Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic – Dungeon of Death…

“On June 25, 2007, Canadian pro wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their seven-year-old son Daniel were found dead in their Fayetteville, Georgia, home. The ruling of murder-suicide caused a media frenzy and stunned wrestling fans around the world.” This quote appears on the back of Scott Keith’s latest book, Dungeon of Death – Chris Benoit and the Hart Family Curse. In much more than a look at the horrifying end of three lives, Keith chronicles the good, the bad, and the ugly of one of pro wrestling’s royal families.

TODAY’S ISSUE: Scott Keith’s Dungeon of Death – Chris Benoit and the Hart Family Curse.

In a departure from his previous witty, snarky, fun reads about the twisted world of our beloved pseudo-sport (The Buzz On Professional Wrestling, Tonight In This Very Ring, Wrestling’s Made Men, and Wrestling’s One-Ring Circus), uber-fan and insider extraordinaire, Scott Keith, takes a very serious and frank look at the dark, depressing side of the business and some strange, creepy connections to one of it’s “first families”. In Calgary, Alberta, the fabled Hart clan has been an epicenter of wrestling legend via their training facility known as the “Dungeon” and their local promotion, through which many great names of the modern era have passed. But is it true that this amazing family and the people who became part of their sphere of influence are cursed? Mr. Keith explores that question in his latest book.

While not what one would call “fun” because of the obviously depressing content, the book is a phenomenal read and extremely engaging to lifelong wrestling fans like me. In addition to the Benoit disaster, Keith discusses the broken lives of Bret and Owen Hart, the Von Erich family (the connection between these two royal families is that Stu trained Jack “Fritz Von Erich” Adkisson for the ring – I never knew that), Gentleman Chris Adams, Eddie Guerrero, Rodney “Yokozuna” Anoi’a, Mike Awesome, Scott “Bam Bam” Bigelow, Chris Candido, both members of the Public Enemy, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Terry “Bamm Bamm” Gordy, Brian Pillman, Hercules Hernandez, Road Warrior Hawk, and many other pro wrestling tragedies, in startling detail. Most of these performers were directly connected to the Hart family, either having been trained in the Dungeon or worked for Stu Hart in Stampede Wrestling (once known as Klondike Wrestling).

Keith speculates that their very involvement in the pro wrestling industry was responsible for many of these terrible tales, with drug use and the partying lifestyle the prime suspect in most of them. His book is a stark, startling look at a business which uses up bright, young people for all they’re worth, sucks every last drop of talent and energy from them, then discards them like yesterday’s garbage without the slightest concern for their future well being, even after the obscene amounts of money these performers made for the promoters while they were hot. Ever the informed analyst, Keith provides information on steroids (ranging from dianabol to testosterone to equipoise to deca durabolin) from an unnamed informant, and testimony from the famed WWF steroid trial of 1994 from “Terry B.” which of course is none other than Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea.

In most cases the wrestlers themselves are to blame for what happened to them although the atmosphere in the business didn’t help. Men like Vince McMahon influenced these addictive personalities far more than a stint in rehab, a drug test, or even, sadly, overdose deaths by their own closest friends ever did, simply by encouraging wrestlers to use steroids and directly giving jobs and pushes to men who made themselves bigger unnaturally. Mr. Keith paints a very real picture of a business that eats its young and only remembers the aged veterans when it’s too late to help them, often via a ten-bell salute and a photo memorializing another dead wrestler, mere moments before going on with the show. And those are the “lucky” ones. Some dearly departed don’t even rate recognition by the largest wrestling company in the world, proving they have really been discarded or never mattered to the big machine in the first place. It’s gut wrenching.

But Keith’s incredible, encyclopedic knowledge of professional wrestling and outstanding writing skill make this book extremely difficult to put down, even as somber as the content is. It’s a bleak look at an industry we fans love, but which many of us wish would treat its stars better. Keith’s atlas of wrestling devastation provides several bittersweet moments for longstanding fans; just the mere mention of a promotion, a match, a wrestler, an event, or a storyline forces you to remember something you loved about that time period, that performer, that company, or that angle before the cold reality of how badly a particular story turned out truly kicks in. There are a lot of fond memories tainted by the eventual outcome of the people involved, and there are, sadly, few famous pro wrestlers from yesterday who live sound, healthy, happy lives today with a comfortable existence away from the business. Too many are gone or irreparably damaged in one way or another.

It’s scary when you realize how many wrestlers who were stars in the recent past are gone forever. How many lives have been ruined in the name of one moment in the spotlight, being adored by strangers, making money (mostly for other people), and hearing their name chanted by fans? How many survived near-death experiences and tried desperately to escape the business and their demons, only to pay the piper later, either as a result of their previous frivolity or by falling into the same trap a second, third, or fourth time?

Scott Keith takes the reader on a masterful journey, in both research and execution, down pro wrestling’s heartbreaking memory lane. I’ve decided to let his final words from the last page of the book serve as my “close” this week. “…there’s a rule that governs wrestling that says every seven years the audience turns over and a new batch of fans comes in, generally without the benefit of history to teach them what has gone before. It’s why good storylines are often recycled, but only after seven years have passed. Sadly, the most frequently repeated story is no angle, and it goes like this: A wrestler died from a heart attack caused by steroid and painkiller abuse at a young age, and no one learned anything from it.”

We now return you to your regularly scheduled reality.

p.s. – “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…

Mark Allen discusses WWE’s annual Royal Rumble extravaganza, then takes a look at the issue of steroids in This Week in ‘E.

Paul Marshall goes TNApe with Total Nonstop Weekly.

For the best coverage of Japanese wrestling, check out David Ditch’s Puroreso Pulse and Phil Clark’s The Reality of Wrestling.

John Wiswell explores the first Ring of Honor shows of Adam Pearce’s booking tenure in this week’s Cult of ROH.

David Brashear launches an interesting column concept in his new One Year In Memphis.

Finally this week, Norine Stice provides the finest SmackDown coverage on the ‘Net.

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