Scott Hall, a cautionary tale
Scott Hall was a wrestling superstar in the early 1990s, his immensely popular character the "Scarface"-like Razor Ramon. Later, he was one of the faces of the faction dubbed the New World Order, which was part of World Championship Wrestling. Now, at age 52, Hall has a pacemaker and takes about a dozen pills daily to deal with anxiety and pain. He's been arrested several times since his final stint with WWE in 2002 and has publically discussed his struggles with drugs and alcohol.
"There's got to be some reason that I'm still here," Hall told "E:60," which will air a story about him Wednesday. "I should have been dead 100 times. I should have been dead 100 times."
Hall said many of the older wrestlers of his generation are "all dinosaurs now and we're all retired and dead. The young guys coming up now aren't drinking and drugging and stuff I hope as bad as we did.
"I tell my kids this, 'I can't tell you not to drink and do drugs, they are fun. It's fun. They work,'" Hall said. "But what sucks is when you want to quit and you can't, and pretty soon you alienate or you hurt everyone around you. It's a family disease and then you can't keep a promise to anybody. What sucks the most is when you can't even keep a promise to yourself."
Stephanie McMahon, World Wrestling Entertainment's executive vice president of creative development and operations, said WWE has sent Hall to rehab multiple times and spent "in the six figures" on efforts to help him get sober.
"It's the most amount of money we've spent on anyone," she said. "I just want Scott to get help and to decide for himself that he needs help. It makes me sad. I don't want anybody to pass away prematurely or otherwise really. Scott was an incredibly talented performer, larger than life, charismatic. He's a father, he's a friend. I'm sure he means a lot to a lot of people and it would be a shame for him to pass away."
Hall's story of drugs and stints in rehab highlights the substance-abuse problems some former wrestlers have faced, and the efforts WWE has undertaken to try to help its ex-stars. It's a problem professional wrestling has faced off and on since it hit the big time 26 years ago. On pay-per-view TV, the world was introduced to a combination of entertainment and celebrity dubbed "Wrestlemania." The main event was Hulk Hogan and Mr. T battling Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff. That day, March 31, 1985, professional wrestling went mainstream. Liberace attended, Cyndi Lauper was a manager and Muhammad Ali was a referee. After all the glitz and glamour, professional wrestling became big over the next decade -- and behind the scenes it was, at times, debauchery.
"Back in that era it was pretty much sex, drugs and rock 'n roll," said Mike Mooneyham, who writes a wrestling column for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier. "I mean it was really the wild, wild west. There were very few rules. These guys were outlaws. These guys were abusing drugs and there wasn't a lot of drug testing going on at that time."
WWE, which created "Wrestlemania," has been criticized over the years for its culture, which has involved allegations of steroid and other drug abuse. In 2006, a year before Chris Benoit's suicide, WWE took steps to improve the health of its independently contracted in-ring performers, offering a substance-abuse program as part of a talent wellness program. McMahon said WWE sends hundreds of letters out to "as many as we could identify as ever having a contract with the WWE."
"In addition to that substance and abuse program, we also have cardiovascular testing, we do blood checks, we do physicals, we do concussion testing akin to the NFL," McMahon said. "We're really about maintaining the health and well-being of our superstars because without our superstars we don't have a business."
In addition, McMahon and others said, the culture of wrestling is changing. Today, top-level professional wrestling has gone corporate, and there's a greater influence on health.
"The superstars of today -- they're businessmen," she said. "They realize the healthier they maintain their bodies, the better they are going to perform, the more money they're going to make. They're more about playing with their iPads and gaming devices than they are about going out and hanging out at the bars."
Terry Bollea, better known as Hulk Hogan, said the "mindset has changed." He said the culture has shifted from bigger is better to healthier is best.
"Wrestlers have been more educated, more up to speed," said Hogan, an executive with TNA IMPACT wrestling. "I mean before, back in the day, you'd have the match at Madison Square Garden, the Boston Garden, all the wrestlers would see each other down at the Marriott bar. Nowadays, all the guys go up and they go to the room and play video games, or go on their computer."
Hogan now makes decisions about the TNA IMPACT wrestling roster. In Philadelphia on Sunday, Hogan will mix it up in the ring once again against rival wrestler Sting at a pay-per-view event, "Bound for Glory." At age 58, his fondness of performing is still evident, but now he is more careful. He no longer performs his trademark signature move, the leg drop, on his opponents.
"You calculate every move," he said. "You don't jump off the top rope anymore. You keep your boots on the ground. You definitely make sure you paint with broad strokes and you make sure you capture the audiences' emotions early."
Hogan is a rarity, bridging the gap from vintage to current. There are others, too. The Undertaker is still dropping Tombstones in the WWE at age 46. Ric Flair, age 62, is wrestling too, still yelling his trademark, "Woooo."
While some of the old guard is still wrestling, others are struggling. Matt Hardy was most recently a headliner for TNA IMPACT this year. He worked for WWE previously. Hardy's image has splashed the pages of TMZ for multiple drug offenses. He has since been released by TNA IMPACT and has had several rehab stints.
"For every Scott Hall there's a guy like Arn Anderson," said Cody Rhodes, who grew up a fan of Hall and is currently the WWE intercontinental champion. "There's a guy like Tito Santana, who went through '70s, '80s, '90s and his son's in an Ivy League school, and he still does independent wrestling. He still laces up the boots, but just for fun, not for bills or anything like that."
Ben Houser is a senior producer for "E:60." "E:60" Associate Producer John Minton III contributed to this report.