How Chris Benoit’s Death Changed Wrestling Forever

Chris Benoit was found dead in his home on June 24th, 2007, along with his wife Nancy and son Daniel. The news shocked the wrestling world to it’s core. Benoit was an active WWE Superstar, a former World Heavyweight Champion and considered one of the best professional wrestlers of all time.

A legend accross the United States and Japan, he was mourned worldwide, with World Wrestling Entertainment dedicating the Monday Night Raw after his death to his memory, declaring it the “Chris Benoit Tribute show“. It featured interviews with wrestlers sharing memories of the Canadian Crippler and included interviews with friends and colleagues sharing memories of his life and his time in professional wrestling.

However, things soon took a dark turn. It was discovered a day later that it was in fact Chris Benoit who had murdered his wife and son before turning on himself. He was discovered hung from the neck in his home gym. Benoit killed his wife in their home office, after he bound and gagged her before strangling her to death, before leaving a bible by her side, wrapped on a blanket.

Meanwhile, he killed his son, Daniel Benoit, later on in his bedroom. Investigation discovered that he had been sedated prior to the killings and likely felt no pain as he was being strangled to death by his father. His body was also left accompanied with a bible.

In a day, his reputation had gone from legendary veteran to wrestling pariah. Vince McMahon appeared on ECW the next night and shot down any chance of the former World Champion being remembered in a wrestling context. He declared that he would not be mentioned on WWE TV again and they have kept their word on that front, 15 years later.

His death did not just affect his family. Chris Benoit’s death may be the most important in the history of wrestling, due to the changed made in the WWE after his body was discovered and an investigation was concluded. In this article we will go through his death and the changed that were made due to the double murder suicide and how it affected the world, wrestling and his friends and colleagues alike.

How Did Chris Benoit Die?

Chris Benoit died from suicide by hanging. He killed himself on June 24th, 2007 by using a weight machine cord to hang himself, creating a noose from the end of the cord on a pull-down machine which he had removed the bar from. Once he released the weights he was instantly strangled and died within minutes.

His body was discovered by police hanging from the machine. There was little doubt that he had committed suicide by the way his body had been found. He texted Chavo Guerrero prior to the act and also left a suicide note in a bible that he sent to his first wife and children from his previous relationship.

Did Chris Benoit Die In The Ring?

Chris Benoit did not die in the ring. He hung himself in his own home, using a weight machine in his garage of which to strangle himself to death.

His suicide had a big part to play in the changing attitudes towards concussion in wrestling, as CTE could have been a contributing factor to Chirs Benoit’s death.

Chris Benoit Texted Chavo Guerrero Before Killing Himself

In a harrowing message that will be remembered for years to come, Chavo Guerrero revealed the text he received from his long-time friend Chris Benoit on the night that he committed suicide in the home where he murdered his family. Chavo Guerrero had previously experienced death himself when he discovered the body of his uncle Eddie Guerrero in a hotel room, just two years prior.

Both men were incredibly close with Eddie Guerrero so it made sense that their intense friendship would extend to each other. Both men wrestled in both WWE and WCW together and spent decades sharing the ring together. Chavo was the one who broke the news of Eddie’s death to Benoit and the pair shared a close bond from that day on. Guerrero’s death hit both men incredibly hard so Benoit’s death must have hit even harder for the former ECW Champion.

Speaking to the TV series “Dark Side of the Ring“, on the episode specifically about the Chris Benoit murders, Chavo Guerrero revealed the texts he received from his friend the night he decided to kill himself, and theorised that the messages must have been sent after he killed his family but before himself.

The first text he received told him that “the dogs are in the enclosed pool area” – an odd one to received and in hindsight it was to let him know to look after the pets once he and the family were dead. He sent a number of other messages that have not been revealed but are something that haunts Chavo Guerrero to this very day.

“I think he texted me after everything happened. After everything went down, the passing of his, you know, I’m trying to say it as PC as possible, the passing of his wife and his son. He was texting me, going, hey, this is how you can find me. I think he texts me probably right before he committed suicide.”

Chavo Guerrero on being texted by Chris Benoit before the latter killed himself

His Brain Was Like An 80-Year Old Alzheimer Patient

After he killed his family and himself, the autopsy on Chris Benoit’s brain revealed some absolutely startling news. His brain was examined by medical experts, to try and figure out a reason for his sudden turn in personality that led him to murder his wife and son, before turning on himself and hanging himself by the neck on a weights machine.

Chris Benoit was diagnosed with “severe brain damage” after his death. Friends and colleagues never saw any sign of this in his day-to-day life, with friends like Chris Jericho and Chavo Guerrero claiming nothing was different to him on the days leading up to his death.

Even more frightening was the level of brain damage he had suffered. Over his 20+ year career, Chris Benoit had competed in some incredible matches that had taken a huge toll. Unprotected chair shots to the head had caused a number of concussions to his brain and done serious damage to him over the years. He also performed the diving headbutt move which was considered dangerous, especially in the way Benoit performed it – landing his head directly onto the skull of his opponent, taking the full brunt of the move.

The innovator of the maneuverer, former NWA World’s Heavyweight Champion Harley Race, claims to regret coming up with the move due to the damage it caused to the likes of Chris Benoit, Dynamite Kid and Bryan Danielson. His daily use of the diving headbutt almost certainly contributed to the damage done to Chris Benoit, with his brain allegedly being in the same state as an “80-year old Alzheimer’s patient”. This was discovered after Chris Benoit’s father, Michael Benoit, turned over his son’s brain to Julian Bailes of the Sports Legacy Institute who investigated into the damage done.

With this information, it can be argued that the man that his friends and family knew was not in control of his actions at the time. Some have theorised that he did not know what he was doing over the days in which the murders were committed, and that it wasn’t until he had realised what he’d done did Benoit finally turn on himself and commit suicide.

Chris Benoit’s Final Match Ever Was On ECW

The only know face off between CM Punk & Chris Benoit

While he famously won championships all over the world, Chris Benoit’s last match actually took place a lot closer to home, inside the WWE. His final bout was on an episode of ECW just before Vengeance 2007. He defeated Elijah Burke in a tournament match for the vacant ECW Championship, with his win setting up a dream match at the pay per view the week later.

However, CM Punk vs Chris Benoit would not end up being the match at the event. Benoit no-showed the event, something he had never done for any of WWE’s pay per views in the past. He prided himself on always making the show no matter what so him missing out on the action was a huge red flag for his friends and family.

Benoit had been drafted to ECW just months earlier during the WWE Draft that occurred after Wrestlemania 23. With stars like Rob Van Dam and Kurt Angle recently leaving the ECW Brand, they needed a star with experience and a built in fan base to held lead the promotion and be the face of the weekly TV show going forward. He was perfect for this as the Canadian grappler was just winding down his career and could afford to move to a lesser show to use his star power to help build young stars, like the aforementioned CM Punk.

However, his run was a short one that never really got going. He wrestled a handful of matches with the promotion before his death and didn’t help elevate the brand, which was so devoid of stars that it needed more than Chris Benoit to prop it up and to build new main eventers.

After he died, the match at Vengeance 2007 was changed. Benoit was replaced by John Morrison, who defeated CM Punk to win the ECW Championship, even though he was not originally scheduled to be in the match. By the time that match finished, nobody knew about Benoit’s demise and he had claimed to have missed the show due to his family being ill.

Chris Benoit’s Death Changed WWE Forever

WWE’s PR team had a nightmare on their hands after Benoit’s death. The tribute show, while touching at the time, was an incredibly bad decision once the news had come out that they had paid tribute to a murderer for 2 hours on their flagship TV show. They seemed very short-sighted and it was a hugely embarrassing moment for WWE, especially as they were targeting children to watch their program.

Debates were raged over the dangers of both steroid usage and wrestling on the human brain. Many wrestlers, including John Cena, Chris Jericho, Kevin Nash and Bret Hart appeared on various news programs to talk about “roid rage” and how drug usage could have affected his mind during the killings.

Once the steroid theory had been debunked, reports discovered that his brain was so damaged that he may not have known what he was doing. As previously mentioned, his brain was in the condition of an 80 year old Alzheimer’s patent due to years and years of damage to the skull which had finally taken it’s toll.

The World Wrestling Entertainment immediately changed their wellness policy after the death, recongising the damage drugs could have to their wrestlers, thanks to the scrutiny they were under thanks to the Benoit death.  Chris Benoit’s body contained ten times the normal level of steroid testosterone despite passing a WWE steroid test 3 months earlier, forcing the company to seriously changed their drug policy and eradicate steroids from their company.

They also banned chair shots to the head, a well overdue change to protect their wrestlers. They had been plentiful during the Attitude Era, with fans and wrestlers not understanding just how dangerous a solid steel chair to the head can be on a human brain. Mixed with their move to PG programming, WWE finally banned the practice in 2010, three years after his death.

Chris Benoit’s double murder suicide contributed to a number of policies which will have undoubtable saved lives of wrestlers, due to the changes in drug and concussion policies. They have also been more careful regarding concussions, forcing wrestlers like Daniel Bryan and Corey Graves to retire due to concussion issues in recent years. If they had done the same to Benoit earlier on in his career, maybe the murders could have been thwarted.

His Legacy In WWE Has Been Completely Removed

In his day, Chris Benoit was revered by fans and wrestlers alike. He was considered one of the best wrestlers of all time, with his intense, technical style of wrestling being an inspiration for a number of modern wrestlers, like Bryan Danielson. He was a world champion in WCW and WWE and defeated both Shawn Michaels and Triple H in the main event of Wrestlemania XX and won the Royal Rumble match in 2004.

However, you would be forgiven for not knowing any of that. WWE has refused to acknowledge any accomplishments of Chris Benoit since his death, flat out denying he had any part of WWE history. He is glossed over when talking about former champions and his Royal Rumble win is hilarious ignored. When doing their famous “Rumble by the Numbers” videos, WWE always mention “two wrestlers have won from the number one spot – one being Shawn Michaels”. Going out of the way to not say his name but it being impossible to ignore his victory.

While his matches are included on the WWE Network, his name is nowhere to be seen. Any bouts featuring him will not say he is wrestling, instead only mentioning that his opponent is wrestling in a match. (For example, Chris Benoit vs Booker T wil show as “Booker T wrestling in the main event”)

His legacy in wrestling has gone. It’s not on us to say whether it’s right or not, but it is a shame to see such a legendary canon in wrestling abandoned and no longer considered as being some of the finest in the companies history.

As of the time of writing, Chris Benoit is not in the WWE Hall of Fame and is unlikely to ever be inducted. While his career is more than worthy of being a headline name in the hall, the situation surrounding the end of his life has forced WWE’s hand, and they can’t glamourize a murder in such ways.

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