Wrestlers who die young: Has enough been done to stem the tide?

James Hellwig, a.k.a. the  Ultimate Warrior, performs for WWE Monday Night Raw on April 7, 2014. The wrestler died the next day.  (David Grunfeld/NOLA.com/AP)


The sudden death of WWE hall-of-famer James Hellwig, better known as The Ultimate Warrior, shocked the wrestling community Tuesday. The 54 year old, who was considered one of the defining fighters of his generation, now joins the tragic list of wrestlers who have died at a relatively young age.

Some observers have argued that the mortality rate among wrestlers would be considered a scandal or a crisis in other sports. Has the WWE done enough to stem the tide and protect its fighters from the dangers that have plagued the Warrior's generation?

Wrestlers only seem larger than life

Guest host Brent Bambury seeks insight from David Shoemaker, author of The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling.

Shoemaker, who also writes the provocatively-titled column Dead Wrestler of the Week, explains the toll professional wrestling takes on athletes' bodies, what the off-stage lives of the fighters are really like, and why it's especially difficult when wrestlers die shortly after fans see them on television.

"On the screen they seem to be these larger-than-life gods. To have to deal with the fact that they're mere mortals right after is heart-rending," he says, listing fighters like Eddie Guerrero, Brian Pillman and Owen Hart among those who died right after public appearances.

Brent also gets an insider perspective from wrestler-turned-concussion expert Chris Nowinski, the WWE's first Harvard alumnus. Nowinski offers insight on what the organization has done to self-regulate over the years, how he coaches young wrestlers to keep safety in mind, and whether the pressure to take steroids has truly subsided.

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