Late WWE Wrestling Champ Chris Benoit To Get Biopic Treatment
A developing biopic hopes to bring to movie audiences all the harsh light that media coverage of a 2007 tragedy involving late World Wrestling Entertainment performer Chris Benoit shed behind professional wrestling's curtain.
SRG Films head Dale Alexander Carnegie has announced that his production company has started developing "Crossface," a biography of Benoit's rise in professional wrestling from his beginnings near Edmonton, Alberta Canada, through his last days in WWE up to the 2007 weekend in suburban Atlanta in which a police investigation concluded that Benoit murdered his wife Nancy and son Daniel before hanging himself.
As described by an SRG Films release, the film is an adaptation of the Matthe Randazzo biography "Ring Of Hell: The Story Of Chris Benoit And The Fall Of The Pro Wrestling Industry" and delve into Benoit's alleged drug abuse, battles with depression and the aftermath of repeated head-trauma throughout over 20 years performing around the world that medical researchers have speculated caused the mental breakdown that caused him to kill his family, then himself.
Carnegie will produce the film with William Morris Endeavor packaging the project. Sarah Coulter, a former Weinstein Company staff member, has written and submitted a first-draft script. Production could begin as early as Fall 2012, with SRG representatives currently talking with directors and actors.
"All of us grow up believing that wrestling is fake, but looking at the shocking number of deaths in the industry, it quickly becomes evident that there is nothing fake about the dangers of this sport," Carnegie said. "Chris Benoit has become a poster child for everything that's wrong with professional wrestling and Sarah's terrific script captures his struggles and the many factors that led to the deaths of three people."
And with that paragraph, the doubts about this project having any credibility at all start rising.
"Fake" - that is a word considered by wrestling fans (who, one would hope, Carnegie and SRG will acknowledge as a likely target audience) and industry insiders alike. Professional is more than a business. Like so many entertainment forms, it's practically a subculture. And the curtain has been yanked back far enough on professional wrestling that it's been acknowledged for some time that saying the dangers aren't "fake" is a colossal "no-s***" statement. In fact, calling what professional wrestlers do "fake" has often had some nasty consequences.
Long-time "20/20" correspondent John Stossel lost a percentage of hearing in one ear because during a December 28, 1984 interview with World Wrestling Federation performer David Schultz, the wrestler reacted with an open-hand slap upside Stossel's head when he called wrestling "fake." That's an extreme, but it's felt that calling it "fake" even in a jesting sense is a well-known slap-in-the-face itself to wrestlers whose lives have been changed by in-ring injuries suffered while entertaining fans. It's "scripted," yes. Pre-determined, yes.
But were he alive today, Benoit and his own surgically repaired broken neck would attest that there was only so much "faking" that went on.
Still, it is in fact a good thing that Carnegie brings up the wrestling business' many disturbingly young deaths. That's one thing the mass media at large took completely out of context in the Benoit murders' aftermath that Hollywood can't necessarily be completely trusted to set straight. In fact, the whole tone of the release seemingly suggests the opposite: that Carnegie and company are probably ready to take the media angle and run with it to continue shaming the wrestling business as a whole.
As a lifelong wrestling fan, I watched the media coverage with great interest, amazement - and, as a journalism student at the time, disgust at the blatant factual errors. Sensationalist story after sensationalist ran down the lengthy list of deceased, well-known professional wrestlers following stories about the hazards of working in the industry. The problem was, no differentiation was made between those wrestlers who died of natural or unrelated-to-wrestling causes and those whose lives became casualties of the lifestyle prevalent to the business.
"British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith? Eddie Guerrero? Brian Pillman? Curt Hennig? Yes, those could all be classified as casualties of a time in the business when steroid and recreational drug abuse ran rampant, and it had a long-term effect that cut lives short.
But they were lumped in with Andre the Giant (natural complications of acromegaly, the natural disorder that caused his gargantuan size) and Owen Hart (an unprecedented freak-accident fall from the ceiling of Kemper Arena during a WWE Pay-Per-View event), deaths that were in no way at all connected with the same occupational hazards that ultimately did in Benoit but in no way clearly held apart so that an uninformed audience could make the distinction.
Then there's the brain study. Following Benoit's death, head-injury research advocate - and former WWE performer whose career was cut short by severe concussion symptoms - Christopher Nowinski lobbied to have Benoit's brain studied to determine how severe head-trauma suffered throughout his career might've played a role in what Benoit's friends and colleagues said was an unthinkable act of violence from a man they regarded as reserved, quiet, respectful and adoring of his family.
When West Virginia University head of neurosurgery Julian Bailes examined Benoit's brain, he found that Benoit's brain "resembled that of an 85-year-old Alzheimer's patient" and showed all the signs of severe dementia similar to what's been reported in many former NFL players.
Yet, this quickly became an after-thought. The focus was almost entirely on Benoit's steroid use, and the crime depicted by pundits like Nancy Grace as clearly being a case of 'roid-rage, and Benoit and his family's death on WWE owner Vince McMahon's head for it happening on his watch.
What we have here, though, is a case of "I've already made up my mind, don't try and confuse me with the facts." What can ultimatley save this project is a Darren Aronofsky-Mickey Rourke caliber team that will actually do its homework and approach the wrestling business and Benoit's life more objectively than the media did in the Benoit Tragedy's immediate aftermath.