7 Times WWE Turned Real Tragedies Into Scripted Storylines
Sorry about your loss--but that's show business.
The most interesting WWE storylines are the ones that are based in some kernel of truth. When a wrestler makes fun of his opponent's wife, or a real-life injury, or a wrestler's physical appearance, the audience member can gasp, cringe, and easily imagine that, "Yes, these two people hate each other. And I want to pay money to see them fight it out."
But sometimes, in the pursuit of creating that pseudo-reality, WWE hits way below the belt. And fans who feel that WWE went too far in the pursuit of entertainment get mad at the company instead of the heel. WWE must negotiate a bizarre balancing act in the post-kayfabe era; fans want feuds to be intense, nasty, and shocking, but not so nasty that they can't be entertained by them.
Here are 7 times that WWE worked real life tragedies into their storylines. All these instances resulted in multiple calls for WWE to show more restraint and taste. What do you think, and where would you have drawn the line? Let us know in the comments.
1. Karl Anderson Destroys A Dusty Rhodes Teddy Bear
Dusty Rhodes was a long-time employee of WWE, and prior to that, a legend of the squared circle. In his final years, Dusty was a key component of WWE's back office, with the crucial role of teaching the NXT developmental talent. He had two sons, Cody Rhodes and Dustin Rhodes (Goldust), who also worked for WWE. His death in 2015 triggered a massive outpouring of grief from the roster and fans.
So when Bayley gave a teddy bear dressed as Dusty Rhodes to Goldust, it seemed like a sweet acknowledgement, from a student of Dusty's to a son of Dusty's. That is, of course, until Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows came by and ripped the bear's head off.
Cody Rhodes, who was no longer employed by WWE, made the following statement on Twitter:
"Not gonna' say something mean or blow a whistle. All I can say...is that whoever produced that, I hope they never know what this feels like."
2. Paige Disses Reid Flair To Charlotte Flair's Face
The death of Reid Flair was a premature tragedy. Ric Flair's son, also a professional wrestler, was only 25 years old when he died of a heroin overdose in 2013. Neither Ric nor his daughter, Charlotte, can talk about Reid without bursting into tears; when they buried him, Ric left one of his Hall of Fame rings on Reid's fingers.
Fast forward two years, and WWE decided to work Reid into the storyline between Charlotte and Paige. Right in the middle of a back-and-forth, during which Charlotte said her family had fight in it, Paige dropped this nuclear warhead of a line:
The Flair family, including Ric and Reid's mother Elizabeth, was not informed beforehand. As for Charlotte, she was still fairly new to the main roster; any possible blowback from rejecting the script could have fallen on her. And according to rumors, Ric wanted to protect his daughter, which is why he never publicly called WWE out for the segment.
3. Batista: "Eddie's Dead."
Eddie Guerrero, Latino Heat, was one of the most beloved, hard-working superstars on the WWE roster. He was passionate on the microphone and he was incredible in the ring, able to work American, Mexican, and Japanese styles. He died an early, unexpected death—38 years old—in 2005, and he was widely mourned by his peers.
Four years later, Batista was in the process of turning heel; he betrayed longtime friend and frequent tag partner, Rey Mysterio. And when Rey invoked the memory of Eddie Guerrero as their common link, Batista sneered, as coldly as he could, "Eddie's dead."
He then went on to say that he wasn't thinking about anything from their past, but it was too late. There's no way to save face after a one-liner like that.
Batista got over as a heel, but he did it in a way that felt exploitative to many.
4. Randy Orton: "Eddie's in Hell"
As callous as Batista was in 2009, that was child's play compared to what Randy Orton said to Mysterio in 2006, less than one year after Guerrero's untimely death. WWE was pushing Mysterio for a run at the world title, and along the way to his eventual victory at WrestleMania, he feuded with Randy Orton. And Orton dropped this line during their post-Rumble confrontation.
"Rey, you're looking up towards the heavens like you're looking at Eddie. Let me tell you something, bro. Eddie ain't in Heaven, Eddie's down there... in Hell!"
The entire angle was fairly manipulative; WWE constantly invoked Guerrero during Mysterio's rise to the top, which felt like emotional blackmail to cheer for the guy. But this moment stands out to many as particularly tasteless.
5. Hawk Attempts Kayfabe Suicide
The Road Warriors, also known by many WWE fans as The Legion of Doom, were a pair of hard-living, hard-hitting men. Hawk and Animal were known for working stiff (laying in their blows for real), and that, combined with their face paint and spiked shoulder pads, made them a fearsome, fun duo to watch.
But offscreen, they had their demons. Hawk in particular suffered from alcohol and drug issues, and in 1998, WWE decided to turn the man's real problems into a fictional storyline. He began showing up to matches "under the influence," and Animal slowly began to trust him less and less. The storyline ended with Hawk climbing the Titantron, apparently to commit suicide. He eventually fell after being pushed by Droz.
Both Hawk and Animal hated the angle, and it was dropped shortly afterwards. The storyline hasn't aged well, especially since Hawk died of a heart attack in 2003 at the age of 46.
6. Michael Cole Goes After Jerry Lawler's Dead Mother
A lot of WWE fans would like to repress this memory. There was actually a months-long period in WWE history when the commentators were physically feuding with each other. And against all better judgment, WWE booked a Michael Cole vs. Jerry "The King" Lawler showdown at WrestleMania XXVII.
This match's buildup was incredibly awkward and cruel. And a little over a month before the big show, Cole decided to invoke Lawler's mother, who had died a week beforehand. He speculated, at length, as to how disappointed she would be in her son.
And as for the "match" itself? It was an awful waste of time--certainly not worth the verbal mudslinging the two men partook in to hype it. Not including the pre- and post-match shenanigans, the fight lasted for close to 14 minutes, making it the fourth longest match of the entire show.
7. CM Punk Mocks Paul Bearer's Death
When the Undertaker's manager Paul Bearer died, The Undertaker did a silent in-ring tribute to Bearer. He knelt in the ring in front of the infamous urn as Bearer's face lit up the Titantron. It was both theatrical and strangely classy.
But then, CM Punk interrupted and ruined it.
The buildup to WrestleMania 29 was ugly by any standard. Punk stole the urn, which was not unheard of; WWE ran a similar storyline in the mid '90s when Undertaker feuded with Ted Dibiase and his Million Dollar Corporation. But now that Bearer was dead, the whole angle had lost any levity. To make matters worse, WWE all but implied that Bearer's ashes were in the urn. So when Punk started tossing the urn around and playing ventriloquist with it, it was particularly bracing.
Right before WrestleMania, CM Punk attacked the Undertaker and then dumped the urn's ashes all over himself and The Undertaker. The audience audibly gasped. And although Bearer's sons had approved the use of their father in this segment, it was difficult for them to watch. Son Michael Moody posted the following message on Facebook:
"If anyone is wondering, yes WWE did come to us wanting approval for tonight's storyline. The way it was presented to us was ok. Seeing it on screen was a different story. I don't even know what to say."