More and more facts continue to come to light on this bizarre and shocking case, and yet even as new pieces of the puzzle are revealed, the tragedy of Chris Benoit only becomes increasingly confusing and difficult to process.
48 hours ago, if you told anyone that Chris Benoit had passed away, then the eulogies that would have poured out would have been much like the one I wrote last night. We'd all be mourning the loss of one of the all-time greats, a man who stood for honor and respect and compassion and was a role model and hero to many.
Right now, I simply have no idea how to reconcile the Chris Benoit that I've followed and been a fan of for over ten years with the Chris Benoit that has been portrayed in the media over the last 24 hours. Again, I cannot emphasize enough just how shocking this is, how by all accounts, fierce exterior to the contrary, Benoit was the LAST person that anyone would have ever pegged as being capable of murdering his own family. And now, how can anyone look at someone like him the same way? The man had to have been sick, demented, mentally ill. But this goes against so much of what we knew about him - all the testimonials that came in immediately after he was found dead, testimonials from close friends and colleagues, hailing Benoit not only as one of the best wrestlers ever to step inside a ring, but as a consummate pro, a family man, a man who people like Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero and Bret Hart considered like a brother. How could THAT man be THIS man whose face is now splashed across CNN and NBC and FOX?
And it couldn't be more ironic that Benoit was always defined as an underdog, always just one step away from grabbing the spotlight away from his flashier peers. Now, a guy who was NEVER about movie deals or record deals or anything other than the craft of wrestling finds himself front and center in the media, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons.
And here I am, still talking about Benoit like he was "The Crippler," "The Rabid Wolverine." How can you suddenly hate and despise and crucify a man who you've looked up to for a decade? I know that's what I should be doing, but somehow I can't fully do it. Wrestling is a tricky beast, as it walks the line between reality and fantasy, and the distinctions are often blurred to the point where no one is quite sure what is real and what is just a part of the ongoing storyline. Of course, Benoit's death occurred just as the WWE was in the midst of a ludicrous "Who Killed Vince McMahon?" angle that was in poor taste even before this incident, given the very real deaths that have put a black mark on the wrestling business in the last several years. However, to some extent it's easy to separate someone like Vince McMahon from his on-air "Mr. McMahon" persona (though even that is basically an extension of his real-life personality to some degree). But for as long as most American fans have known him, Chris Benoit has simply been Chris Benoit, someone who like a Ric Flair or Bret Hart essentially "lived his gimmick." And even beyond his ring persona, everything I've seen of Benoit up until now has only pointed to him being a decent, humble human being. In the "Hard Knocks" documentary, he comes off as soft-spoken, passionate about his profession, humbled to be carrying on the legacy of people like the Dynamite Kid. If the warning signs WERE there that Benoit had something like this in him, I don't think there was a single fan, and maybe not even a single one of his peers, who saw them.
Now, however, there is this horrible, ugly reality to deal with. Again, the Benoit fan in me refuses to beleive that this was a black and white case of cold-blooded murder. Benoit must have been mentally ill to the point where he literally had no idea what he was doing. Perhaps he was delusional. Maybe, in some sick twisted way, he imagined he was protecting his family from some unseen danger. Of course, there is no excuse, no jusification for this atrocity. But I'm not going to be one of those people who screams and yells and hopes that Benoit is burning in hell for what he did. The man was sick, there was something off, and it's clear that whatever moment of psychosis that overcame Benoit, when it passed, he had to have been so overwhelmed with the horror of what he had done that he couldn't stand to live with the knowledge of it. More than anything, this is jsut a terrible, terrible tragedy. A tragedy that took the life of an innocent kid. A tragedy that took the life of a trailblazing performer in her own right, Nancy Sullivan, and a tragedy that in one fell swooped virtually erased and negated the remarkable career of Chros Benoit, that may have killed millions of great memories and shattered the belief of all of us who looked up to the guy. How could this happen? How could Chris Benoit, of all people, be a murderer?
I will say this: I do not fault the WWE for airing a tribute special last night before the facts of the case were fully known. Personally, even if it looks crass in retrospect to air a tribute to a murderer, I for one am grateful that we were given one last moment, before all the horrific facts were brought to light, to remember the Chris Benoit that all of us knew, or thought we knew. Call it sheer denial, but it was nice to have that tribute, just as it was nice to write my own here on the blog, in that brief moment when I simply thought that we had lost a champion and a future Hall-of-Famer.
But I will also say this: this is yet another wake-up call for the WWE. They have active and retired wrestlers dropping left and right in their 30's, 40's, and 50's. It was only a week ago that Sherri Martel passed away. Over the last few years the list is long of those who went too early: Eddie Guerrero, Owen Hart, Ms. Elizabeth, Curt Henning, Davey Boy Smith, Rick Rude, Hawk, Ray Traylor, and the list goes on ... Too many of these deaths have been from substance abuse, be it alcohol, painkillers, or steroid abuse. This has got to end. There needs to be mandatory time off for these guys. There needs to be stricter drug-testing, better health-care, and mental health screenings. Someone like a Jesse Ventura or Schwarzenneger needs to step in ASAP and voice these concerns, and McMahon has got to act without hesitation. This is just ridiculous. And no, I am not saying that the Benoit incident had anything to do with substance abuse per se, but even so, these issues persist, and it's just remarkable that, if there was a serious, ongoing mental health issue, that it was never addressed before this.
In any case, this whole tragic incident honestly makes me feel sick to even think about. Last night and today it was constantly on my mind, and I was morbidly fascinated with this case, because all I could wonder, like so many others, was "why?" This is one of those true "Say It Ain't So, Joe!" moments. It's the equivalent of finding out that a Larry Bird or a Roger Clemens or a Wayne Gretzky was in fact a vicious killer. I just cannot wrap my head around it.
I stand by my earlier tribute, but only as applies to the Chris Benoit that I knew and was a longtime fan of before this incident. I realize now that I and my fellow fans likely had no idea who Chris Benoit really was, and after this, I'm not sure I want to.
- For now, this is my last word on the subject, and sorry to write so much on such a depressing topic. I actually do ahve some really cool and good stuff to share here, so stay tuned tommorow for a very welcome change of pace. - Danny