Chris Benoit was one of the biggest stars in professional wrestling in the 2000s. A two-time world champion, he never depended on gimmicks for his fame and success. But what the public didn't know was that his life had been crumbling around him ever since the death of his friend Eddie Guerrero in late 2005. Then, over the three-day period of June 22-24, 2007, the 40-year-old Chris killed his wife and 7-year-old son before taking his own life.
The WWE quickly distanced itself from the champion wrestler and his surviving family, while the federal government used Chris's death as a catalyst to open a probe into the use of steroids and other drugs in pro wrestling.
The tragedy remains one of the biggest scandals in all of pro wrestling, with no clear consensus as to what exactly led Benoit to kill himself, his wife, and his son - or what role the WWE may have played in the wrestler's actions.
Benoit's Wife Wanted Him To Quit Wrestling The Same Year The Tragedy Occurred
In Vice TV's Dark Side of the Ring episode about Benoit, his sister-in-law Sandra Toffoloni claimed Nancy Benoit had tried to get her husband to quit pro wrestling in 2007. According to Toffoloni, Benoit was so grief-stricken over the unexpected death of his fellow wrestler Eddie Guerrero in 2005 that Nancy "thought staying in the company and the business was eventually going to harm his well-being."
Chris Jericho, another star pro wrestler, said that after Guerrero's death, Benoit's relationship with his wife had gone from loving to "volatile." But because Benoit had never taken any time off from his career in the past, he ignored his wife's plea to quit.
"I think he just continued on because he didn’t know what else to do," Jericho said.
Benoit's Behavior Was Very Erratic Just Prior To The Tragedy
Before the tragedy, some of Benoit's friends and colleagues had seen the wrestler exhibit odd behavior. He had been struggling with depression since Eddie Guerrero's death in 2005, but by June 2007, his actions had become much more erratic. He began to research child kidnappings and troubling incidents involving pro wrestling fans, going so far as to not only take different routes to the gym where he trained but also take different cars.
While traveling with the WWE, Benoit would do his best to avoid people and public places, reportedly becoming more and more paranoid. Nancy Benoit confided in friends and family about her husband's deteriorating mental state, saying he was sad and depressed and "was always picking fights" with her for no reason.
The night before police discovered the bodies of Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit, Chavo Guerrero (Eddie Guerrero's nephew) first got a call from Chris Benoit saying he wouldn't be able to attend a scheduled pay-per-view event the next day because his wife and son had food poisoning. When a worried Chavo asked if he was okay, Benoit reportedly replied that he was just really tired. A few hours later, around 5:30 am, Chavo got a text from Benoit that read, "The dogs are in the closed pool area and the back door’s open."
Thirty seconds later, Chavo got the same exact text, this time supposedly from Nancy. Soon after, he got a text with the Benoits' home address. Chavo did not reply to any of the texts and went to bed. A few hours later, authorities discovered the bodies.
The Police Knew The Case Was A Homicide Before WWE's Tribute To Benoit Aired
WWE executives learned about the tragedy early on Monday, June 25, 2007. That night, they decided to make a televised tribute to Benoit's career. Allegedly, at the time the tribute aired, the WWE executives only knew that Chris, Nancy, and Daniel Benoit were dead. The tribute consisted of several pro wrestlers talking about how much they loved and admired Benoit.
"Vince McMahon couldn’t go on the air and not do anything. So we went on the air and did what we thought was right," pro wrestling play-by-play man Jim Ross stated in an interview for an episode of Dark Side of the Ring. "We tried to honor the guy, honor his family, his fans, but we didn’t have the full story. Shame on us for that, I guess... We did not know all the information, that’s our fault."
Dean Malenko, a former pro wrestler, stated that the WWE executives did not learn of the circumstances of the tragedy until after the tribute had aired. The next night, Vince McMahon went back on television and made a public apology for airing the tribute.
However, Malenko's comments conflict with the fact that when the police discovered the bodies, they immediately knew the wrestler was responsible and reported those circumstances well before the tribute aired.
Benoit Reportedly Used His In-Ring Finishing Move On His Son
Seven-year-old Daniel Benoit's official cause of death was asphyxiation. Police believed Chris Benoit may have used a modified version of his famous in-ring finishing move - the Crippler Crossface - on his son.
"There was bruising consistent with the Crippler Crossface on one arm and Daniel’s face. There were no bruises on his neck," Dave Meltzer, a wrestling writer, reported shortly after the murders. "But police don’t believe, because of the size difference, that the hold was applied exactly as in a wrestling match."
Scott Ballard, the district attorney who was in charge of the case, stated, "A choke hold was used, rather than hands. There’s no bruising consistent with strangulation by hands."
When Benoit used the Crippler Crossface move in the wrestling ring, he'd place one of his opponent's arms between his legs, then lock his hands around his opponent's face and pull back, stretching the other wrestler's neck.
- Photo: Peter Kramer / Getty Images
Sandra Toffoloni would like to forgive her brother-in-law for killing her sister and nephew.
"Everyone deserves forgiveness. Everyone deserves mercy," she stated in an interview for a 2020 episode of Dark Side of the Ring. "I think within time, there will be a day when I get on my knees, and I finally say it. That I forgive him. You never know, it might be tomorrow, but I do know it’s not today."
An Autopsy Found That Benoit Had Brain Damage, A Severely Enlarged Heart, And 10 Times The Normal Level Of Steroid Testosterone In His System
When Benoit's brain was donated to science, researchers found that the wrestler suffered from a very severe case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a condition that has been found in the brains of football players, boxers, wrestlers, and others involved in professions where repeated blows to the head are common. One report described the wrestler's brain as resembling that of "an 85-year-old with Alzheimer's." However, it was determined that the brain damage was not connected to his steroid use.
Brain damage can result in symptoms like aggression and depression, and concussions can result in brain damage. Although Benoit admitted to having suffered many concussions, former friends of the wrestler said he had a very lax attitude about the injuries he had suffered in his career. He considered being a wrestler an honor, so he would perform regardless of whether or not he was injured.
Shortly after the tragedy, Benoit's doctor, Dr. Phil Astin, was charged with improperly dispensing painkillers and other drugs. One report claimed that, on average, Astin had prescribed Benoit "a 10-month supply of anabolic steroids... every three to four weeks" between May 2006 and May 2007. An autopsy found that Benoit had 10 times the normal level of steroid testosterone in his body at the time of his death.
The autopsy also found that Benoit's heart was three times larger than normal, suggesting the wrestler had been in danger of dying within the next year.