In Memory Of Chris Benoit
When word began to trickle in that Chris Benoit and his family were dead, the wrestling community remained skeptical. Can you blame them? The deaths were first reported by WWE.com, which was hardly the most trusted news outlet. Chris Benoit, and his family, dead? It was just too unbelievable, too absurd. It had to be an angle, a work, some storyline cooked up by Vince McMahon and his cronies, a cheap way to earn in another bump in the ratings.
Most fans had been able to stomach Mr. McMahon’s “death,” but an entire family, a seven-year-old boy? This was too far, surely even Vince McMahon had more taste than this.
But by 6:21 in the afternoon, their worst fears were confirmed. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the most popular and well-respected source for wrestling news made a brief post on its main page.
The WWE just told its talent and released on its web site that Chris Benoit was found dead by Atlanta police. Benoit, wife Nancy aka Woman and son Daniel were all found dead. We have no other details at this moment. It is believed that Chris Benoit's two other children were in Canada.
All plans for Raw tonight have been scrapped and they will do a show on the life of Benoit.
It was true. Chris Benoit and his entire family lay dead.
It was the WWE that made the call to the Fayetteville county police that led to the discovery of the bodies. The WWE had not heard from Benoit in two days. His last known communications had been several bizarre text messages sent to two coworkers at 3:30 in the morning. Naturally, they were worried.
The Fayetteville County police arrived at the Benoit home at 2:30 in the afternoon. The entered the house and found the bodies. At 4:30 that afternoon, they informed the WWE. Chris Benoit and his entire family were dead, and the house was now considered a major crime scene. No other information was disclosed.
WWE cancelled that night’s live performance, in favor of a three-hour tribute show dedicated to Chris Benoit. It was a funeral for the man known as “The Crippler.” Through photographs, video clips, speeches, Chris Benoit and his career was remembered and memorialized. The boys who knew Benoit paid their last respects to a man that they had loved, it was the last chance they would have to publicly remember one of their own. It was the least they could do for a man who had sacrificed twenty years of his life to the business of professional wrestling.
The broadcast opened onto a blank, black screen. An image of Chris Benoit was in the middle. Underneath the photograph were the words, in memory of Chris Benoit.
Vince McMahon, who, at this point, was supposed to be dead, stood in the middle of the ring, in the middle of the empty arena. The lights were off, except for the huge spotlights that made the blue canvas of the ring glow white. Vince looked uncharacteristically small, dwarfed by the massive emptiness of the building. He wore a tan jacket, a white collared shirt, and a light blue tie. A microphone in his hand, he addressed the empty arena, and the millions watching at home.
“Good evening. Tonight this arena here in Corpus Christi, Texas was to have been filled to capacity, with enthusiastic WWE fans.”
Vince paused for a moment, took a breath. He swallowed hard, continued.
“Tonight’s storyline was to have been the alleged demise of my character, Mr. McMahon.
“However, in reality. WWE superstar Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their son Daniel are dead. Their bodies were discovered this afternoon in their new suburban Atlanta home”.
Vince looked down, shifting his weight to his left foot. He put his hand in his pocket. He raised his eyes back to the camera.
“The authorities are undergoing an investigation. We here in the WWE can only offer our condolences to the extended family of Chris Benoit. And the only other thing we can do at this moment is to tonight pay tribute to Chris Benoit. We will offer you some of the most memorable moments in Chris’ professional life. And, you will hear tonight comments from his peers, those here, his fellow performers, those here who loved Chris and admired him so much.”
Vince again paused to allow himself another deep breath. His voice seemed stiff, like he was reading from a script. Vince McMahon did not want to be making this announcement, but he had to. He was the owner of this company, it was he job to handle this, his very livelihood depended on his ability to say all the right things in the wake of this tragedy. But as he finished, McMahon briefly deviated from the script. His voice cracked as he praised his deceased performer.
“Tonight will be a three hour tribute to one of the greatest WWE superstars of all time. Tonight will be a tribute to Chris Benoit.”
Though details on the case were still uncertain, and many no doubt feared, or even suspected the worst, the WWE went ahead with the tribute for their fallen wrestler. After all the facts of the case became clear, the WWE would later claim, under fire from the media, that televised memorials were standard company policy for dealing with the death of a “Superstar.” They were simply giving the deceased performer his due.
An acoustic guitar provided the soundtrack to the photomontage of Chris Benoit’s life. A young boy, no more than seven years old, shirtless, lifting a tree branch over his head, his blonde hair long, a grin across his face. Spotlighted in his class photo from elementary school, Chris Benoit sat in a chair in the second row, wearing a hockey jersey with the number three on it. In his senior picture, dapper in a tie and a jacket, Chris Benoit’s blue eyes look off to the right. They are not the eyes of a killer.
Triple H gave the night’s first eulogy. His black collared shirt open at the throat, Triple H was seated in front of a dark blue studio background. With his skin tanned orange, his long hair slicked back into a ponytail, and an impeccably groomed beard and mustache combination, Triple H looked the part of a professional wrestler. He took a deep breath through his mouth and held it for a second, exhaling as he began to speak.
“You’re given a few moments to uh, try’ta sum up a friends life its, uh, it’s tough to do.”
Triple H coughed to clear his throat, pausing another moment. His voice sounded gravelly, worn.
“On my way here, I just thought of uh, what did Chris, what did Chris mean, what did he, what did he, what did he stand for, what was he, what was the one thing that Chris was, above and beyond everything else. And the one thing that just kept comin’ back to my mind it was,”
Triple H coughed again, looked down to the floor, then back up towards the camera.
“Respect. It’s what Chris was all about. He demanded it, he received it. It meant everything to him. Respect for this business, respect for the fans, respect for the wrestlers, respect for his family, respect for himself. It uh,”
He looked off to his right, shaking his head,
“It was everything.”
Triple H paused again, breathing in. His big shoulders bulged underneath his black shirt.
"One of my favorite moments of my career, one of the things that will stand for me, forever, will be the image of Wrestlemania XX, Madison Square Garden, looking back at that ring and seeing Chris with the World Title”.
Triple H choked up, though it is obvious he is trying not to. The grief was in his throat, and he desperately worked to swallow it, to stifle his sobs back down into the silent parts of himself. He reached up with his left hand and wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.
“That was it to him. It was about respect and he had just received it. He had his family there with him; his boys. It, it, it was everything.”
He shrugged his shoulders and sighed,
“You know I can’t speak for everybody, I can’t speak for the fans, I can’t speak for all the guys, everybody in this business, everybody in this studio. But I’m pretty sure that everybody that Chris ever met, they respected him.”
Triple H’s words were coming faster; he was talking about his friend, a man who he loved, who he now must live without. He looked directly into the camera, his eyes watering, and said his final goodbye.
“I can speak for myself. And Chris, there was no one in this world that I respected more than you. And I’m saying that, not because you’re not here, but because you earned it. I love you my friend, and I’ll see you down the road.”
* * * * *
Edge was next. A young man with a long face and strong chin, his long blonde hair was pushed back behind his ears. Edge wore black t-shirt and a black wristband, his arms crossed defensively over his chest, his eyes wet and hollow.
“I have three people in this industry that I feel I can go to, to talk to. And two of them are,”
“two of them are gone now.”
He hiccupped again, cringing bit, shaking his head slightly. Like Triple H before him, Edge is desperately trying not to cry.
“I remember as a teenager, watching Stampede Wrestling. I was in Toronto, and I watched Stampede from Calgary, and I saw this 18 year old kid named Chris Benoit start his career. And I thought ‘oh, that guy is awesome,’ he’s gonna, he’s gonna be somethin’. And he became one of the greatest to ever put on a pair of boots. And I had the pleasure and the privilege to get in there with him and man, just, knock heads with him. Anytime we got in there it was like two Canadians fighting for the last beer. ”
Edge shook his head, smiling a little. Then his face tightened, and he grew serious.
“I had some personal issues in my own life, and he was the first person I went to.”
He looked up, eyes knowingly narrowed,
“Because I knew I could trust him.”
Sniffling, Edge’s voice wavered beneath his Canadian accent.
“And he cared; wouldn’t just pat me on the back. And that is more important than the wrestler. It’s the person. And that uh, that”
Edge stopped to take a breath, shaking his head in disbelief.
“I mean, everybody, everybody in this locker room loved Chris. You won’t find a guy that had a bad thing to say him. He carried himself with such pride and dignity, he took such pride in his work”.
He reached up with his right hand, pushed a handful of hair from his eyes. He lips move back and forth, searching for words.
“About two weeks ago, in Orlando, I once again had the opportunity to get in the ring with Chris. And uh, man,”
Edge smiled at the memory,
“As strange as it sounds to get kicked in the head that hard, and chopped that hard,
it was so much fun. And as we came through the guerrilla position, he was smiling. And Chris didn’t do that. He had just gotten a standing ovation once we went off the air. And that to me was the biggest compliment in the world, that he was smiling after a match.”
Edge sniffled again, rubbed his cheek with his hand. He let his hand linger on his chin, scratching at his small beard.
“Two weeks ago, as well, we had a live event in Dothan, Alabama. And uh, he came with Daniel, his son Daniel. And Daniel had a tie on and a dress shirt, which he always did when he came to the shows. And Chris was doing his warm-up exercises, and Daniel was doing them all with him.”
He knows what happened. Though he doesn’t yet know the detail, Edge knows what happened in the house. He put his head down, his face contorted, trying to hold back tears. He remained like this for a few moments, before gathering himself together and continuing.
“And I just thought how lucky. How lucky he was.”
The tears are coming.
“This is all really confusing, I don’t understand things like this. I don’t know if I ever will. I know he’d be hot at me right now for crying, but I can’t help it. Because I just love that guy, and I’m going to miss him.”
He threw his hands in the air, and shook his head. He can’t stop the tears. He put his head back down and whispered,
“That’s it, that’s all I’ve got.”