One of the most tragic moments in professional wrestling history occurred on the weekend of June 22, 2007 to Chris Benoit, who was rebuilding his career as a professional wrestler after being drafted to the ECW brand. The former World Heavyweight Champion was scheduled to compete against CM Punk at the Vengeace: Night of Champions pay-per-view. However, when he did not show up, he was replaced by John Morrison.
The following night on WWE Raw, a tribute show was given from Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Entertainment roster to Benoit after finding out that he was dead. However, this was quickly removed the following days after finding out details of what happened during that dark night in Fayetteville, Georgia near Atlanta.
Chris Benoit’s Death
A shocking development began to surface that the WWE superstar was a part of a double murder-suicide, which included his wife Nancy Benoit (who went under the ring name in Extreme Championship Wrestling and World Championship Wrestling of Woman), and his 7-year-old son Daniel Benoit.
The pro wrestling world was utterly shocked as more details about the Benoit family tragedy were revealed, and WWE has blacklisted the former WCW star and Four Horsemen member ever since.
Chris Benoit murdered his wife, suffocated the couple’s 7-year-old son to death, and committed suicide by hanging himself with a weight machine cable.
Benoit’s wife Nancy Toffoloni was heavily involved in the pro wrestling scene before her relationship with Chris. The Boston, Massachusetts native broke into the business after meeting Kevin Sullivan, and she made her debut in Florida Championship Wrestling as the Fallen Angel.
After her divorce from Jim Daus, Nancy would eventually marry Sullivan and go on to manage numerous stars such as Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen, Doom (Ron Simmons and Butch Reed), The Tazmaniac, 2 Cold Scorpio, The Sandman, and others. In 1997, about 12 years into her marriage with Sullivan, Nancy starting having an affair with fellow wrestler Chris Benoit, and this eventually turned into a real-life angle with Kevin and Chris.
Chris Benoit Cause of Death
Although the Fayette County Sheriff office rendered the case closed in 2008, the Benoit tragedy remains one of the darkest moments in American pro wrestling history.
Over the years researchers have found that effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) was a major factor in his brain functioning during the time of the apparent double murders and suicide. Chris’s dad, Michael Benoit, permitted his brain to be examined. Findings concluded that Chris was suffering from “common syndrome among athletes who suffer multiple head injuries in contact sports,” (such as concussions) which included “an increased risk of depression and cognitive impairment” before he took his own life.
Additional findings were also explained.
“Mr. Benoit’s brain exhibited large amounts of abnormal Tau protein, manifested as Neurofibrillary Tangles (NFTs) and Neuropil Threads [NTs]. These represent aggregates of abnormal Tau protein, which are remnants of the cytoskeleton of the brain cells and their connections. Frequent NFTs and NTs were distributed in all regions of the brain including the neocortex, the limbic cortex, subcortical ganglia and brainstem ganglia accompanied by loss of brain cells. Accumulation of abnormal Tau protein in the form of NFTs and NTs in the brain has been confirmed to cause neurodegeneration, cognitive impairment and dementia.”
While the case is closed, this unfortunate event will remain a topic of discussion for wrestling fans and further research of brain damage for many years to come. In addition, this act has also extinguished any chance of the “Canadian Crippler” getting inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, although his pro wrestling resume would undoubtedly merit this achievement.
UPDATE: The Benoit murder-suicide is being revisited in a Vice’s wrestling documentary series The Dark Side of the Ring. It features accounts from people who knew him best, including his best friend and AEW star Chris Jericho and his late wife’s sister Sandra Toffoloni.
Chris Benoit: Dark Side of the Ring