By Mike Mooneyham
July 2, 2007
Bruce Hart, who helped Chris Benoit break into the business more than 20 years ago at the fabled Dungeon training facility in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, said this weekend that there was another side to the wrestler who authorities say killed his wife and son before taking his own life.
Hart, son of late legendary promoter Stu Hart and brother of wrestlers Bret Hart and the late Owen Hart, told The Post and Courier that the tragedy was just the latest in a long cycle of unnecessary deaths involving pro wrestlers.
“It’s unbelievable that this kind of thing continues,” Hart said.
The 40-year-old former WWE world champion apparently strangled his wife, choked his 7-year-old son to death and placed Bibles by their bodies in their Atlanta home before hanging himself by hitching a weight machine’s cable to his neck and letting drop 240 pounds.
Hart believes Benoit followed a path which many of his colleagues had traveled. And that includes the late British Bulldog ( Davey Boy Smith), who died at the age of 39 of heart failure, and Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington), who is wheelchair-bound due to steroid abuse.
“Chris idolized Davey Boy and Dynamite Kid. They were like gods to him,” said Hart. “I got the vibe that it was getting to him in the sense that he had gone down the same path as those guys who had used steroids.”
Benoit was so enamored with the wrestling business that he convinced Hart to take him to the Hart family mansion in Calgary during the early ’80s and allow him to train at the Dungeon, the basement of the home where many aspiring wrestlers got their first taste of the wrestling business. It also was where Stu Hart, the patriarch of the famous wrestling family, tested the mettle of rookies by “stretching” them until they cried or passed out.
Hart, a wrestler, trainer and promoter, says he had last seen Benoit at his father’s funeral in 2003, and ironically it was at such somber occasions where the wrestling fraternity usually came together.
Dealing with possible changes in his status with WWE, problems at home and raising a handicapped child may all have contributed, says Hart, who has a son with cerebral palsy.
“He may have been in a mid-life crisis of sorts. There may have been many elements that came into play. There apparently was some domestic discord. He had recently hit the age of 40. The uppers and downers, steroids, injuries and possible financial constraints may have all added to it. Maybe he was told he was being phased out of the company. Some of these scenarios are possible.”
Hart said he observed similar patterns with Smith and Billington.
“I saw the same thing with Davey Boy and Dynamite Kid. There were a number of violent assaults between Davey Boy and his wife, and Dynamite and his wife. There was a lot of legitimate concern by family members and stuff that it was very possible to have a tragedy like this.”
And, for all those in utter disbelief over the gruesome killing spree, Hart said this was an outburst waiting to happen.
Benoit, says Hart, was a private, introspective individual who, according to those Hart spoke with recently, was “fragile as hell the last several months.”
Hart says he doubts if friends and colleagues of Benoit really knew what was going on in the wrestler’s personal life, “because with their egos, they’re all wrapped up in themselves.” And, he adds, they have trouble separating their ring character from real life.
“Most of the guys that I knew who were like that, like Davey and Dynamite, were all into this macho self-perception. You were a (sissy) if you showed any sign of weakness or admitted that anything was troubling you, or if you were having trouble coping with the stuff on your plate. So invariably they’re taking more pills and (stuff), drowning themselves in this kind of fog, and kind of running away from real life. But it all comes back when they’re off the pills. It’s a bad cycle that’s hard to stop when it starts to snowball.”
“You hear all these things about what a nice guy Chris was, but all of those things that I mentioned can transform a person’s personality and make them insane and out of control,” added Hart. “But I just can’t wrap my head around how he could kill his child. I think at that point he had already killed Nancy and had decided he was going to kill himself. Maybe his ego was such that he thought his kid couldn’t live without him. Maybe he thought he was doing him a favor. No kind of normal person could begin to put himself in that position. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a bunch of pills in him when he died. And hanging yourself is a hell of a way to go.”
Hart questioned the effectiveness of WWE’s “wellness” policy and drug-testing program.
“If they have a steroid-testing policy, I have a hard time believing it. All you have to do is take a look at some of the guys and take a before-and-after look. All the signs are there. I’m not a toxicologist or a pharmacist, but they’re a lot of guys in there right now who look gassed to the gills.”
Hart also criticized WWE’s decision to run a three-hour tribute to Benoit before obtaining all the details regarding the deaths.
“No one Monday night seemed to quite grasp that obvious element of the story while they were having this three-hour tribute. I think the most astonishing remark of all was Stephanie McMahon saying that Chris loved his family. That family is dead. He killed them. It boggles your mind that they couldn’t have used better discretion. It’s all hard to fathom.” Hart said major damage control is needed for WWE to recover from the media firestorm.
“I don’t know where the hell they go from here. I can imagine the outcry is going to be pretty negative. This may have had more of a damaging effect than the other tragedies – even worse than Owen,” said Hart, referring to the death of his younger brother who was killed when a stunt went awry at a WWE pay-per-view in 1999.
Hart said he believes the company should bring in a staff made up of psychologists and physicians to evaluate their wellness program.
“I’ve advocated that for years. Hire a few less divas or use the money you spent blowing up the limo, or instead of having 40 guys on the card reduce it to 15, and have a full-time counselor or doctor who monitors their health. I’m not a a big fan of the invasive Gestapo-type drug-testing. It should be doctors there with legitimate concerns about the health and welfare of the wrestlers.”
Hart said a lack of proper training has contributed to the rash of injuries in the wrestling business.
“One of the reasons there is all these problems is because a lot of these guys simply can’t wrestle. They have to revert to extremism, so they’re getting their necks broken and other major injuries doing non-wrestling things like coming off cages and doing 1,400 high spots a match. There are guys who haven’t been trained to take bumps properly constantly getting injured.”
In related developments:
– Chris Benoit will have a private service in Canada which will be separate from the services for his wife and son. Services for Nancy and Daniel Benoit most likely will be held in Daytona Beach, Fla., where her parents live. The plan is to cremate the mother and child in Georgia. The funerals of Nancy and Daniel have been postponed due to the ongoing investigation.
The parents of Nancy Benoit told the local Fox affiliate in Atlanta that they have questions about reports that their grandson had a mental disability (Fragile X syndrome). They say they spent a lot of time with Daniel, and baby-sat for him in April, and he appeared to be a normal child to them. They were not aware of any disability and he did not appear to be sick or mentally retarded.
“They loved Nancy and Daniel. It was a close family,” Paul and Maureen Toffolini said through Atlanta attorney Richard Decker.
“They knew he (Chris) was a wrestler, and a gigantic person with an almost unreal physique. I don’t think they knew anything about steroids,” said Decker.
Decker said in a story on the ESPN Web site that the family had no reason to believe there was turmoil in the Benoit home.
“None. Zero,” Decker said. “They had a normal son-in-law relationship with Chris. They didn’t treat him as a superstar, and he didn’t want to be treated as a superstar. He took out the trash, and they treated him as anyone would treat a son-in-law. (The couple) had a close and loving relationship as far as they knew.”
– The New York Daily News reported that Chris Benoit had taken the drug gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), also known as the “date-rape drug,” in the past. The report claims Benoit was an abuser known to have used the drug with former wrestler “Gentleman” Chris Adams when both competed in WCW. The newspaper quotes a source as saying they used the drug together until Adams’ death in 2001, and that Benoit used it as recently as two years ago.
The Benoit family friend, according to the report, corresponded with Nancy Benoit just weeks before her death but noticed nothing unusual. “She told me, ‘I’m driving Chris crazy, but it’s a short trip,'” the friend said. “I don’t think this is a monster acting out. I really don’t buy that.” Adams, who was indicted on manslaughter charges after his girlfriend, Linda Kaphengst, died of a GHB-alcohol overdose in April 2000, was shot to death in a scuffle with a friend in late 2001 near Dallas.
– The Georgia medical offices of Chris Benoit’s personal physician, Dr. Phil Astin, were raided by Drug Enforcement Agency agents Thursday, but the records remain sealed. Astin has stated that he has prescribed testosterone to Benoit, who had low levels attributed to rampant steroid use.