“People care much more about fake records in the real sport of baseball than they do about real deaths in the fake sport of wrestling.”
Thirteen years on, interest in the Chris Benoit tragedy refuses to fade. Following the Dark Side of the Ring episodes from earlier this year, the third edition of Chris & Nancy takes a deep dive into the details surrounding the case.
Written by Irvin Muchnick (nephew of legendary promoter Sam Muchnick), this new version has a fresh foreword by Phil Mushnick and updated concussion info. There’s less text per page than you’d expect, each as stark as the facts themselves.
For those new to the events of that fateful weekend, WWE wrestler Chris Benoit, his wife Nancy, and their 7-year-old son, Daniel, were found dead on June 25th, 2007. During the three days previous, Chris Benoit had murdered both Nancy and Daniel, and then hanged himself.
It’s hard to convey the shock felt at the time. Benoit was considered by many to be the best wrestler in the world, and was loved by his peers. In the mad, topsy-turvy world of professional wrestling, the tragedy seemed beyond the realm of reality even for a sport that regularly blurs the line between the everyday and the fantastic.
Muchnick only offers a cursory glance at Benoit’s career: growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, he was a fan of Stampede Wrestling and would later start his career in the promotion, before journeying to NJPW, Mexico, and Europe. After making a name for himself in the USA in Extreme Championship Wrestling, WCW snapped him up, and years later he defected to the WWF, eventually becoming World Champion.
Tellingly, especially in retrospect, is a young Benoit idolizing The Dynamite Kid, Tom Billington. Though superlative between the ropes, Billington was gassed on steroids and addicted to alcohol, painkillers, and other substances. After his body began breaking down before his 40th birthday, Dynamite would find himself confined to a wheelchair and on the dole before his early death in 2018.
Some of the facts in Chris & Nancy’s 224 pages are well known; that best friend Eddie Guerrero’s passing really screwed Benoit up, and Chris’ autopsy showed him having a 59-to-1 ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone (a normal ratio is 1-to-1). Through interviews with friends, colleagues, and police and emergency services, Muchnick delves into the gruesome minutiae surrounding the case, even including transcripts of text messages between Chris and Nancy. The bizarre edits to the couple’s Wikipedia pages before the news was made public are also investigated.
Irvin analyses two conflicting timelines of the events and the aftermath, coming to the disturbing conclusion that key members of the WWE knew that it was a murder-suicide before the RAW tribute aired. He also alleges that Benoit was having an affair with Michelle McCool, and examines sightings of Dave Taylor and his wife near the Benoit’s home the weekend of the murders. The blame is firmly laid at Vince McMahon’s door, Muchnick pointing out the failures of WWE’s wellness system past and present.
Any book on a murder walks a tightrope between being informative and exploitative. Chris & Nancy crosses that line, frequently offering a companion DVD with official documents from the investigation, audio recordings of the 911 calls, and photos of the crime scene, yours for only $20. It’s difficult to understand the author’s intention here, with the whole endeavor feeling seedy and opportunistic.
Muchnick also turns his nose up several times at wrestling fans. “After wiping away a tear or two, fans weren’t about to interrupt their junk entertainment”, he sneers, perhaps not understanding that, for many of us, wrestling is an escape from all the shit going on in the real world. Later, he notes with derision that “In the secondary market on eBay, all things Benoit moved briskly. Out of every three fans, one was creeped out by this, one wallowed in it, and a third experienced the latter while pretending to experience the former.” It’s hard to read a book that has such disdain for fans and the sport of pro wrestling from a man who only stands to gain from chronicling one of its biggest catastrophes.
Lastly, despite this being a third revision of the text, some parts are woefully out of date. For instance, we’re told that ‘divas’ are only good for driving website traffic, pushing merchandise, and tangling on undercards. Most definitely true when the book was first published in 2009, but this hasn’t been the case for many a moon.
It’s hard to know who to recommend Chris & Nancy to; it doesn’t seem to be geared towards (or respect) wrestling fans. One for true-crime aficionados only, then, who will find it a comprehensive if unsettling read about some of pro wrestling’s darkest days.