The wrestlers haunting Linda McMahon

A quick guide to the dead athletes overshadowing the Connecticut Republican's senate campaign

Wrestler Lance McNaught died of heart failure earlier this month after struggling with an addiction to painkillers.
(Image credit: CC BY: never_say_uncle)

Linda McMahon, the controversial former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment, is entering politics promising to shake up Washington the same way she "tamed the traveling show world of professional wrestling." But in the days since McMahon won the Republican primary for Connecticut's Senate seat, her links to wrestling have threatened to sidetrack her campaign. First, in early August, a former pro wrestler died from heart failure, at age 29. Then another one-time WWE performer died at 48 last week. Here, a list of some of the wrestling tragedies that have shifted attention from McMahon's politics to her time at the helm of WWE:

Lance Cade

The 29-year-old Cade, real name Lance McNaught, died of heart failure in early August after struggling with an addiction to painkillers. His family has accused WWE of failing to support the young wrestler, but the company responded that it had provided medical help and support throughout his career. McNaught had been an outspoken critic of WWE's one-time "see-no-evil steroid policy." (Read The Week's opinion brief on Lance Cade here)

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Luna Vachon

Gertrude "Luna" Vachon, a 48-year-old former professional wrestler, was found dead at her Florida home last week. Prescription bottles were found at the scene. The WWE said it paid to send Vachon to rehab last year under a program for former wrestlers, but added that "stars in any form of entertainment should be held personally responsible for their own actions." Even so, says Alex Pareene at Salon, this is "probably not great news" for McMahon's campaign, coming just weeks after McNaught's death.

Owen Hart

The widow of the WWE performer, who died in the ring in 1999, is suing McMahon and her husband, Vince, for using her husband's image after his death. Hart died during an aerial stunt that went wrong at a wrestling event in Kansas City, falling 78 feet into the ring in front of thousands of fans. His family settled a wrongful death lawsuit back in 2000 for around $18 million, but the McMahons were criticized for allowing the event to continue after Hart's fatal plunge. "It should have been stopped," said Tim Baines in the Ottawa Sun, "not only out of respect for Hart, who had been so senselessly killed, but for the other wrestlers, forced to carry on."

Chris Benoit

Police say the 40-year-old wrestler strangled his wife and suffocated his son before hanging himself on a portable weight machine in June 2007. Prescribed steroids were found in Benoit's home, and, according to a toxicology report, he had high levels of testosterone in his bloodstream, leading to suspicions that the tragedy may have been linked to "roid rage." The WWE said Benoit had tested negative for drugs just two months earlier, and ruled it out as a determining factor. Pundits weren't convinced. "The Benoit situation makes it crystal clear that wrestling organizations have no regard for what their wrestlers do," said Saul Marinello at BlogCritics.

Eddie Guerrero

The 38-year-old wrestler died of heart failure in 2005. Although a coroner's report said "natural causes" were to blame, it also named Guerrero's history of steroid use as a contributing factor. Just a few months after his death, the WWE began random drug testing of its performers and instituted a "Wellness Policy" to ensure that its athletes were in peak condition. Previously, the WWE tested for drugs "only when it saw a need," and founder Vince McMahon had been accused — but later acquitted — of pressuring athletes to use steroids in 1994.

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