stresses aside.

You could read into the philosophical aspect of that statement and make the argument that perhaps all of us have it in us somewhere to do terrible, terrible things. I’m willing to acknowledge that possibility and any points one may present about what this might say about human nature, and I surely wouldn’t discount it as a talking point as it relates to this story. I will, however, say this for a certainty: in the case of Chris Benoit, he made a choice. There are plenty of people who have their own demons, stresses, and damage to deal with; many have all three in some form or another. The fact that we don’t see this as a regular occurrence in our immediate day to day lives (by which I mean our immediate environment rather than what might happen half a world away at any given moment) says something about the type of person that Chris Benoit either was or had allowed himself to become.

With that out of the way, let’s get to some of those factors that were mentioned.

One of the many revelations in the wake of this tragedy was that Chris Benoit and wife Nancy had been having difficulties stretching back at least four years. Court documents revealed that in 2003, Nancy had not only filed divorce papers but also sought an order of protection. They ultimately decided to work things out, and Nancy quickly dropped both requests.

It’s not known to what extent their marriage had experienced difficulties either before or after the court documents from 2003. There were no reports of domestic violence (in Atlanta or elsewhere) as it relates to Chris and Nancy on file, and the only known item on Chris’s criminal record was a DUI arrest in 1998. The documentation from Nancy’s divorce filing and request for an order of protection reveal that Benoit at times either threatened violence or committed acts such as destruction of furniture at the home that made Nancy feel threatened on a physical level. While it’s worth noting that direct physical abuse to Nancy was threatened but never acted upon, that doesn’t mean that it didn’t actually happen. The events described in court documents indicate an abusive relationship, and as most people will tell you, those on the abused end of a relationship are not always apt to report such things. It doesn’t help that Benoit was a relatively quiet man who did not confide in many individuals, and when he did would not go into such specifics.

What we do know is that there were two specific points of contention that over the past several years had put a strain on Chris and Nancy’s relationship. One was his steroid abuse, which I’ll get into later.

The other involved the care of their seven-year-old son. Daniel was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome (a condition similar to autism – more information can be found here) at a very young age. Additionally, many who knew Chris and his family have noted that Daniel was a very small child, even for his age, which indicates that the child was having difficulty in physical development in addition to the mental and emotional impairments that come with the disorder.

It’s also been revealed that a large topic of discussion in the weeks (and possibly months) leading up to the murder pertained specifically to the need for increased care for the child. It had become clear to his parents, most likely through specific medical diagnoses, that they were going to have to increase the amount of direct care and supervision. This revelation would have been a hard pill to swallow for Chris Benoit, in as much that while all impressions given were that he cared deeply for his family, his primary passion was in his work.

A professional wrestler at Benoit’s level works a very hectic schedule. Without factoring in the days for travel, Benoit was working upwards of 200+ dates a year. Somebody with as much misguided dedication to the industry would certainly not want to hear anything pertaining to missing dates or asking for time off. Benoit had already asked for (and been given) time off last Summer to “re-charge his batteries,” which other than the nearly one year he missed due to a broken neck (which then only prevented him from working due to it quite literally being a physical impossibility) was the only instance wherein he had taken significant time off. Benoit had already made a concession to take time off the previous Summer, and wasn’t about to make any more. Some might call it passion and dedication while others would be more likely to label it an unhealthy obsession. In hindsight, and knowing what we now know, perhaps it’s the latter view that’s a bit more apt as it pertains to Benoit.

Professional wrestling is a business that calls for men and women to do unnatural and unhealthy things to their bodies on a regular basis. Combined with the specific style that Benoit employed, it’s no surprise that he had become so chemically dependent on a variety of substances just to be able to function. Even without wrestling the physically demanding style of Chris Benoit, it’s a line of work that can have some very serious ramifications on a person’s physical and mental well-being, let alone the years it takes off a person’s life.

And it’s not as if Benoit didn’t have some very clear examples of the toll the industry takes.

Within 7 weeks in late 2005 and early 2006 alone, Benoit lost three individuals with whom he had a very close association. One such individual was Victor Mar, a former wrestler and booking agent for New Japan Pro Wrestling whom had been described as Benoit’s closest confidant in Japan. The second was Johnny Grunge, one-half of Public Enemy, a tag team that worked in ECW, WCW, and WWE and with whom Benoit had a close association. Benoit, who was not known for having much in terms of a sense of humor, found in Grunge one of the very few people who could actually make him laugh on a regular basis.

But overshadowing both in terms of the ramifications on Benoit’s life was the passing of Eddy Guerrero in November of 2005.

Guerrero came from a family where wrestling was a tradition. Debuting in 1987, just two years after Benoit’s debut, Guerrero established a name for himself in Mexico and Japan before getting his first exposure in the United States with Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling. It was at this time where the friendship between himself and Chris Benoit blossomed. They worked together in ECW, were subsequently picked up by WCW within very close proximity of each other, and along with two others left WCW simultaneously to sign with WWE.

To say that the two developed a close relationship due to working together so extensively would not only be a gross understaement, but operating under a misunderstanding of the very nature of the industry. Doing as many shows and as much travelling as they did, individuals working in the business come to see the other men and women in the lockerroom as a second family. At times, the line becomes so blurred that it’s necessary to take a step back to re-evaluate priorities when it comes to a person’s actual family and the adopted family they’ve acquired on the road. Former WWF Champion Bret Hart has spoken of this in the past, noting specifically that at one point he allowed the WWF “family” to overshadow his duties and responsibilities to his own wife and children.

Guerrero struggled with demons pertaining specifically to alcohol and drug abuse. There were stretches of time where Guerrero was unemployed due to either erratic behavior or the need to get himself clean. It took him fifteen years, but Guerrero had finally reached a point where he realized he was about to lose everything. He cleaned himself up, found God, and was able to salvage his marriage and his family. Unfortunately, while the mind and the spirit is willing to forgive, the body isn’t. Years of recreational drug abuse combined with regular use of performance enhancers (anabolic steroids and HGH) took its toll in a fatal manner. With his internal organs enlarged to what was described in the autopsy report as a “morbid” degree (specifically his heart) and the damage done by the sort of good times that always catch up with you, Eddy’s heart literally gave out one November morning.

For everything that Eddy Guerrero had in stage charisma, he had double in personable charisma. Anybody who had ever been in a lockerroom with Eddy described him as a person who was not just a good friend, but a sort of guidling light that helped numerous individuals through some of their hardest patches. With his great sense of humor and an open and warm demeanor, Eddy developed a very personal relationship with almost everyone he came into contact with, and his death had a traumatic effect on even the most passing of acquaintances in WWE and elsewhere.

Everybody took his death hard, but nobody – not even his nephew Chavo Guerrero – was as dismayed by Eddy’s passing as Chris Benoit.

Chris Benoit’s general demeanor has been described as mild-mannered and respectful, but he was also a man who didn’t open up to very many people. Benoit was a very insular person when it came to personal matters and expression of his emotions. The one person outside of his family (and maybe even including his family) with whom Benoit confided anything and everything in was Eddy Guerrero.

When nephew Chavo Guerrero found Eddy dead on his bathroom floor, the first person he went to was Chris Benoit. Chavo has told the story before (most recently on the three-hour tribute to Benoit that WWE put on the air Monday night before they learned all the details of the tragedy) that when he told Benoit that Eddy had passed away, Benoit fell apart. He sobbed heavily, wept uncontrollably, and was wholly inconsolable.

In losing Eddy, Benoit didn’t just lose his best friend in the business. He lost, in a very real sense, his spiritual and human center. Guerrero was Benoit’s primary support system with whom he would approach with any and all troubles he had been experiencing. It was a combination of Eddy’s natural openness, the close relationship they had developed over the years, and the fact that Benoit knew very well that Eddy had been through some exceedingly difficult times in his own life. The two men were – without melodrama or hyperbole – kindred spirits.

Some time after Eddy’s passing, Benoit revealed to wrestling journalist and columnist Bryan Alvarez that he kept a diary. He wrote in the diary daily in the format of letters to Eddy. He said that he completely understood that Eddy couldn’t read them, but it was the only way he knew to cope with many of the troubles that had arisen in his life. In hindsight, it’s a sad and telling aspect of Benoit’s state of mind in the almost two years following Eddy’s passing. One can’t help but wonder what he wrote to Eddy in the days leading up to last weekend, or perhaps more importantly if he wrote in the diary at all.

While many would take Eddy’s passing and the circumstances surrounding it as equal parts tragedy and cautionary tale, Benoit instead actually increased the amount of drugs he ingested into his system. It’s clear to anybody that such an incident should lead an individual to decrease or eliminate their intake of the substances that ultimately led to Guerrero passing before his fortieth birthday. Clearly, Benoit was not a rational individual, nor did he have the ability to think clearly when it came to dealing with loss or day to day life.

One of the aspects receiving the most coverage from the mainstream media is the possible influence that steroids had on Benoit’s state of mind. The term “roid rage” has been tossed around like candy this week, appearing in headlines and blurbs scrawling across television screens across the nation.

It is and isn’t warranted. The term “roid rage” deals specifically with sudden and unexpected outbursts of anger and aggression. However, the manner in which the murders were committed (specifically the bounding of Nancy’s hands and feet before Benoit asphyxiated her with a cable and the two Bibles he placed by both bodies) and the time that had elapsed indicate that while steroids are perhaps a legitimate point of discussion, the use of the phrase “roid rage” is technically a misnomer and more than anything reveals a lack of understanding of steroids as it pertains to the mainstream media’s knowledge of the issue.

Although several outlets have reported his height as 5’11”, which was in keeping with WWE’s company policy of billing guys as being slightly larger than they actually are, he was actually only about 5’8″. In an industry where size is in most cases considered of the utmost importance in marketing a professional wrestler (especially in the heavily size-driven WWE), an individual at 5’8″ has to not only be at completely higher level than everybody else in wrestling to even make it to the national stage, but also has to take unnatural (and dangerous) measures to increase size muscle mass. Chris Benoit was unnaturally big for a man his height. Reports have him ranging anywhere from 220 to 250 pounds with less than 10% body fat. No amount of working out can allow a person to attain that much muscle mass naturally, and it certainly becomes even more of an impossibility when travel is factored in.

Chris Benoit used steroids heavily from the moment he entered the business. Whereas most guys who are labeled as “roid freaks” cycle regularly, Chris Benoit would forego cycling entirely and straight up regularly injected steroids into his body. Benoit went so far as to continue his heavy and regular steroid use while recovering from neck surgery due to his fear of shrinking in size while in recovery. We can only speculate what amount of damage he did to himself with that particular lapse in judgment and sanity.

As more knowledge is attained as to the long-term effects of steroids, it becomes clear that it has a very real and very negative effect on a person’s physiology and mental state regardless of outward appearances. However, there’s another side-effect to the rigors of the industry that isn’t getting nearly as much coverage, though it’s clear that more attention is definitely warranted.

One of the bigger stories in sports as a whole the past year or two has been the research conducted on the long-term physical and psychological effects of what’s now known as PCS (Post Concussion Syndrome). Harvard graduate and former WWE roster member Chris Nowinski, who was forced into very early retirement as a direct result of a serious concussion suffered after receiving a kick to the head during a match, has been spearheading a campaign that has received very serious consideration and coverage from ESPN and Sports Illustrated.

In 2006, Chris wrote and published Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, which shed more light on the very serious problem of multiple untreated concussions and the adverse affects it has on a person’s health and state of mind. Additional research has indicated that the long-term effects of concussions are much more serious than anybody had previously thought.

In particular, Chris and his book received praise and attention after the suicide of former New York Giants player Andre Waters. Waters, whose suicide was as sudden as it was shocking to those who knew him, is suspected to be a direct result of damage and trauma to his brain from numerous concussions he incurred during his career. A study of his brain found that Waters, who was in his early forties, had damage to his brain equivalent to that of an 87-year-old man in the very advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. The more we learn about concussions, the more clearer a picture it paints as it pertains to professional athletes and wrestlers whose behavior over time becomes erratic to the point of making them a danger to themselves and potentially to others as well.

Nowinski himself has personally requested to view Benoit’s brain. Initially he was shot down by the Atlanta Coroner’s Office, although now that the autopsy has been moved up to the State level and more understanding of the issue has been achieved, it seems more likely that Nowisnki (or somebody else with equitable knowledge of the concussion crisis) will get to take a look at his brain. Additionally, it’s assumed that there will be a full nerological examination on the body of Chris Benoit to determine if brain trauma might have been a factor in the killings.

As is the case with steroids, it is very well known that Chris Benoit suffered several concussions throughout his career, and it’s VERY likely that there was some serious damage done as a result. Benoit’s offense included several moves that involved direct impact to his head on the mat, and he was also known to be the only guy on WWE’s roster who was willing to take unprotected chair shots to the back of the head. You don’t need to know much about the growing issue of concussions specifically to know that this is not necessarily the best thing for a person’s brain.

One of the things to watch out for as direct media coverage of the murders dies down in the ensuing weeks is to see what aspects of the story contribute to other stories that are growing in awareness and seriousness. And it’s not just limited specifically to concussions and steroids.

As mentioned previously in this post and elsewhere, there’s growing awareness in the mainstream media of what those following professional wrestling for years have termed as an epidemic. Professional wrestlers, particularly those that have been active in the last twenty years, are encountering an increasingly great deal of difficulty in making it 50 and in many cases 40 years of age. The reasons for this are outlined above. Additionally, there has been a culture of heavy recreational drug use that reached its apex in the late 80s and early 90s. While recreational use of amphetamines and cocaine is not as prevalent as it was even ten to fifteen years ago, there is still a crisis in regards to this and other drug-related issues that requires further action and addressing. It’s not known how or to what extent the events of the past week will affect WWE and the industry as a whole, but there’s definitely going to be changes (for better or for worse).

Legitimate questions are being raised by reporters, fans, and investors in terms of the neutering of WWE’s Wellness Policy since its inception in late 2005. The Wellness Policy was enacted after the death of Guerrero to address concerns the company had over the short-term and long-term affects of drug use and cardiovascular issues in its performers. It was announced that they would start issuing random drug tests that were to be administered by an independent agency.

At first, it was evident just from watching WWE television that the policy was being enforced. Guys were shrinking or disappearing for months at a time from WWE’s television programs and house shows as a result of drug test failures. Within a few months, however, it became apparent that WWE had lapsed in its execution and enforcement of the policy. Without getting too much into it, a telling example is that while the Olympics require a person’s testosterone levels be at a 6:1 ratio, WWE’s requirement is at a 10:1 ratio. A normal human being’s testosterone levels should ideally be at a 1:1 ratio, which says something about how much of a joke it is when WWE insists that its performers are testing “negative” for steroids.

To talk in depth about WWE’s failure create a consistently effective Wellness Policy would take up even more time than I’ve already contributed to this entry. The long and the short of it is that regardless of the autopsy and toxicology results, there’s going to have to be some very real changes, and WWE specifically is going to be held accountable for those changes. It’s interesting in that while it was a great boost to their business in terms of creating more capital to work with, Vince McMahon may end up regretting the decision to take WWE public. Enough investors have already raised questions over the past several years as to WWE’s Wellness Policy that it had become a concern, but with the continued coverage of this event there’s no denying that it’s a problem that if not immediately addressed is going to put WWE as a whole in some very real financial danger.

There are many more aspects to this story and much more to write about in terms of the effects it has had not only on the collective psyche of professional wrestling and its fans, but on the future of the industry in North America. There will, I’m sure, be a time within the next several months where more will be written about it from my end.

The long and the short of it, for now, is this – regardless of the circumstances and possible influences that all of the above factors (and others I haven’t even touched on) may have had on Chris Benoit’s mental state leading into last weekend, it all comes down to the choices he made. Chris Benoit chose to continue working at the rate he worked. He chose to put the business before his family. He chose to use steroids, use them at the rate that he did, and continue using them despite the negative side-effects and concerns from his wife and friends. He chose to work an unnecessarily stiff style, and chose to do things such as take unprotected chair shots to the back of his head. He chose not to take more time off, and he chose to keep going well past the point where he should have stopped. Even if we are to accept that steroids, concussions, stresses, and pressures played a part in the Benoit family tragedy, it doesn’t alleviate him of responsibility. Not only the responsibility that ultimately falls on him for the murders he committed, but also the responsibility for his physical and mental state due to poor choices he’s made over the last 22 years (and particularly the last five).

Every avenue and every approach just leads to more questions, more tragedy, and more concerns on a number of levels. I do hope, however, that some of you reading this at least have a bit more of an understanding. Not necessarily as to WHY this happened – no matter how much evidence we get we may never get the answer to that one – but at least what this industry does to people and what it can eventually drive them to do.

Messages from and conversations with friends who read this LJ on a regular basis indicates that this entry is far more likely to be read than any other entry I’ve written about professional wrestling. Even if that’s not the case, that isn’t really my purpose for writing it. I can say that I hope people at least get a clearer understanding of the industry – and the fact that it’s a killer – and the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. In reality, I wrote this more for myself than for anyone who might read it.

The past several days have been so strange and confusing that quite honestly, I didn’t even know where to start in terms of writing about it. Hell, even with as much as I’ve written now, it only provides a fleeting glimpse at the surface of this story and all subsequent stories that will inevitably arise from it. I don’t know when I’ll be able to start watching wrestling again. It may be tomorrow, it may be next week, it make take a month or months. I honestly don’t know.

I do know this, however: I’ll never be comfortable watching a Benoit match ever again, and there’s a part of me that even when I’m able to watch wrestling, will never fully recover from this tragedy and all the issues that have served as a reminder to myself and so many wrestling fans that this industry is, indeed, a killer.

More later…

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  1. July 1, 2007 at 2:03 am

    It’s probably a moot point to speak about how WWE should go from this point on…

    But it’d be in WWE’s best interest to take less of an emphasis on the unnaturally huge guys.

    Personally, I’d love if they accented the Wellness Policy by making a monumental push with guys like the Hardyz, London and Kendrick, and many other smaller guys, who could not even be in consideration to be using steroids.

    CM Punk, of course, would be a prime candidate, with the whole “straight edge” lifestyle thing.

    They need to base their product around making the meatheads less desired, to show they don’t want the drugs around anymore.

    Of course… that would mean Vince might hafta tone down a bit.

  2. July 1, 2007 at 4:47 pm

    I’m really glad you wrote this.

  3. Anonymous
    July 1, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    Vince is notorious for wanting muscleheads on his roster, so I guess it’s only natural for someone like Benoit to persue that kind of physique. It’t too unfortunate for words, knowing how much of an actual technician he really was. Very well said.

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