Dungeon of Death
Chris Benoit and The Hart Family Curse
Synopsis: Looking back at the professional wrestlers we've lost in recent years, punctuated by the 2007 Benoit tragedy.
It was the usual show that night as we all grieved and came to grips with Benoit dying. They had great matches from Benoit, wrestlers talking about what a great guy he was... and then new information started pouring out during the show.
William Regal, who was one of Benoit's best friends and a guy who had his career revived by a match against him, merely noted that Benoit was a great wrestler and didn't add anything about him as a person. Then, abruptly, the tone of the show changed, going from a tribute to Benoit into a remembrance of his matches.
Rumors that had been circulating about Nancy Benoit and their son Daniel vomiting blood started to change to stuff that was more sinister, and it was hard to come to grips with the ideas being presented by the press during the day. Even during the course of the show, the tone of the other wrestlers changed, as without fail they all noted how "quiet" and "private" he was.
I was chatting with people about Benoit online, people who had been around or in the business for years and had seen everything already, and even they didn't know how to grasp what was being said. Nancy dead by strangulation? Benoit dead by suicide? Benoit the only suspect in the double murder of his wife and son? Suddenly what had been a tragedy was turning into a horror show, and my hero was being rebranded into the modern version of Charles Manson.
Many people online have strong feelings about writer (and Canadian!) Scott Keith... either they love his work or hate it. Personally, I'm a fan, his body of work recapping everything wrestling for more than a decade, usually with a sense of humor and style. Plus, he's written a half-dozen wrestling books, so it's fair to say my opinion is shared by many.
Yet the subject matter here is one I have trouble getting behind. After two years of a certain website doctoring the news to lecture readers on the "culture of death" in professional wrestling, I don't want to hear much more about it. Sure, it may be true.... but reading about yet another tragic death each time you turn the corner takes away from the "fantasy" of watching wrestling. That may not be a popular opinion, but it's how I truly feel.
But here's the rub: not many people followed the career of Benoit as closely as Keith did. I remember thinking the night the tragic news came out, "I wonder how Scott Keith will respond?" -- I'll admit, that's a strange thought to have pop into your head after learning such a high-profile wrestler died.
This book has a pretty definitive biography of Benoit's life and times, what made him so special as a worker and how he became so popular, particularly among internet wrestling fans. Honestly, I've had trouble watching Benoit's matches since then, but reading this has encouraged me to try again (one of my all-time favorites was his Royal Rumble match with Kurt Angle).
The story also recalls the chilling tale of Benoit's final hours on earth, the circus-like aftermath in the media, and it explores the possibility that this death may ultimately be tied to Stampede Wrestling. After all, Benoit, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Brian Pillman and even Bad News Brown left our world far too young, while Dynamite Kid, Bret Hart and others suffered career-threatening injuries. While it's not quite as eerie as the Von Erich tragedies, it definitely makes you think.
Personally.... I don't buy the idea of a curse, per se, but the Stampede lifestyle certainly may have forced unrealistic expectations on these guys.
From there, the book morphs into a look at the staggering number of recent wrestler deaths (I'm sure Marc Mero would love to have this book the next time he makes the talk-show rounds). While who's to blame for that is debatable, the number of living competitors from the early WrestleManias is nothing short of scary. Keith documents this, and it makes for a fascinating study.
Rating: Transitional Champion. Another niche book, packed with great details and biographical information. It's unfortunate this book had to be written in the first place, but I'd rather it come from a Benoit fan than someone who didn't know his work and just wants to rail on the business.