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"Nancy and Daniel. They're dead too."
Those words pushed me over the edge and I had to pull over.
"Brian, I have to call you back," I muttered as I started sobbing uncontrollably. I lost control of my faculties like Benoit had at Eddy's funeral. I was moaning and my breath hitching as I tried to compose myself.
Ash, all of three years old, commented innocently from his car seat, "Daddy, you cry funny."
I wiped my eyes and put on my brave face for my son's sake, but I was tearing apart inside. I couldn't stop thinking about what had happened to Chris and his entire family. How could they all be dead? Carbon monoxide poisoning? Food poisoning? Had someone murdered them? But despite all of the possible scenarios that were running through my head, I knew in my heart that something much worse had happened.
My gut feeling was Chris had killed them.
I chased the horrible thought out of my head and finally made it home. I wasn't interested in talking to anybody; not even Jessica or especially John Laurinaitis, who kept calling my house until Jess told him that I wasn't up to speaking to anyone.
Ironically, Raw Raw that night had originally been slotted to feature a "funeral" for Mr. McMahon, who'd been "blown up" in a limo accident a few weeks earlier. The office told everybody to dress in black mourning clothes and the set was all decked out with flowers, with a choir, a priest, and a coffin set up in the middle of the ring. that night had originally been slotted to feature a "funeral" for Mr. McMahon, who'd been "blown up" in a limo accident a few weeks earlier. The office told everybody to dress in black mourning clothes and the set was all decked out with flowers, with a choir, a priest, and a coffin set up in the middle of the ring.
There were going to be special guests eulogizing Vince, one of them being Bruce Campbell, Ash from the Evil Dead Evil Dead trilogy and the inspiration for my son's name. Knowing I was a big fan, Campbell's appearance was the funny news that Brian had originally called me about. trilogy and the inspiration for my son's name. Knowing I was a big fan, Campbell's appearance was the funny news that Brian had originally called me about.
So when Vince called a talent meeting to inform everyone that Chris had died, the whole roster was already dressed for a full-service memorial.
The plans for the Raw Raw interment were canceled and replaced by a Chris Benoit tribute show, a compilation of his greatest WWE matches (which might be the last time they'll ever be aired on TV), along with heartfelt comments from his peers. Amid the kind words and valiant portrayals of Chris was a serious, more ambiguous comment from William Regal that chilled my blood. He said that Chris wasn't quite the person everyone thought he was and there might be more to his death than meets the eye. I could tell that Regal suspected the worst, just like I did. interment were canceled and replaced by a Chris Benoit tribute show, a compilation of his greatest WWE matches (which might be the last time they'll ever be aired on TV), along with heartfelt comments from his peers. Amid the kind words and valiant portrayals of Chris was a serious, more ambiguous comment from William Regal that chilled my blood. He said that Chris wasn't quite the person everyone thought he was and there might be more to his death than meets the eye. I could tell that Regal suspected the worst, just like I did.
I watched the show drinking Crown Royal straight from the bottle, barely paying attention when they aired our Royal Rumble Royal Rumble Ladder match, which I consider to be one of my best matches ever. During the match Jim Ross mentioned, "Chris Jericho has been reached at his home in Tampa and is despondent over the news of his good friend's death." Ladder match, which I consider to be one of my best matches ever. During the match Jim Ross mentioned, "Chris Jericho has been reached at his home in Tampa and is despondent over the news of his good friend's death."
I watched the rest of the show in silence, trying to wrap my head around the fact that I would never see my good friend again.
I spoke to Dean Malenko after the show to try and make some sense out of what happened. He brought up that there was going to be another tribute show on Smackdown! Smackdown! and asked if I would like to fly to Texas to participate. I'd already missed Eddy's tribute show and was seriously contemplating going to this one, when rumors started circulating on the Internet about what had really happened to the Benoits. and asked if I would like to fly to Texas to participate. I'd already missed Eddy's tribute show and was seriously contemplating going to this one, when rumors started circulating on the Internet about what had really happened to the Benoits.
I decided I didn't want to go to Smackdown! Smackdown! until I found out more information, as I was becoming more and more convinced that something very bad had happened. until I found out more information, as I was becoming more and more convinced that something very bad had happened.
I spent the next few hours scouring the Internet for information: wrestling websites, news websites, fan forums, anywhere I could find details. Not that they were hard to find, as it seemed like every ten minutes something new was revealed.
Within a few hours of the tribute show the truth came out: Chris Benoit had murdered his wife and son and then killed himself.
When I got the confirmation, I called Vince. It was the first time we'd spoken in almost two years, and I didn't waste his time with small talk or petty greetings. I was too distraught for that.
"Vince, it's Jericho. What the hell is going on?"
"I don't know, Chris. It seems that Benoit wasn't the man we thought he was. He fooled us all."
Chris had the reputation of being one of the most straightforward, salt-of-the-earth, what-you-see-is-what-you-get type guys in the business. People trusted him, went to him for advice, and respected his opinions. I know I did. How could he commit such blasphemy?
"Vince, if this is true and he killed his family, who can we ever trust again?"
He couldn't answer me.
I've said it before but I'll say it again-Chris loved his children. He talked about them constantly with a gleam in his eye and I know it devastated him when he got divorced from his first wife and moved away from his oldest two kids. He rearranged his schedule on a monthly basis so he could fly to Edmonton and spend as much time as possible with them.
"Don't ever get divorced," he told me. "It's too hard on your kids and it's not worth it. The only true form of unconditional love is your love for your kids and I'm sorry for what I put them through."
It was this unconditional love that made it so difficult for me to comprehend how he could've done what he did. Everyone in a relationship knows the pure anger that you can feel for your significant other at certain times, and I could understand how a fight could spiral out of control. Everyone knows how it feels to be totally depressed and how one might consider the easy way out of taking their own life.
But who can ever envision killing their own child?
It still gives me chills and horrifies me to even think about it. How could he do it? Was he possessed? Insane? Was it a horrible accident or a premeditated plan? Would we ever really know?
I went back on the Internet to research every possible theory I could contemplate, to try to explain or rationalize what he had done. Chris was a coffee addict, so I looked up the side effects of excessive caffeine intake and found that under extreme circumstances high doses of the drug could cause delusions, psychosis, and even violent behavior. That had to be it, right? It was the caffeine.
Other reports began leaking out that Daniel, his eight-year-old son, had fragile X syndrome. I researched the disease, and its symptoms kind of described Daniel (or I convinced my broken soul that they did). Maybe Chris got in a terrible fight with Nancy, and after the unthinkable happened, he thought that nobody would ever be able to take care of Daniel due to his condition and took his life as some sort of mercy killing? That had to be it, right? It was the fragile X.
It turned out Daniel didn't have fragile X, but at the time it made sense because I was grasping at straws.
I spent most of the night on the floor in Ash's room, watching him sleep, listening to him breathe, wanting to be close to him. I sat in the dark surfing the Net, researching every detail and texting others who were close to Chris. I talked to his riding partners, Travis Tomko and Chavo Guererro. I spoke to Regal and Dave Penzer, his neighbors in Peachtree City, Georgia. Two things became evident after talking to all of them.
What can I say about this picture? It breaks my heart to see it. I remember how much fun Daniel, Ryosuke (Funaki), and Ash had that day backstage at WrestleMania XXI WrestleMania XXI in Los Angeles. They were running around all over the place and just being kids. May God bless his innocent soul. in Los Angeles. They were running around all over the place and just being kids. May God bless his innocent soul.
Nobody could explain or understand what had happened, but everyone agreed: (1) Chris was a dark, troubled individual who was bottling up some very serious issues; and (2) he rarely expressed what he was really feeling inside.
I think that's part of why he was such an amazing performer. He took out all his aggression and insecurities on his opponents in the ring and during his workouts. He became an unemotional machine whose sole release was to have the best match and the most muscular body.
But what had caused him to go off the deep end? Why did he snap and commit such a wicked atrocity? Was it steroids? No chance- this heinous act stemmed from something much deeper than roid rage. This wasn't some gassed-up gronk punching someone in the face after being cut off on a side street. This was a disturbed individual dealing with severe mental problems.
Was it pills or alcohol? Side effects of multiple concussions? Personally, I think it was a combination of a number of things that caused him to snap-a deadly cocktail of steroids, painkillers, and caffeine abuse, combined with depression, paranoia, repeated blows to the head, and the fact that he kept his emotions and feelings locked up inside. That had to be it, right? It was a combination of all of these things.
Another factor that could have sent him over the edge was the staggering number of personal losses he had sufffered over the last few years. On September 22, 2004, the day that The Big Bossman Ray Traylor passed away, Chris called me crying.
"I can't take it anymore, Chris. I can't take any more of my friends dying," he sobbed. "It's not supposed to be like this! I can't handle any more of my friends leaving me!"
Between the deaths of Bossman and other close friends like Owen Hart, Brian Pillman, and Davey Boy Smith, Chris had suffered so many losses in just a few short years that he had reached the end of his rope.
But it only got worse when he lost three of his absolute best friends in the course of three months. Eddy died in November 2005, followed by his close confidant Johnny Grunge in January 2006. Then his trainer from Japan, Black Cat Victor Mar, passed away a month later. Chris was never the same after that.
In life, best friends Eddy and Chris couldn't be more parallel.
They both grew up loving wrestling and learned their trade around the world before ending up as two of the best performers in the history of the business. They were regarded as great people, great fathers, and locker room leaders who had the respect of their peers.
But in death, best friends Eddy and Chris couldn't be more different.
Eddy died a hero, a reformed drug addict with the heart of a champion who was taken from us too early. Whenever Eddy's name is mentioned, people smile fondly and remember how great a person he was and nothing else. But his legacy will live on forever as a revered hero who loved his family. His classic matches have been glorified by the WWE to be watched for years to come, and his name is lionized within the industry, never to be forgotten.
Then there was the other side of the coin.
Benoit died a murderer, a psychotic madman who killed his wife and seven-year-old son before cowardly killing himself. Whenever Chris's name is mentioned, people get silent and remember the atrocities he committed during the last day of his life and nothing else. His legacy will live on forever as that of a demented monster who executed his family. His classic matches have been buried by the WWE, never to be seen again, and his name is taboo within the industry, never to be spoken.
The triple homicide was being talked about worldwide and people wanted answers as to how something like this could happen. The media was on a witch hunt for anything Benoit and everything wrestling. The government joined in soon after, arranging inquests and investigations into the entire industry, trying to shut it down.
Soon every has-been, never-was, and wanna-be wrestler looking for some sort of face time was put on national TV as an authority on the business. Touted as "experts," these charlatans, to me, were encouraged to give their inside opinions on things they knew nothing about. I watched them come out of the woodwork, the majority of them, I felt, more concerned with putting themselves over than discussing what had really happened.
One after another they paraded past my screen: Marc Mero, Brian Christopher, Ultimate Warrior, Chyna, Billy Graham, Jacques Rougeau, Debra Marshall, each one of them more inane and irrelevant than the last.
Bill O'Reilly and Geraldo jumped on the anti-wrestling bandwagon, spewing whatever kind of bullshit that came to mind, while their producers did no research whatsoever. The majority of people watching who knew nothing about the business just assumed that what they were hearing about steroids, drug use, and inhumane conditions from a collection of bitter, vindictive hustlers was the truth.
I was mad as hell and wasn't going to take it anymore.
After declining half a dozen interview requests, I decided it was time to break my silence. Time to explain to the unwashed masses who Chris Benoit really was. I felt that I owed it to him and his remaining children to explain that there was another side to this man.
They knew him as a psycho killer and a sinister fiend. I knew him as a good father, a good husband, a big brother, a mentor, a confidant, and most important one of my best friends. I needed to tell people that.
I needed assurance, so I called my dad, who told me I should do it for Chris. "You owe it to him to tell the world what kind of a person he really was."
Then I called Vince to ask for his opinion. Whether I was ever going to work for him again or not, I needed to hear his advice as a boss and a friend.
"I think it's a good idea, Chris, and you're the perfect guy to do it. You're smart and well-spoken and you know Benoit and this business very well."
With both of their blessings I agreed to do only three shows: Nancy Grace, Greta Van Susteren, and Larry King. I only wanted to do the biggest programs with hosts who didn't have an agenda. I had no problem being asked the hard questions, but I didn't want to deal with hosts who would put me behind the eight-ball and try to crucify me right from the start.
I also refused to do any shows where other wrestlers were appearing. I wasn't there to debate anybody, I was there to tell my side of the story. I wasn't interested in getting into an argument with a jaded former employee of the WWE who had some kind of vendetta against the McMahons or the business.
The shows went well and I think I did a good job of painting a different picture of Chris, by demonstrating that not all wrestlers were yelling, screaming buffoons. I explained with pathos and gravity that he was a loving father and a tremendous positive influence on everyone he met within the business. I told both Grace and King that I trusted Chris so completely I would've left my own children with him without any reservations. I did the best I could to add a little humanity to the monster and prove that he did have friends who loved and believed in him.
After the tragedy I spoke to Chris's father a few times and he encouraged me to call Chris's other son, David. I'd known David since he was four years old and always got a kick out of how much he loved wrestling. Chris and I enjoyed watching him get completely immersed in a match, dutifully cheering the good guys and booing the bad guys. I felt that I owed him a call, and after a few days I finally got up the nerve to phone him. Before he answered, I thought, "What do you say to a fourteen-year-old kid whose father had just murdered his half brother and stepmother and then killed himself?"
When David picked up the phone, it was obvious he was still in shock. He didn't have much to say and I did the majority of the talking. I asked him how and what he was doing, but his answers were one-word and stoic.
I eventually broached the subject of his father, telling him, "I just wanted you to know that no matter what happened at the end of his life, for the majority of it your dad was a good man. Please don't let this horrible tragedy dictate the rest of your life. You could let this take you down a very dark path. You have to rise above it."
I was trying my hardest to be comforting, but my words felt hollow. I sounded just like the cop who talked me out of killing Danny after my mom's accident seventeen years earlier, and I wonder if that guy felt as much of an asshole as I did right then.
When I was finished David responded with one question.
"Can I still go to the wrestling matches?"
It completely broke my heart to think that David's whole life was his father and wrestling and in one night he lost them both. Quite honestly, that's the reason that I'll never be able to forgive Chris for what he did. As horrible as it was that he killed Daniel, it's even worse that he forced David and his daughter, Megan, to deal with his unexplained crimes for the rest of their lives.
Benoit never defended anything he did and lived with a real "don't ask, don't tell" mindset. Whenever I asked him a question that he didn't want to answer he would always say, "Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies." That was him. He felt that he didn't need to explain himself to anyone for the choices he made. But it's a shame he felt the same way towards the two children he left behind.
Here it is years later and still nobody knows what exactly happened on June 23, 2007. If you're looking for more details of that unspeakable night (or day), you need to read another book, because they're irrelevant to my story and you're not going to find them here.
What is relevant is that I'll always remember the man who was my biggest influence in wrestling and who I strived to be like. I'll always love the kind, funny, excitable, supportive, levelheaded, polite, and humble man whom I trusted more than anyone I've ever met in this business. But I'll always despise the man who murdered his family and ruined his entire legacy in the last days of his life.
Only God knows why Chris did what he did. My pastor Chris Bonham told me, "If someone is possessed by a demon God doesn't judge them or hold them accountable for the horrible acts they commit." I hope that's true, because a Chris Benoit possessed by evil spirits causing him to commit such hideous acts makes about as much sense as any of the other theories I've heard, and that's the one I'm going with. Nothing else can explain how such a pure-hearted person could do what he did.
Like everything else in life, as soon as the next tragedy occurred (a mineshaft collapsed in Virginia) the media forgot about Chris Benoit, and the government inquests into the wrestling business quickly went away. Not long after that, the WWE erased Chris Benoit from their memory forever, and I don't blame them-he almost brought the entire company down.
But I'll never be able to erase Chris Benoit from my memory, and his actions still haunt me every single day.
CHAPTER 47 47.
The Paul Is Dead of Wrestling Before Chris died, I was gung-ho (Anthrax) to return to the WWE. After writing A Lion's Tale A Lion's Tale (which debuted at number 22 on the (which debuted at number 22 on the New York Times New York Times best-seller list) and seeing Cena and Michaels tear it up, I knew it was time. But after the maelstrom of emotions I went through after Benoit's passing, I started to second-guess whether it was worth it. Since I had left the WWE only twenty-five months earlier, Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit, two of my best friends in the business, had died; Mike Lozanski, one of my oldest friends in the business, had died; Jerry Palko, the man who had taken me into his family when I first moved to Okotoks to train with the Hart Brothers, had died; my mother had died; my grandmother had died; even my dog Blaze had died. All of those losses had changed me. I wasn't the same person as when I left, and I didn't know if I wanted to return after all. best-seller list) and seeing Cena and Michaels tear it up, I knew it was time. But after the maelstrom of emotions I went through after Benoit's passing, I started to second-guess whether it was worth it. Since I had left the WWE only twenty-five months earlier, Eddy Guerrero and Chris Benoit, two of my best friends in the business, had died; Mike Lozanski, one of my oldest friends in the business, had died; Jerry Palko, the man who had taken me into his family when I first moved to Okotoks to train with the Hart Brothers, had died; my mother had died; my grandmother had died; even my dog Blaze had died. All of those losses had changed me. I wasn't the same person as when I left, and I didn't know if I wanted to return after all.
But by defending the industry on the talk shows and becoming its unofficial spokesman, I realized who I was.
I was a professional wrestler and always had been.
Much like a bullying big brother who protects his little brother in the schoolyard, I could say derogatory things about wrestling if I wanted to, but there was no way I was going to let anybody else bag on it. I wasn't going to allow people to verbally trash the business and demean the sacrifices that me and my peers made to entertain millions of people all across the world. The WWE once again needed a savior to bring the business back to where it was before the tragedy.
Another reason I wanted to return was because I felt I was the last of a literally dying breed. I had been a part of a small group of performers who had learned the art of the business in different countries around the world, and almost all of us were gone.
Owen, Davey, Pillman, Chris, and Eddy were dead. All the luchadores were back in Mexico with the exception of Rey. Lance, Dean, and Ultimo Dragon had retired, and to the average fan so had Chris Jericho.
Except I hadn't retired and I never claimed to. I just needed a break to recharge my batteries so I could come back better than ever, and I was ready to do that. It was my duty.
Dixie Carter, the president of TNA Wrestling, had been calling me ever since I left the WWE. She made it quite clear that her rival company was interested in bringing me in and wanted to have (take) a meeting with me at my leisure. I had no intention of working anywhere but the WWE, but I figured it couldn't hurt to have a meeting. It also wouldn't hurt to use TNA's interest to give me a bit of leverage with Vince.
So I agreed to meet Dixie and her right-hand man, Jeff Jarrett, for lunch in Tampa. We had a good meeting, but it didn't dissuade me from going back to the WWE even though I was excited for them and their organization. After all, the better TNA did, the better it was for the whole business. For the first time since Vince bought WCW, he had some competition.
Barry Bloom and I had been negotiating with the WWE for weeks and couldn't come to an agreement. I had a certain dollar figure in mind that I wanted in order to come back, and they were hesitant to give it to me. So after my meeting with Dixie, I had Chad type up an email asking if Chris Jericho was going to TNA since he had just seen him eating lunch with Jeff Jarrett and Dixie Carter in Tampa. He signed it Ralph Molina (the drummer of Neil Young's Crazy Horse), and wisely sent it off to a few prominent wrestling websites.
The news spread quickly, and suddenly the magic number was soon agreed upon. That meant everything to me, as it proved that Vince saw me as a major player, something I hadn't felt for the last few years I worked for him.
Two weeks later I signed my contract, and for the first time in twenty-six months I was once again an employee of the WWE. All thanks to the assist from Ralph Molina.
I wanted to make my return to the WWE as unique and impactful as my debut was eight years earlier. I didn't want to repeat the countdown clock again, so I was looking for something a little more cryptic. Then the idea struck to use the phrase "Second Coming," while incorporating the black-and-green binary codes I'd seen while watching The Matrix The Matrix a few nights earlier. a few nights earlier.
I flew to WWE headquarters in Stamford to meet with Vince and Brian and pitch them my concept. My idea was a four-week run of vignettes that would begin with the binary codes filling the screen with computer-generated 2s. In the second week all but one of the 2s would disappear. Then in the third week the 2 would grow to the size of the screen and morph into the words "2econd Coming." I would show up on the fourth week and make my grand return. Vince listened to my ideas, nodded, and agreed to the concept in about two minutes. His only caveat was that he wanted the vignettes to run for more than four weeks.
"The longer, the better," he said, and then he talked about old-time wrestling and Bobo Brazil for the next half hour.
I met with Stephanie, Kevin Dunn, and Adam Penucci (who had created the graphics to my original countdown clock) to discuss the details of the vignettes. We decided to change the color from green to blue (to avoid any comparisons with DX) and Adam came up with a slogan of "Save_Us.222" to be buried in the middle of a jumbled jungle of blue-and-white computer graphics. Adam then created the first teaser, which was going to run the following Monday night on Raw Raw.
It was time to party like it was 1999.
I wanted to be in the best shape of my life for my return, so for the first time I enlisted the services of a personal trainer in Tampa, Chris Gonzales, who tortured my body until he got the results we both desired. I also thought it would be a smart move to work off some of the ring rust I'd accrued over the last two years by going back to Calgary to train right where it all started. The Hart Brothers Camp was long gone, but it had been replaced by an even more esteemed school run by my oldest friend in the business and first ever opponent, Lance T. Storm. He was the best trainer I knew and the only guy I trusted to help me get back into ring shape.
I flew to Calgary to attend the Storm Wrestling Academy, and what an impressive facility it was. The academy was housed in an expansive warehouse decorated with giant hanging banners advertising various PPVs, which Lance had acquired while working for the WWE as a trainer a few years prior. He'd installed a world-class ring and a nice lounge in the front of the building with a DVD player where students could study classic matches. This place blew the pink bowling alley where Lance and I trained out of the water!
Moments after I arrived I sat down on a plush couch and changed into my training gear of a white tank top, black spandex New Japan shorts, and Trace knee pads.
Then it was time to put on my boots. As dusty as they were when I had taken them off the shelf at my house, they had seemed to magically reboot themselves (real groaner). It was as if they had gotten newer since I'd rescued them from the darkness of the closet, like they were a footwear version of Christine.
I laced them up and they felt clunkier than a pair of Paul Stanley Starchild boots, but after a few steps they began to feel like a part of me again. Then I made my way to the ring to re-acquaint myself with my old battleground. I had grown up within these ropes, and now that I was an older man it was time to try my luck with the surly wizard yet again.
I climbed inside and hit the cables a few times. They were a little tighter than I remembered, a little less forgiving, but after a few crisscrosses they seemed to loosen up a bit. It was like riding a bike-if a bike bounced back and forth within a twelve foot-radius. Then I thought about taking a bump, but it had been such a long time and I was a little tentative. What would it feel like? How would my body react? Would it hurt?