Vice TV’s acclaimed wrestling documentary series Dark Side of the Ring returns next week, and the first episode’s a doozy: it’s a two-parter on Chris Benoit, who was probably the most beloved wrestler among diehard fans until he murdered his wife and son and then committed suicide in 2007.
If you followed wrestling in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, you knew that Chris Benoit was widely considered the best in-ring performer of his day. Hardcore fans loved him and almost every wrestling voice on the internet demanded that he get a bigger push, both when he was in WCW in the ‘90s and after he jumped to WWF/WWE in 2000. WWE eventually made him a short-lived world champion in 2004, and continued to feature him as a star into 2007. That June he no-showed a Sunday night pay-per-view, and after sending a series of mysterious texts to his closest friends in the business that weekend, police found the bodies of Benoit, his wife Nancy (also known as the manager and valet Woman), and 7-year-old son Daniel. Benoit had murdered both of them.
Much has been written and said about that weekend, with many of Benoit’s friends and coworkers pointing both to his depression over the 2005 death of close friend Eddie Guerrero and the amount of severe head injuries that Benoit had accumulated over his career. Science was not as aware of the long-term issues surrounding CTE back in 2007, and Benoit’s actions became a rallying point for reform within the wrestling business. Wrestling is now more sensitive about concussions, and numerous performers in WWE and elsewhere have had matches, angles and even careers derailed by concussion-related medical issues.
We’ll never know exactly why Chris Benoit did what he did. 13 years later he remains the most polarizing figure in wrestling history—a man whose body of work is unsurpassed by almost anybody else in the history of the art form, but who’s also a murderer and abuser who took the lives of an innocent woman and child. Even if you’re able to separate the artist from the art in music, literature or movies, you’ll probably have a hard time doing so when the artist is a family annihilator whose art was the live performance of simulated violence.
It’s actually commendable that Vice TV had the restraint to not tackle this subject during the fine first season of Dark Side of the Ring. This is basically the big one in the wrestling business—the darkest, saddest, most terrible story you can investigate, involving one of the biggest stars of all time. You need to know what you’re doing and have enough goodwill built up with the audience before you can handle it, and Dark Side of the Ring wisely did that. Watch the first half of the episode below, and then catch the rest on Vice TV when it premieres on Tuesday, March 24, at 9 p.m. ET/PT.