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The Woman and the Wolverine: What Happened to the Benoits?

Professional wrestler Chris Benoit, age 40, his 43-year-old wife Nancy Daus-Sullivan Benoit, and their 7-year-old son Daniel were found deceased in the Benoit’s Fayetteville, Georgia residence on Monday afternoon.

Few details were available Monday night. Fayetteville authorities were called to the Benoit residence near the Whitewater Creek country club around 2:30p.m. (EDT), where they found the couple and their child in separate rooms.

Some concrete answers to questions now flying across the pro wrestling world about the Benoits may come Tuesday, when the results from autopsies on the bodies of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel are expected to be made public.

Canadian native Benoit had established residence in the Atlanta area while he was wrestling for the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling outfit, which became defunct in 2001.

WrestlingObserver.com reported something unusual going on with Benoit on Sunday night. In this entry, Dave Meltzer simply noted that Chris Benoit was not on that evening’s broadcast of WWE’s Vengeance, that Benoit had claimed he needed to rush home to Fayetteville for ‘personal reasons’.

It was reported late on Monday that the deaths were being investigated as a double homicide and a suicide. Speaking to WAGA TV in Atlanta, Detective Bo Turner stated that the police were leaning towards a scenario where Chris Benoit had murdered his wife and child over the weekend, then committed suicide early Monday.

Nancy Benoit may have even been dead for days.

This twist in the tragic story came even as wrestling fans were posting all over the Web about their shock and dismay at the loss. On YouTube in particular there were numerous video tributes being posted to Benoit, who was known in the pro wrestling world as the “Crippler,” and sometimes as the “Rabid Wolverine.”

Nancy Benoit had been in the business for years herself. There are even fan sites devoted to her and her wrestling career.

As “Angel,” Nancy toured with wrestler Kevin Sullivan, to whom she was married at the time. According to the Wikipedia article about her, Nancy was part of a stable of wrestlers who toured with Sullivan in the late ’80s and early ’90s using a “satanist” gimmick as part of the “shows” they did across the United States.

Nancy re-invented herself in the mid-’90s, and that was when she began managing wrestlers under the simple stage name, “Woman”. She and Kevin Sullivan divorced in 1997. The Wikipedia entry states that Nancy began her relationship with Chris Benoit after they were involved in a scripted romance written by Kevin Sullivan for WCW broadcasts.

Chris Benoit first began to make waves in the wrestling world in the late ’80s. An article authored by Norman Da Costa in the Toronto (Ontario) Star in 1989 said that Benoit, then a member of the Stampede Wrestling promotions based in Calgary, was perhaps that group’s “most underrated” performer.

Benoit worked his way out of that “underrated” category, and by 2004 (according to the Wikipedia entry on Benoit), he’d won the world heavyweight championship belt. His career had lodged in the upper echelons of wrestling fame.

Along the way, though, he’d apparently had very real heartbreak to deal with.

Benoit’s original mentor in the wrestling business had been Stu Hart, father of famed wrestling brothers Bret and Owen Hart. Benoit was known to be close to Owen Hart, and he was reportedly devastated after Hart’s tragic death in May, 1999.

Then, in 2002, an old friend of Benoit’s, Davey “Boy” Smith, passed away from a heart attack that may have been related to steroid abuse. Smith was only 39 at the time.

In 2005, World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Famer Eddie Guerrero, also said to be a friend of Chris Benoit’s, passed away. Guerrero also died from heart problems, and he was the same age as Benoit.

Whether or not the untimely passing of two men who shared Benoit’s high-flying but physically and (likely) emotionally demanding career might have played into what happened in the Benoit residence in Fayetteville just isn’t known. At the moment, no one who watches the wrestling scene (and there are plenty of people doing that, in magazines and online) seems to know if Chris and Nancy were having problems in their marriage. It was surely a volatile mix — she’d been a long-time personality in her own right, yet they both went home eventually to share the parenting of a little boy who was barely out of kindergarten. Egos surely came into play as the couple juggled celebrity and the mundane.

Yet other factors that often figure into murder-suicides (if the police are correct, in this instance) would not seem to be present here. With the avid, worldwide fan following enjoyed by the WWE, surely the Benoits had no issues with money. If Chris himself were vain or narcissistic, surely the love of wrestling fans helped to assuage any insecurities or doubts that did crop up from time to time. His “narcissistic fund” would have been quite full. Infidelity? Both the Woman and the Wolverine would have had tons of opportunity to indulge. Whether either one of them did or not is something that can only be imagined.

No, if the deaths of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit were truly murders and a suicide, the motivations behind the acts will not be what you usually see when similar acts are committed by people who aren’t famous, known the world over. The factors behind this particular situation aren’t too easy to guess at — though I suspect Benoit’s remains will be tested for steroid abuse in the search for an explanation.

Thing is, if Benoit did kill his wife, then days later his little boy before he killed himself, the questions as to why will probably never be answered to anyone’s satisfaction.

I was a wrestling fan back when it wasn’t the huge theatrical sensation it is today. My father, grandfather, brother and I would make a monthly sojourn to the Fairgrounds Arena in Nashville, Tennessee to watch the pro wrestling matches. The names we knew best are not familiar to many current fans of wrestling — names like Tojo Yamamoto, Jackie Fargo. Plenty of people might know who Jerry “The King” Lawler is, but nowadays he might be more well-known for giving the smack-down to eccentric comedian Andy Kaufman on David Letterman’s talk show in 1982. Wrestling fans across the Southeastern United States knew Lawler as the consummate showman he was, the guy who always seemed to come back from the brink of death to win the match.

My father, brother and I knew that we were watching a performance, a show. Grandpa wasn’t so sure it was all an act, but that made it a little more fun, anyway. Even though I was a kid, and I knew it was all a kind of theater, the wrestlers, “good guys” and “villains” alike, still possessed a heroic charisma. As a younger kid (I last attended a wrestling match when I was 18, over 20 years ago, but I’d been going since I was 9) I was awed by the whole thing. I can still remember being just 20 feet away when Andre the Giant, 7′4″ and 500 lbs, moved through the crowd for a special match. The man was a human aircraft carrier, stately and grave. He stood towering in the center of the ring and swatted away grown men taller than my father as if they were gnats. Yet Andre and most of the other wrestlers would light up when approached by a kid carrying one of their black and white publicity photos, seeking an autograph. Many of them were fathers themselves, and even if they weren’t, they were showmen, and they knew that parents were watching every move, anyway.

Though I’ve not attended a wrestling match since 1986, and wrestling’s public profile is light years away from what it seemed to be when I was a kid, I still think the fundamental natures of the fans and the athlete-performers they follow is probably very much the same.

That’s why I wonder if those questions about what might have moved Chris Benoit to do what Atlanta-area authorities are saying he did won’t ever be answered to anyone’s satisfaction. Because wrestling fans, if they are still like the people who were in the audience with my dad, grandpa, brother and me, will not be able to incorporate the image of Benoit murdering his little boy into the way they think about this tragedy. Wrestling as basic drama has always been about good versus evil. It has also been about redemption, about human nature writ large, rendered raw. I can remember many times a match where you watched a guy you formerly knew only as a villain cross over to the good side. Maybe he saw a partner do something so unfair to an opponent that he couldn’t let it pass, and he turned against his own — for good. It was simple, it required no beautiful Shakespearian poetry to accompany it, but it was powerful and very effective.

It would be horrible enough if Chris Benoit did indeed murder Nancy Daus-Sullivan Benoit. But the thought of the man possibly murdering his own little boy brings to mind a coldness so alien to most of us that the only thing that might redeem the act is the killer doing what police say Benoit did — commit suicide.

This entry may be updated later after the autopsy results are publicized.

UPDATE 1, 1:24 p.m. EDT

The AP is reporting this afternoon that a source close to the investigation says that Benoit strangled Nancy, smothered Daniel, then hung himself in his home weight room.

Toxicology test results will take a few weeks, but the possibility of steroid abuse is being investigated in this case.

UPDATE 2, 3:59 p.m. EDT

MSNBC has reported that anabolic steroids were found in the Benoit residence.  Comments below also detail some revelations from a press conference about the Benoit tragedy, such as the bibles found near each body.

Here is some of what DrugAbuse.gov has to say about steroid abuse:

Scientific research also shows that aggression and other psychiatric side effects may result from abuse of anabolic steroids. Many users report feeling good about themselves while on anabolic steroids, but researchers report that extreme mood swings also can occur, including manic-like symptoms leading to violence. Depression often is seen when the drugs are stopped and may contribute to dependence on anabolic steroids. Researchers report also that users may suffer from paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from feelings of invincibility…

Pro wrestling, being a performing art that demands its practitioners be exceptional athletes, doesn’t seem to have the checks in place where drugs are concerned that might be found in standard sports like baseball or football.  I have to wonder if some kind of discussion along those lines will now begin in earnest within the pro wrestling community, especially if toxicological testing proves that Chris Benoit was really abusing steroids.

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