Illustration by team illustrator Sakura Siegel.
It’s been over two months since Bray Wyatt died at 36 years old, but his legacy and impact on the wrestling community continues to live on.
The WWE released a two-hour YouTube video titled, “The Fiend,” on Friday, Oct. 27, which encapsulates his full history in the sport. Windham Rotunda—best known as Bray Wyatt—died on Aug. 24 from a reported heart attack.
The day prior, retired wrestler Terry Funk also passed away at the age of 79. The Aug. 25 episode was dedicated to both Wyatt and Funk.
But the age gap between these deaths is nothing new. A number of previous wrestlers either live a very long life, or tragically pass away relatively young.
This was specifically studied by the University of Eastern Michigan, when they analyzed 557 employed male professional wrestlers who were active between 1985 and 2011. In 2014, they found that professional wrestlers’ deaths were 2.9 times greater than men in the general U.S. population. Similarly, in a 2014 study from FiveThirtyEight, found that the death rate was 20 percent among former World Wrestling Federation (WWF) athletes between 50 to 55.
Impact of The Fiend
Following the news of Wyatt’s death, wrestling fans flooded social media with tribute posts and admiration for how the wrestler used his gimmick as art. Even over two months later, fans are mourning his death.
Even in my dreams I’m mourning for Bray Wyatt. It was as if my last dream was in an alternate universe where he had just passed and everyone was sad still.
Man, this one still leaves an impact to this day, miss you Windham.
— FerociousWraith (@FerociousWraith) October 27, 2023
Rotunda first debuted as Husky Harris for NXT, when at the time it was more of a developmental, as opposed to now where it is seen as a third show for WWE.
By April 2012, Husky Harris would be no more, debuting the gimmick most people know Rotunda for as Wyatt.
Despite being a heel, Wyatt would quickly become beloved from his attire, his entrance with the arena being darkened to black with only phone lights meant to mirror fireflies. His work on the mic was also very well-received, as Wyatt would be the leader of his own faction “The Wyatt Family” that also included Erick Rowan and Luke Harper.
On March, 2, 2015, Wyatt lit up the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey where he sent a message to The Undertaker, who was recently inducted in the WWE Hall of Fame and is regarded as one of the best professional wrestlers of all time.
By 2019, which was arguably the height of his career, Wyatt would slightly alter his gimmick once again, perhaps to the even more popular “The Fiend.” During this time many of Wyatt’s promos would be via vignettes called “The Firefly Fun House.” Wyatt would appear and talk to the audience, or rivals resembling the host of a children’s program, that was demented.
When Wyatt would appear in person, many times it would be via sneak attack as the arena would be dimmed black and red as “The Fiend” Wyatt would attack with his face covered by a mask.
Wyatt wrestled his final match of his career on Jan. 28, 2023 where he defeated LA Knight. Wyatt was actually released from the company in 2021, but returned in 2022.
During his promos, Wyatt would speak from a more personal level which blended his love for wrestling and the love for the fans of the WWE.
Jon Huber, who was known as Luke Harper, with Wyatt in the WWE, and Brodie Lee in AEW died on Dec. 26, 2020. Lee was gaining a lot of popularity in AEW as a main event star, showing he was capable of being more than just the sidekick to someone else.
His death, much like Wyatt, left fans wanting to see more, since they both had brighter futures ahead.
The Toll on Wrestlers
Many wrestlers have taken different paths when it comes to their wrestling careers. While some will complain about the scripted results of professional wrestling, there is no denying that all wrestlers take a physical and mental toll that is very real.
The mortality of wrestlers is quite varied, as a result, some may choose to leave wrestling to be able to live a longer life.
While there are wrestlers like Sting, who is 64, and Chris Jericho, who is 52, that are still active wrestlers at AEW, there are many others that have another passion outside of wrestling.
The Rock, John Cena and Batista all left wrestling full-time for Hollywood, and the three of them have become very successful.
Triple H transitioned from his wrestling career, into being the Chief Content Officer at WWE, where among other things he is in charge of storylines the wrestlers are in, signing newcomers to become wrestlers within the WWE and signing free agent wrestlers.
Edge, Daniel Bryan and Shawn Michaels all suffered legitimate career-ending injuries that forced all to prematurely retire. But all three, after some years away from wrestling, have been able to return as full-time wrestlers.
Wrestlers like Kane and Jesse “The Body” Ventura took to politics as another venture with Kane becoming mayor of Knox County, Tennessee while Jesse “The Body” Ventura would become mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minnesota and later governor of Minnesota.
The Undertaker, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair all had very long wrestling careers, and are now retired.
Owen Hart was a very popular wrestler in the 1990s.
He tragically died before his wrestling match live on Pay-Per-View “Over The Edge” in 1999. The audience at the event saw Hart fall from a harness onto the turnbuckle of the ring, later succumbing to his injuries. The WWE was heavily criticized for continuing the event after Hart had passed away. Owen Hart’s widow, Martha, would later sue WWE, and there has been bad blood between the two ever since that moment.
Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero are some of the most popular wrestlers of all-time.
Unfortunately, their deaths are linked, with Benoit’s death resulting from him being erased from WWE. Benoit and Guerrero had the storybook ending of “Wrestlemania 20” as both would leave the night as the company top 2 heavyweight champions. Guerrero died on Nov. 13, 2005. The death would affect everyone hard, but none more than Benoit.
Benoit was found dead in June 2007, along with his wife, Nancy, and son, Daniel. The WWE ran a tribute for Benoit, before details emerged of Benoit carrying out a murder-suicide.
After the tribute, WWE never acknowledged Benoit again.
I remember how sad the "Owen Is Raw" & the Eddie Guerrero Tribute shows were.
I can't imagine how emotional Smackdown will be tonight, after
Windham Rotunda (Bray Wyatt) passing.
— R. Wilson (@Raph089968) August 25, 2023
As for Wyatt, “RIP” comments flooded the WWE’s tribute video for the wrestler. One commenter compared Wyatt to The Undertaker and Kane, who are both regarded as the most captivating and “scary” wrestlers of all time. Another said:
“Two months have passed since Bray’s death. But I’m still hoping he’ll come back. He won’t. Every time I see him, I get emotional, I watch his old videos, I read what people think about him. We lost a great genius, and I’m still sad. We miss you so much Bray, I hope you are at peace where you rest.”