An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published April 25, 1999
As the nation came to grips with the horror that unfolded last week at a Colorado high school, the world of professional wrestling mourned the loss of one of its own. “Ravishing” Rick Rude, whose legacy will live on every time a performer grabs a mic and yells out “Cut the music,” became the latest in an increasingly alarming and disturbing list of pro wrestlers who have died far too young.
Rude, 40, who had not wrestled since 1994 due to severe back and neck problems, died Tuesday night after his daughter found him unconscious at their suburban Atlanta home. Alpharetta police Lt. Randy Johnson said a number of empty prescription pill bottles were found near Rude’s bed, where he was observed by his mother-in-law with a light pulse and barely breathing about 5 p.m. Tuesday. He died at North Fulton Medical Center hours later. An autopsy was performed Wednesday, but results were not available from the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office. The official cause of death has not been determined pending results of a toxicology report.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Rude, whose “Rude Awakening” was once one of the top finishing maneuvers in the business, had been employed by WCW for the past year and a half in the role of manager, announcer and NWO member, but his visibility on television had been limited in recent months. Rude, a childhood friend of fellow WCW performer Curt Hennig, had appeared on recent WCW Backstage Blast programs on Direct TV. Rude abruptly left the WWF and joined WCW shortly after the infamous Bret Hart double-cross in October 1997.
The 15-year veteran collected on a disability policy after suffering a career-ending injury in a 1994 match in Japan with Sting and also received a sizable settlement from WCW as a result of his injury. Rude, who weighed in excess of 250 at the time of his death and had bulked up nearly 40 pounds over his natural weight, was planning a ring comeback with hopes of reprising his late-’80s role as a major heel in the WWF.
Rude, whose legal last name is spelled Rood, was a former WWF Intercontinental champion, WCW U.S. champion and NWA world champion.According to police Lt. Johnson, Rude had been arrested April 9 near his home in Alpharetta on a driving under the influence charge. Blood test results from that charge were pending.
Rude also made headlines when he was arrested following a disturbance in December 1997 at the Buffalo Airport Marriot in Amherst, N.Y. According to reports, two fans were involved in a confrontation with Scott Norton, with one of the fans attempting to hit Norton with a beer bottle. One fan reportedly had his nose broken by a punch thrown by Buff Bagwell, while Lex Luger suffered a black eye in the brawl. Rude, who demanded that police arrest the unruly fans, was himself the victim of a night stick and mace as officers attempted o calm him down. Rude, along with the fans, was arrested and jailed overnight.
Rude was subpoenaed in the 1994 Vince McMahon trial and testified that he used steroids to relieve joint pain and build strength. This latest death, in the wake of ESPN’s hard-hitting Outside the Lines special, undoubtedly will add fuel to the fire surrounding the link between the untimely deaths of a disproportionate number of pro wrestlers and the use of recreational drugs, painkillers and steroids.
The ESPN show focused on drug use in wrestling, chronicling the deaths of wrestlers such as Brian Pillman, Louis Spicolli, Eddie Gilbert and Art Barr, and examined the alarming impact the WWF has on children. WCW closed its dressing room to reporters following the show, and WCW boss Eric Bischoff canceled some scheduled media appearances. WWF announcer Jim Ross questioned ESPN’s motives for airing the piece. “It seems to be the Monday Night Football ratings were down because so many young males were watching Monday night wrestling,” said Ross. “And, of course, ESPN is owned by ABC – which covers Monday Night Football – and there is some speculation within the media that all ESPN is trying to do is damn sports-entertainment and turn off Monday night wrestling so that the Monday Night Football numbers will not be in as much jeopardy.
“Some of the things that were said on the ESPN piece I’m sure have a great deal of validity and are perhaps right on the money. But it certainly, in my view, was a very unfair look at the federation and the business as a whole.”
ABC, having felt the stinging effects of the Monday night wrestling war, is moving Monday Night Football back to its traditional 9 p.m. starting time after suffering the lowest ratings in the history of the show last year.
WCW, meanwhile, conducted its second straight drug test last week at Nitro. WCW also sprung a surprise test, ordered by Time Warner, the previous Thursday at Thunder. It has been speculated that the ESPN story prompted concern from higher-ups in the organization. Oregon, the only state whose athletic commission requires steroid testing as part of its drug-testing policy, is considering a bill that would take wrestling out of the jurisdiction of the athletic commission.
The legislature is expected to look at whether pro wrestling should be regulated by an athletic commission and whether wrestlers should be drug-tested by a governmental agency. It is speculated that neither WCW nor the WWF run shows in Oregon due to its stringent drug-testing policy.