Dead Wrestlers

Judith Baumann
“There are people who think that wrestling is an ignoble sport. Wrestling is not sport, it is a spectacle, and it is no more ignoble to attend a wrestled performance of suffering than a performance of the sorrows of Arnolphe or Andromaque.” – Roland Barthes “The biggest thrill in the world is entertaining the public, there is no bigger thrill than that.” - Vince McMahon, Chairman and CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment

"The Big Boss Man" Raymond Traylor (Cause of Death: Heart attack due to an enlarged heart, probably the result of steroid use, Age 41), 2012, Digital Print.

The first fan letter I ever wrote was to Hulk Hogan in 1987. I was 8 years old. As I grew older and realized wrestling was scripted, I drifted away from the squared circle, occasionally checking in on the happenings of the WWF as I passed through high school and into college. In 2003 however, a series of wrestling deaths rocked the newly christened WWE universe – “Mr Perfect” Curt Hennig, “Miss Elizabeth” Hulette and “Road Warrior Hawk” Michael Hegstrand all died due to steroid and drug induced heart attacks or accidental prescription drug overdoses. Further research revealed that by some estimates more than 100 professional wrestlers under the age of 50 have died in the past 15 years due to anabolic steroid and other drug abuse related causes, ranging from superstars to hopeful jobbers. The mortality rate of professional wrestlers is seven times higher than the general U.S. population. They are twelve times more likely to die from heart disease than other Americans aged 25 to 44. Professional wrestlers are about 20 times more likely to die before 45 than professional football players.

ABOVE (Top to Bottom) Miss Elizabeth Hulette (Cause of Death: Accidental recreational and prescription drug overdose, Age 42), 2011, Digital Print.

The calculated super-nature of professional wrestlers suggests that these larger than life characters are beyond mere mortality, a type of contemporary superhero continually resurrected from ultimate demise. This ongoing series of digital prints simultaneously mourn and celebrate those professional wrestling superstars who succumbed to early deaths directly related to steroid and/or drug abuse. Enlarged, highly pixelated, digital abstract prints of captured online video stills represent matches considered by wrestling commentators as career-defining moments for each deceased wrestler. The pixelated, oblique boxes of color portray a contrived reality, recognizable only at a distance, underscoring the spectacle of sports entertainment and our supporting-role relation as consumers to it.

Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig (Cause of Death: Cocaine and mixed prescription drug induced heart attack, Age 44), Installation shot, 2011, Digital Print.


Judith Baumann received her MFA in Printmedia from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has participated in workshops at Tamarind Institute, The Pacific Northwest College of Art, and The School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. She also apprenticed under Master Printer Mark Mahaffey of Mahaffey Fine Art in Portland, Oregon. She is the 2005 recipient of Virginia Museum of Fine Art Professional Fellowship Award in Printmaking. Her work has been shown nationally in Richmond, VA, Chicago, IL; New York City, and Knoxville, TN. Judith currently lives in Olympia, Washington where she teaches printmaking at The Evergreen State College and is the gallery coordinator for Northern, an alternative all ages art and music space.