canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999



This fall ECW Press releases BENOIT: Wrestling with the Horror that Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport authored by four veterans of wrestling journalism: Steven Johnson, Greg Oliver, Irvin Muchnick, and Heath McCoy.

On June 25, 2007, WWE superstar Chris Benoit was found dead at his suburban Atlanta home along with his wife Nancy and son. It would later turn out to be the result of a murder(s)-suicide, in which Canadian-born grappler “The Crippler” a.k.a. “The Rabid Wolverine” Chris Benoit murdered his wife Nancy Daus and their seven-year-old son Daniel, before hanging himself in his basement. Quoting ECW senoir editor Michael Holmes from a press release, “we're satisfied there's nothing sensationalizing or exploitative about our book. The timing? Well, it is what it is. We can live with being the 'first' because the book deserves to be done.”

In the wake of the Benoit murders, US congressional committee has contacted WWE, requesting documents about their wellness program and steroid-testing policy.

Professional wrestling, however you see fit to label it (fake, gratuitous, greedy, high-camp, big businesses, gay, sleazy, a soap opera for men), is one of the most stigmatized industries in modern history. It is also one of the longest running parts of entertainment culture. I am a fan of wrestling, and have been, on-and-off since 1985.

Last week when I was visiting a friend at a bookstore, I mentioned how I was reviewing a couple of new wrestling books, and he immediately mentioned Benoit, and how “roid rage” made the late wrestler kill his family. I mentioned that while steroids are a part of wrestling, there was no way to suggest that all wrestlers turn into monsters who kill their loved ones; steroids or not. He shrugged and said “it just takes one.”

His mind had been made up: Benoit was a murderer and wrestling was a farm for mayhem and irresponsible killers. That is why a book such as Benoit is so essential in our google-generated, oversaturated “culture” of associate press news items and tabloid blends and spices.

These author’s commitment to the story presents a sensitive and necessary examination of a (once) well-respected sports hero turned murderer and brings into question, will wrestling literature ever be trusted as historical fact? Maybe someday. Maybe sooner than we think.

The media had a field day with the Benoit story, while wrestling fans took time to seriously sink their teeth into a mental showdown with their favourite pastime, and assess the severely unfit lifestyle some pro wrestlers find themselves caught in. Greg Oliver, who days ago was interviewed on the Canadian edition of Entertainment Weekly to discuss the Benoit murders, offered Danforth Review some thoughts on the wrestling tragedy, and publication of Benoit.

(September 2007)


When did you decide to go ahead with the book and were their any initial reservations?

GREG OLIVER: After the weekend of the Benoit incident, ECW Press editor Michael Holmes floated the idea of a book done in parts by different writers by me. The complication wasn’t the work on my part; I’d been following Benoit’s career since it began and had oodles of stuff to use. Instead, the delay was on the ECW Press end, where they had to convince buyers to buy on short notice, line up the printer, etc. It was two weeks after the incident when we got the go-ahead.

What was your disclosure policy, when and if you were talking with Benoit's peers?

GREG OLIVER: Some people wanted to talk, and some didn’t. I wasn’t interested in off-the-record stories for my section on Benoit‚s actual in-ring career, so I respected their wishes. Our own peers in the media, whether in the newspaper business, radio or TV, were more than willing to share their thoughts on things. A few people close to Nancy Benoit declined to talk, at least until her family went forward first, which didn’t happen by press time.

What do you think of the WWE’s handling of the Benoit situation?

GREG OLIVER: They were caught between a rock and a hard place on the Monday night itself. It was the right thing to cancel the live show and air a retrospective, but it shouldn’t have been such a tribute show when not all the facts were in. So I can forgive them for airing the show on the east coast, but c’mon, three hours later when it aired on the west coast, his actions were fully known. WWE looked really stupid and cold then. The other aspect is their erasure of Benoit from their title histories and DVDs. To me, that’s just wrong. History is history.

Compared to the death of Owen Hart, how has wrestling been changed or has the industry learned anything?

GREG OLIVER: It’s unfair to compare the two, since one was an accident, albeit one that was preventable because it was an unnecessary stunt and the other was outside of the ring in someone’s home. The bigger question is, has wrestling learned anything since the death of Eddie Guerrero in November 2005? Guerrero was a far bigger star than Hart, and an active member of the roster. When he died, and it was later proven that his heart gave out from years of steroid (and other drugs) abuse, that shook the industry and Benoit. The “wellness Policy” the WWE instituted was proven with Benoit to be seriously flawed and without teeth. So, things were learned from the Guerrero, but nothing prevented.

Were there any signs, any indications that this was a possibility with Benoit, this outcome?

GREG OLIVER: Benoit was one of the good guys in the industry. He was great with fans, colleagues, the media. He was not an outgoing type, rather shy and private, reluctant to share his personal life, so very few knew the “real” Chris Benoit. It‚s been said by others, and I’ll say it as well he was the last person you’d expect this from, and there are some in the wrestling industry that if they had done this, it wouldn’t have been a surprise.

What is your anticipation for the release of the Benoit story?

GREG OLIVER: It’s important to me that the Chris Benoit story is told and not swept under the rug, like WWE is attempting to do. He accomplished a lot in his 22-year wrestling career, and was one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation. Was he the biggest star? No. But he was a professional who everyone looked up to. So years down the road, when an aspiring wrestler is studying a Chris Benoit match to see how great he was, the book can be a companion piece to who he was, what happened and what the reaction was. Ideally, it keeps the discussion going on changes needed in the wrestling industry as well, including lack of health care. ECW Press also saw the importance of keeping Nancy’s story alive as well, since she had a lengthy life in professional wrestling as well. So her story will not be forgotten either.

How does the compiling of this book compare to the other wrestling books or writings you've done?

GREG OLIVER: From a personal standpoint, it was harder than the rest since Benoit was someone I’d interviewed, corresponded with infrequently and admired as a fan. Professionally, it was just a much faster turnaround than anything from The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame series of books. It was closer to writing a major magazine piece on deadline than a book.

How would you explain what has happened to an 8-year old Chris Benoit fan?

GREG OLIVER: Like anything on television, hopefully the parents are aware of what their kids are watching. The Smackdown product, which Benoit was a star on, was far less racy than Raw on Monday nights, so no doubt had more children watching. The first step is to disconnect the person on the television from the person who did the acts. Wrestlers are actors who perform very physical actions that are designed to make a viewer believe in what they do. Benoit was great at this. Where he failed was as a person, keeping things inside, and not seeking help when it was needed. Our children need to know that there is help out there for them, no matter what they are going through.

Bret Hart said in his forthcoming book Hitman, that at one point an all drug ban (in WWE) that included cannabis lead to some wrestlers becoming very reliant on alcohol. What do you think the long term solution is, to stop this from happening? Has the WWE achieved it with recent testing and suspensions?

GREG OLIVER: Wrestling is no different than society. Some people will always seek out drugs or alcohol. The real problem is with the sheer physicality of what they do, day in and day out, and therefore the need for pain pills. Steroids fit into that, since they allow the body to heal faster. WWE is still in the process of coming to grips with the need to look good on the screen and the need to keep its performers healthy. I suspect it will be a continual battle, to be honest, just as the Olympics or Major League Baseball has to always be vigilant.

How did his peers react to the news?

GREG OLIVER: There were different levels. Those that knew his wife Nancy, who had been in the business many years, obviously had an extra issue to deal with. Most were troubled quite deeply, since he was so respected. WWE hired people to do counseling. Some, however, just dismissed it outright and moved on. Wrestling can be a cold business.

Nathaniel G. Moore is the features editor of Danforth Review.

Greg Oliver is the author of the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame series — The Canadians, The Heels, and The Tag Teams. He has been writing about professional wrestling for over 17 years, starting with The Canadian Wrestling Report newsletter when he was still in high school. Upon completing a degree in journalism from Ryerson University, he continued to write about wrestling for Canoe,Sun Media newspapers, and various wrestling magazines. He has also written on a number of other subjects, including science fiction, books, and sports. He lives in Toronto with his wife Meredith, and is active in the community, both as a Cub leader and as a soccer coach.

Related links:

The New ECW Press website

Slam Wrestling

WWE Benoit Timeline






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