Published June 26, 2007
Chris Benoit had it all. As a professional wrestler, he had been world heavyweight champion and intercontinental champion, and he held several tag-team titles.
A handsome, muscular man with a six-figure income, he lived in a house in metro Atlanta with his beautiful wife and 7-year-old son.
Over the weekend, he also became a double murderer, having asphyxiated his wife and 7-year-old son. He also became a suicide, having hanged himself on his gym equipment.
Benoit, his wife Nancy and their son Daniel were found dead in their home in what police said Tuesday was a murder-suicide. The cause of the 40-year-old Benoit's deadly rampage remains a mystery, although investigators said they found doctor-prescribed steroids at the scene, leading to the theory that "Roid Rage" might have sent him over the edge.
Benoit, a native of Edmonton, Alberta, was known by several names throughout his career, including "The Canadian Crippler." He lived in the Atlanta area from the time he wrestled for the defunct World Championship Wrestling organization.
His wife, Nancy, was a professional wrestling valet and manager who went by the stage name "Woman."
"He had a great sense of humor — he was just a great guy," his friend, professional wrestling writer Bill Apter, said in an interview on Tuesday. "They were just a pleasure to be around and they so adored their little boy, Daniel — that’s why I can’t even fathom anything like this happening."
Benoit attended his first live wrestling event at the Old Pavilion in Edmonton when he was 12. He said that from the moment he saw the Dynamite Kid, Tommy Billington, in ring action, "I wanted to be just like him."
He spent much of his time at home lifting the weights his parents gave him one Christmas. But he also spent time training on the football field or in the gym of Archbishop O’Leary High School, where he played defensive end. He traveled with friends to wrestling venues throughout Edmonton and Calgary and often helped set up the ring and chairs.
According to IMDB.com, he lost a tooth when he was pretending to wrestle with his dog as a kid. He never had the tooth put back in, since he figured he would lose it again when he started his own wrestling-career. He would later become known for his "toothless aggression."
When he began wrestling, he wrestled as "Dynamite" Chris Benoit, and began using the Diving Headbutt, one of the Dynamite Kid's trademark moves.
Benoit began his career in 1985 in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion, but in 1989 he left for New Japan Pro Wrestling. He later competed in Mexico and Germany, where he won a few regional championships. Using the nickname "Pegasus," he took part in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) from 1992 to 1993, and in 1994 he signed with Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). While there, he dropped the "Pegasus" name and gimmick and became The Canadian Crippler because of his rougher style. He signed with World Championship Wrestling in late 1995/early 1996.
Benoit met his wife, Nancy Daus-Sullivan, when her then-husband, match booker Kevin Sullivan, thought up a script that had Benoit and his wife involved in a relationship as part of an ongoing WCW story line. Benoit and Daus began spending more time together and eventually, in 1997, Daus divorced Sullivan and became engaged to Benoit. Benoit and Sullivan were by then embroiled in a high-profile rivalry. Nancy Benoit helped manage her husband's career from their home in Atlanta.
Sullivan, who was also a wrestler, booked and lost a retirement match to Benoit on July 13, 1997. It is often joked that "Kevin Sullivan booked his own divorce," according to reports. As a booker, Sullivan reportedly caused Nancy to quit wrestling when she refused to appear topless in an angle Sullivan created for a pay-per-view.
On the DVD, Hard Knocks: The Chris Benoit Story, Benoit said he still had respect for Sullivan and that he didn’t think the booker came at him with vengeance in the ring, even though he blamed the Canadian wrestler for breaking up his marriage. But IMDB says the feud resulted in Benoit losing points in many matches scheduled by Sullivan.
Sullivan is among those blamed for the 2000 departure of Benoit and three others from WCW. Sullivan got promoted to head booker, which angered a number of WCW wrestlers, given his tendency for professional rivalries (notably Benoit), among other things, according to About.com. Sullivan booked Benoit to win the WCW title at the professional wrestling pay-per-view event Souled Out 2000 in January from 1997 through 2000, but Benoit and the other three would quit the night after to join the World Wrestling Federation.
Benoit debuted in the WWF with a group called The Radicalz in 2000. It was also in this time period that Benoit wrestled in his first WWF pay-per-view main events, challenging The Rock for the title in July 2000 and as part of a fatal four-way title match in September. Both times, Benoit appeared to have won the WWF Championship, but the wins were reversed by the commissioner, who said Benoit cheated.
In 2002, during the first WWE Draft, Benoit was picked by Vince McMahon third to be part of the new SmackDown! roster but later appeared on the RAW roster and won several titles. He held the record for being in a Royal Rumble match the longest (over 61 minutes) and was the 2004 WWE Royal Rumble Winner, according to IMDB.
Benoit also made sports entertainment history at the 2005 SummerSlam, when he defeated Orlando Jordan for the U.S. Championship in just 25.5 seconds — the fastest U.S. Championship victory in the title’s 20-year history.
Benoit was called the "fightingest" Intercontinental Champion in WWF history because of how many times he defended his title.
"I am the greatest technical wrestler in the history of the WWF!" Benoit would say. "Prove me wrong!"
Benoit and his wife became the parents of Daniel Christopher Benoit on Feb. 25, 2000. Benoit had two children, David and Megan, from a previous relationship.
Nancy filed divorce papers from Benoit in 2003, including a petition for protection from domestic abuse against her 220-pound husband. In the papers, she claimed Benoit "lost his temper and threatened to strike the petitioner and cause extensive damage to the home and personal belongings of the parties, including furniture." Nancy claimed she was in "reasonable fear" of her own safety and that of her son. But three months later, she filed to have the divorce papers and restraining order dismissed.
But, asked if there ever was a feeling that Nancy or Daniel were in danger, Apter said "absolutely not."
"He was an easygoing, very quiet type of person," Apter said, adding that Benoit was very "pensive" and didn’t let many see the type of person he was inside.
"He was like the dad you always wanted to have," he added, saying the Benoits adored Daniel, who often attended wrestling matches with his parents.
"I just don’t get this," Apter said.
District Attorney Scott Ballard told reporters Tuesday he had not seen the documents in question.
"A lot of stuff that has come out in the past couple days is a complete shock to everyone," said Dave Meltzer of WrestlingObserver.com, who was a friend of Benoit’s for over 20 years. "He was well-liked, he was well-respected … it’s like a nightmare. There’s no explanation."
Meltzer added: "I just don’t think you can blame steroids as a simple answer … there’s got to be far more to it than just that."
Family and friends also described Benoit as "soft spoken," according to the WWE. But once inside the ring, he was a totally different person.
"Wrestling has consumed my life," Benoit would say, according to WWE. "It’s my mistress, my passion. It defines a lot of who I am as a person."
"I think he’s one of the best wrestlers. It seems like he always put a lot of fight in the job that he did … he always was on top of his game," said James Welsh, a 27-year-old legal assistant in Fairfax, Va., who has been a wrestling fan for 15 years.
Welsh said it was always his impression, through watching wrestling and reading stories about Benoit, that the 220-pound giant was devoted to his family, especially his son.
"I heard he always had him backstage and would always have him wear ties and suits and stuff back there and make him look real nice," Welsh said. "From what I heard, he was a good family man … loved his kid and all. So it’s kind of weird, it turned out the way it has it has."
Wrestling fans wrote tributes and criticisms on the Slam! Sports site in Canada.
"I have been a fan of Chris for a number of years. I have not lost any respect for him as a result of this incident, nor should it affect anyone else's opinion. Remember the man for who he was," wrote "Richard W."
"Larry" wrote: "I have watched wrestling for a long time and Chris was one of my favorites. Now I feel extremely sad for his wife and child because they seem to be getting only passing mention while he is getting tributes. I do not think he deserves this, he was a great wrestler but his image has now been tarnished and I will never think of him the same. I am sure he had some problems but that does not excuse him for what he did I now consider him a murderer and he took the easy way out instead of facing what he did. My heart goes out to all the extended families and wish them the best through this difficult time. More should be mentioned of his wife and son and less of him."
Added "Stacey": I'm sorry, but why are there tributes and memorials for an obviously very troubled man who just murdered his wife and 7 year old child!!?? He should be referred to as a 'murderer', not as a great man/pro wrestler who should be remembered!