Happy holidays everyone. Now Christmas is over, we enter a period of reflection as the decade draws to a close. Many names have come and gone from the business we love the past few years, so I feel it’s right we take a moment to pay our respects in memory of those we lost in 2019. No matter how big of a role they played, these individuals shared time from their lives for our entertainment. Let’s remember wrestlers (& others) who passed away in 2019.
1. Al Wilson
The first on this list is a man who made an impact despite being on WWE TV for a short time. Al Wilson, Torrie Wilson’s father, is known for taking part in a controversial angle (starting in 2002) which saw him hook up with his daughter’s rival Dawn Marie.
Filled with sexual antics, the story led to him getting married to Marie in their underwear on an episode of SmackDown airing January 2nd 2003. The relationship deeply troubled Torrie, but just as it looked like there was no end in sight, Al died of a storyline heart attack due to all the sex on his honeymoon. While his role only lasted a couple of months, he was a good sport about it and helped to make this filler feud something to remember.
Yet, in a somewhat cruel and sad twist of fate, he died only two days before Torrie’s WWE Hall of Fame induction on April 4th 2019. No further details were given on his passing.
2. Alexis Smirnoff
Otherwise known as Michel “Justice” Dubois, Michel Lamarche was a French-Canadian wrestler billed from Russia. Trained by legendary French-born Canadian wrestler Édouard Carpentier, he made his wrestling debut in 1970. Originally working for Georgia Championship Wrestling, he later enjoyed bookings in the NWA and Japan. Taking tips from Ivan Koloff, Lamarche changed his ring name to Alexis Smirnoff AKA “The Mad Russian”. While much of his career needs further clarification, it is known that he spent his last few years in Japan working with talents like: Giant Baba, Antonio Inoki, Bruno Sammartino, Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Bruiser Brody, Stan Hansen and The Destroyer.
Upon his return to the United States in the early 80’s, Smirnoff enjoyed stints in the NWA and the WWF. By the mid-80’s, the WWF was happy enough to use him as a replacement for an absent Nikolai Volkoff to team with The Iron Sheik. In singles competition, he enjoyed feuds and matches with Ivan Putski, Rocky Johnson, André the Giant, Ted Arcidi, Pedro Morales, Tony Garea, Dan Spivey and Blackjack Mulligan. A couple of years later in 1988, he retired from the ring to open up a wrestling school and appear in commercials; also starring in movies Bad Guys, Body Slam (bodyguard of Captain Lou Albano), and on the TV Show The Fall Guy. Always the consummate professional, it’s safe to say he had a fulfilling career. He passed away on January 5th after suffering kidney failure the day before.
3. Ashley Massaro
Despite being the oldest of the third Diva Search contestants at 26 years, Ashley Massaro won the competition and claimed a one-year WWE contract and $250,000. With very little wrestling training, she was thrust in to the spotlight. It was apparent that the company wanted to mold her in to the next Lita or Trish Stratus, but her performances did not inspire the fans to get behind this push. After a program working with Stratus against Vince’s Devils, she became the valet for the long reigning WWE Tag Team Champions Paul London and Brian Kendrick. Much of her work revolved around bra-and-panties matches, posing for Playboy, appearing in two music videos, as well as starring on television shows like Smallville and Survivor.
She also worked her two biggest matches at WrestleMania 23 and XXIV. But after a few years, Ashley’s daughter became ill and WWE agreed to release her from contract so she could take care of her. Controversy ensued later in her life when it was revealed she had joined a lawsuit against WWE in relation to concealing the risks of repeated head trauma, along with an incident where she claimed to be sexually assaulted during a WWE tour of a US military base in Kuwait; which was dismissed in 2018. On May 16th, she was pronounced dead in hospital after being found unresponsive in her home in the early hours of the morning. It was later stated by TMZ that the cause was suicide by hanging, although the official cause may never be revealed to respect the privacy of the family.
Ashley had been working on a music video about suicide prevention, which was scrapped by her co-worker as it didn’t feel right after her passing. Many of her former wrestling colleagues were deeply shocked by the news, to the point they helped form a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her daughter’s education. Those who knew her were aware she had some issues, but were never under the impression she would take her own life only ten days before her 40th birthday. It raised concerns over dealing with clinical depression and how to help those with suicidal thoughts. Taking any kind of positives from her story is difficult, but we must all remember that she loved her daughter more than anything, and her family will want to remember the good times.
4. Atsushi Aoki
Debuting in 2005 under the tutelage of Jun Akiyama and Pro Wrestling NOAH, Aoki proved he had what it takes to be a professional wrestler. And while he never achieved super stardom, he dedicated the last fourteen years of his life to NOAH and All Japan Pro Wrestling. As the reigning World Junior Heavyweight Champion for the fourth time, Aoki was set to become one of the greatest in the title’s history. At 41-years-old, he would have spent his last years putting over the next generation of talent.
Sadly, he died on June 3rd after a motorcycle accident in Tokyo. To pay respect to him, AJPW officials decided not to vacate the title and allow it to do so naturally through their 6 month ruling. On November 20th, the title was vacated due to no defenses in six months. The Tokyo Sports magazine awarded him the lifetime achievement award.
In the early days of Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (now known as Impact Wrestling), Rocksan Biggerstaff was hired to fill the role of BellaDonna; a valet for Father James Mitchell’s faction Disciples Of The New Church. Her stint was short, but she continued working in the business til leaving it behind in 2006. She worked one wrestling match for TNA on December 4th, 2002, in a losing effort to America’s Most Wanted (James Storm & Chris Harris) in a ‘Bullrope’ match. The man who broke the news, Wolfie D, said the following about her: