Citing the effects of years of anabolic steroid usage and narcotics abuse, the Hennepin County medical examiner’s office said that the death of 38-year-old veteran wrestler Eddie Guerrero (Eduardo Gory Guerrero), of natural causes, was attributable to a variety of heart diseases, according to the Associated Press and other sources.
Arteriosclerotic disease, the medical examiner said, was the main cause of death. It causes the walls of the arteries in the heart to lose their pliability, harden, and thicken, reducing the circulation of blood.
Kathryn Berg, a doctor with the medical examiner’s office, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that Guerrero’s body could not cope with the added demands of enlarged organs. “He’s awfully young to have [heart disease], and as his wife and I conferred… his years of drug abuse didn’t help that,” she said. “His body had to work harder because it had bigger organs and bigger muscle mass.”
After the initial autopsy was prepared on November 15, Guerrero’s widow Vickie Guerrero said, “It was from his past – the drinking and the drug abuse. They found signs of heart disease. She (the examiner) said that the blood vessels were very worn and narrow, and that just showed all the abuse from the scheduling of work and his past. And Eddie just worked out like crazy all the time. It made his heart grow bigger and work harder and the vessels were getting smaller, and that’s what caused the heart failure. He went into a deep sleep.”
The death of Eddie Guerrero, in Minneapolis on November 13, made him the 23rd wrestler under 45 to die since 2000, many of whom also a heart-related cause of death. Unlike many others, his death coincided with a peak period of his popularity; other figures, once notable in the wrestling business, faded from the spotlight before their death. It recalled the death of Owen Hart in the middle of a 1999 live show and the 1997 drug overdose of Brian Pillman, who was also under WWF contract.
Besides the fact that Guerrero is the biggest star to have died at a young age, his death is the first to be publicly and explicitly linked with the abuse of steroids and narcotics (analgesics). It is also one of the events that caused WWE to institute their first drug policy since the 1996 termination of a $1 million/year program that was controversially run.
Anabolic steroids act acutely on the human body. Though no scientific study in American history has linked abuse of steroids to significant health problems, a German study of athletes and the preponderance of enlarged hearts in professional wrestlers suggest that abuse poses risks, including of enlarged organs such as the heart. According to many wrestlers past and present, a large majority of wrestlers use steroids or alternatives, such as human Growth Hormone, to rehabilitate injuries, gain muscle mass, and remain in optimum physical fitness. In 1992, with several months forewarning, 50% of the WWF roster tested positive for use. Though steroids became a controlled substance in 1991, distributing them to people without diseases that warrant use has been illegal for longer. At least two doctors associated with WWF wrestlers, George Zahorian and Joel Hackett, and Vince McMahon have been charged in connection with steroid distribution.
The use of narcotic analgesics, or painkillers, has also emerged and grown in recent years. Wrestlers and wrestling analysts have cited a long touring schedule and working injured for the reason that painkillers are abused. Drugs of this sort, including Oxycontin, were implicated in the 2003 death of Elizabeth Hulette (Miss Elizabeth). Nick Dinsmore, who wrestles as Eugene, remains suspended after fainting from overuse of a muscle relaxant known as Soma or carisoprodol.
Almost three weeks ago, in Sheffield, England, Vince McMahon announced a comprehensive and random drug testing policy that would include independent testing for performance-enhancing drugs, other illicit drugs, abuse of prescription drugs, and cardiological workups. Though no official policy has been presented, McMahon was criticized by some for not addressing the root problems that cause drug use as a part of the policy.