Does Pro Wrestling Kill?

I confess: I enjoy professional wrestling non-ironically. A few years ago I got back into it and have let my interest lapse somewhat—I cancelled my subscription to the WWE Network and haven’t watched a show in some time), but I enjoyed professional wrestling a lot as a kid and still enjoy it as an adult. I’ve even traded tweets about immigration with Zeb Colter.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Pro wrestlers tend to die young, and the latest is Joan Laurer, aka “Chyna.” Eleven wrestlers are featured on the poster for the 1991 Royal Rumble. The only ones still living are Sgt. Slaughter, Hulk Hogan, Road Warrior Animal, and Tugboat (Fred Ottman). The others—Ultimate Warrior, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, Kerry von Erich, Road Warrior Hawk, Macho Man Randy Savage, Earthquake (John Tenta), and the Big Boss Man are all dead.

Is it because of pro wrestling per se, or is it because of something else? Indeed, FiveThirtyEight shows that wrestlers do die faster than the rest of the population. I doubt pro wrestling per se has that much to do with it, though identifying the true cause would be extremely difficult.

Here’s what I expect: when all is said and done, we will find that pro wrestling’s effect on mortality is negligible due to selection effects. Think about what a career in professional wrestling means: a few hundred nights per year on the road, grueling beatings night in and night out, and injuries upon injuries upon injuries. It seems like such a gig would attract people with high-risk tolerance—in short, it would select from a population that would likely have accelerated mortality in any case.

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