Eki â€œEddieâ€ Fatu died in Houston on Friday after a massive heart attack, adding a long list of professional wrestlers who died by the age of 40.
The 36-year old Fatu, who achieved his greatest fame in recent years as a star in the industry-leading World Wrestling Entertainment under the name â€œUmaga,â€ was found unconscious in his Spring, TX living room by his wife, who had him rushed to the hospital. Fatu had a second heart attack in the hospital before he died.
Fatu, who was memorable for his distinct facial tattoos, comes from a large family of Samoan wrestlers who have influenced the business for several generations, beginning with his uncles, the brother combination of Afa and Sika Anoiâ€™a, who formed a successful act known as â€œThe Wild Samoansâ€ in the 1970s and â€™80s. The most famous member of the clan is cousin Dwayne â€œThe Rockâ€ Johnson, who left wrestling for Hollywood fame.
Fatuâ€™s career peak came in 2007, as he co-headlined Wrestlemania 23 in Detroit, a card that received a ton of publicity for a storyline involving WWE owner Vince McMahon and Donald Trump. But his run at the top was short-lived, and he was released from his WWE contract on June 8 when he refused to go into rehab after a second violation of the WWEâ€™s drug policy.
Fatu had recently returned from an independent wrestling tour of Australia when he was stricken.
â€œOn behalf of my family, the Anoaâ€™i and Fatu family, we are devastated and shocked by the loss of our Eki,â€ Afa Anoaâ€™i told the Wrestling Observer. Our son, nephew, brother, cousin, husband, father. Our hearts are broken, and words canâ€™t express what each of us are feeling. It is so comforting to know how loved Eki is by his family, peers, friends, and most of all his fans.â€
A staggering number of young pro wrestlers have died over the past 10 years, leading some to believe the industry has a curse. Among the most notorious cases were Chris Benoit, 40, who committed suicide in Georgia in 2007 after murdering his wife, Nancy, and son Daniel; Eddie Guerrero, 38, who died of a heart attack in 2005 in a Minnesota hotel room; and Owen Hart, 33, who died in Kansas City in 1999 after a stunt went awry on a live television shoot. In March, another former WWE wrestler, Andrew â€œTestâ€ Martin, 34, died after an Oxycontin overdose.