Nobody in WWE was affected more by the death of Eddie Guerrero than his best friend and fellow wrestler, Chris Benoit. People close to him, and even those who didn’t know “The Rabid Wolverine,” have said they were completely taken back by how emotional he was following Guerrero’s passing in 2005. Benoit wound up taking his own life less than two years later after murdering his wife and son.
In the premiere episode for Season 2 of VICE’s Dark Side of the Ring, Benoit’s friends and loved ones delve into how he was pushed over the edge by the loss of his “brother.”
Benoit had been living in Georgia at the time with his wife, Nancy, and their son, Daniel, and was having loads of success in WWE after being transformed from a mid-carder in WCW to main-event player on Monday Night Raw. Guerrero’s transition into WWE was very similar but happened on SmackDown.
The two men came up in the business together and were extremely close in both WCW and WWE—wrestling countless matches against one another on a nightly basis. They each won big at WrestleMania 20 in 2004, with Benoit nabbing Raw‘s World Heavyweight Title and Guerrero capturing SmackDown‘s WWE Championship. Their embrace to close out the show is one of the most iconic shots in wrestling history. When Guerrero died in November 2005 of an enlarged heart, Benoit’s world came tumbling down.
Chris Jericho, close friend of both Guerrero and Benoit, said Eddie’s death broke Benoit to his core. When they saw each other at the funeral, Jericho recalled getting a hug from Benoit that was “the most desperate, saddest ‘I’m hanging on for dear life’ hugs that you could ever get.” The three men had earned their wrestling chops in ECW, WCW and NJPW during the 1990s. Jericho noted how Benoit was letting out “deep, hitching sobs” during Guerrero’s funeral and had to be consoled.
In the past, Benoit’s pals and relatives said he had never really shown emotion before. It wasn’t until Guerrero’s death that he really began letting his feelings out. Chavo Guerrero said it was as if Benoit lost “a spouse or something.”
As with most wrestlers, the fact that Benoit and Guerrero were such good friends made them great opponents inside the squared circle. Some of their best bouts came when they were pitted against one another. Their first match was on the October 10, 1995, episode of WCW Nitro and the pair would go on to have countless others. One of their most memorable matchups came at Vengeance 2003 for the US Championship. It was a near 30-minute spectacle that many felt was their best showing together, at least in WWE.
When watching Benoit and Guerrero together in the ring, it was clear that the two men didn’t just respect each other but understood one another. Their moves meshed together flawlessly, with each trading their signature blows and chops to the chest. They’d often be described as “brothers” by WWE’s commentary team on account of their close relationship, which even back then—during a time when Internet rumors and “dirt sheets” weren’t as prevalent—was well-known.
Jericho and others said Benoit became more and more of “hermit” after Guerrero’s death. He refused to see his loved ones and only made things worse by not taking any time off from WWE. Every arena, every city—it all reminded him of Guerrero. Those who knew Benoit could tell that there were some serious things going on with him.
Benoit’s sister-in-law, Sandra Toffoloni, said she had never seen him as upset as he was following Guerrero’s passing. She described him as being “so grief-stricken—on a monumental level.” Nancy Benoit kept worrying that something would happen to Chris. Toffoloni said that Nancy felt if he continued to wrestle he was going to deteriorate both mentally and physically, and it would lead to his tragic downfall. Sadly, that’s exactly what happened.
Sometime between June 22 and 24, 2007, Benoit allegedly murdered Nancy and their son, Daniel, before taking his own life. There has been widespread speculation about his motives. Some believe it was steroid abuse and severe chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Others have blamed alcohol abuse and depression.
Tests run on Benoit’s brain later showed it was “severely damaged,” according to doctors, and resembled that of “an 85-year-old with Alzheimer’s.” Could his relationship with Guerrero and his death have played a role as well? It’s very possible, judging from what his family and friends told Vice. But sadly, no one will ever know.
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