The world of WWE and sports entertainment provides us with treasured memories and an escape from everyday stress. That doesn’t mean its stars are immune from troubles of their own.
Life on the road as a professional wrestler can be especially lonely. With no formal off-season, wrestlers spend most of their days away from home, performing at their designated venues and then jumping back on the road to travel to another city for the next performance. The mental and physical stress is amplified for those men and women of the independent circuit who don’t enjoy the safety net of guaranteed income from a company contract and thus literally live paycheck to paycheck.
All of this pressure is amplified even further if a wrestler suffers from manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder. Such was the case for Christopher Morgan Klucsarits (AKA Mortis, Kanyon, and Chris Kanyon). He took his own life in 2010 at the age of 40.
Kanyon began his professional wrestling career in 1994 when he appeared as a jobber in the WWE against such future Hall of Fame inductees as Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash. He would then travel to WCW where he found mild success as a singles wrestler under the masked guise of Mortis and later as a member of The Flock alongside ECW legend, Raven. He was talented enough to feud with some of the biggest names in WCW and lasted long enough to be part of the “Invasion” storyline that took place in the wake of the company’s acquisition by WWE in the summer of 2001. An ACL injury compounded by a subsequent shoulder contusion which both required surgery would sideline Kanyon for over a year. His career never recovered.
He retired from pro wrestling in 2004 after being released by WWE. His hiatus wouldn’t last long as he would appear for several benefit shows in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 followed by what amounted to cameo appearances in TNA and PWG. He retired for good in 2007. In the months following the Chris Benoit tragedy that same year, Kanyon appeared on CNN for a segment entitled Death Grip: Inside Pro Wrestling. During this interview he revealed that in 2003 he had ingested 50 sleeping pills during a failed suicide attempt.
In addition to struggling with bipolar disorder during his time in the ring, Kanyon was also coming to terms with his homosexuality. After he was released by WWE in 2004, he began a publicity stunt where he accused the company of firing him because he was gay. After realizing the potential legal ramifications such an accusation would bring, Kanyon admitted the statement wasn’t true. He would then further confuse fans by retracting these statements and admitting that he was in fact gay but stopped short of re-accusing the WWE of firing him for this reason.
Chris Kanyon was found dead in his New York City apartment by his brother on April 2d, 2010. He left behind an empty bottle of anti-depressants as well as a suicide note apologizing to his family. Before his death, Kanyon had been working on an autobiography, Wrestling Reality, wherein he discussed his struggles with both depression and being gay. The book was released in November 2011 and while Kanyon states in the book that he wasn’t ashamed of his sexuality, he never came out publically during his wrestling days for fear that it would hurt his career. This constant suppression ultimately made his bipolar disorder even worse.
His book is more than worth the read and costs less than $20. Without going into too much detail, there are some nasty indictments about his treatment in the WWE between 2002-2003 after he came out to a few close friends in the locker room and even pitched a gay wrestler angle with a positive image to the creative team. Chris Kanyon is a perfect example of just how damaging an unseen mental illness can be, especially for someone whose livelihood involves being in the spotlight. He ultimately took his own life because he couldn’t live with both acting and being treated differently based on his condition or because of who he loved. His struggle is one that is still being felt by our society today.
The tragedy of Kanyon’s death is that we may never know if it was avoidable. If someone had known about his suicide attempt in 2003 and tried to help him, would it have worked? If his bipolar condition had been diagnosed sooner would he have sought long-term treatment? All too often, these stories have unfortunate endings and those of us who remain are left to wonder what could have been if just a few things could be changed. Mental disorders are like icebergs; what we can see on the surface is only a small fraction of what exists below. The best we can hope for is that Kanyon’s story serves as an example to others about the warning signs of these internal struggles.