I’m having a creative block at work, so I am taking a break. And knowing I am the only one that reads this allows me to just write about things without any sort of self-consciousness about the subject matter or delivery.
Last night, I got a call from a friend back in Pittsburgh while I was driving out to see my girlfriend. He tells me he is watching Monday Night RAW and they announced that the wrestler Chris Benoit had died. I say “No, you must be kidding. They are running an angle that Mr. McMahon had died, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Benoit.” But I was wrong. In real life, Benoit, along with his wife and child had died.
For wrestling fans, it is always tough when a wrestler dies. There is a fuzzy gray line between where a character ends and the human being behind the character begins. WWE so often incorporates real events in a person’s life into that person’s character (Eddie Guerrero’s battles with drugs, Kurt Angle’s gold medals and reconstructive surgery, &c.,) that you end up emotionally attached to the person as well as the character. If one of the actors on Heroes were to die in real life, I’d consider it a tragedy, but I wouldn’t care all that much because who I was connected with was the character, not the actor.
Two years ago, wrestler Eddie Guerrero died in his prime, from complications of a life of drug use. He was clean at the time. The WWE had a tribute to him, inducting him posthumously into their Hall of Fame. Everyone loved Eddie. He was a good family man and a great wrestler. He was always one of my personal favorites. You rooted for him, not just because of his character but because of what he overcame in life.
They spun the Chris Benoit tribute on RAW the same way. They canceled the normal event that night and recorded live in a completed empty arena. Big hulking men broke down on camera telling the world that Chris was an inspiration to them, that he loved nothing more than wrestling and being with his family. And that pulled at my heart strings as well. Here was another great man, cut in his prime and we would never get to see him perform his trade again except in excerpts from the past.
But now details are starting to emerge that Benoit and his families death is a murder-suicide. OK, I think, well that starts to make sense, but why would his wife do that? Benoit was a no-show at a Pay-Per-View event where he was supposed to win the ECW World Championship. Why would he do that? The announcers said he left for “personal reasons”. Then I realize my assumption that I believed his wife was the murderer. I had this image of Benoit as this hard-working blue-collar man that was honest and true, the character that he portrayed to WWE fans and apparently to everyone he knew.
As more details emerge, the story becomes more bizarre. The aforelinked article claims that Benoit came home Saturday, killed his wife, killed his son the following day, sent some disturbing text messages to WWE officials and then took his own life in his weight room yesterday. My image of Benoit the man instantly changes from a hard working, likable character to a cold murderer and it is frankly, hard to believe. It is one thing to think of a man that you believed you knew killing his wife in a rage, but it is another to think of him killing his innocent seven year old son a day later in a likely premeditated way. If that’s the case, he isn’t reminiscing with Eddie in heaven right now, I’ll tell you that much.
It is hard to blame the WWE for running the tribute last night. They didn’t know the details either and nothing has been proven. But what remains in the future is an interesting ethical dilemma. How do they refer to Benoit? Do they even show clips of his matches? Do they even mention he existed? Does the character of Benoit the man affect the portrayal of Benoit the character? Will there be outrage if they induct Benoit into their hall of fame like they did with Eddie Guerrero? Are they inducting men or characters into the Hall of Fame? No other business must deal with this distinction.
He may have been the best damn wrestler of all time, but no one remembers OJ Simpson’s football or broadcasting accomplishments anymore either.