Fight to the Death
ORIGINALLY AIRED: February 6, 2008 on CBC-TV
REPEATING: Friday, February 8 on CBC Newsworld & Sunday, February 10 on CBC-TV
Chris Benoit with wife
Chris Benoit with his wife, Nancy.

In the pro wrestling firmament, there were few stars as big as Edmonton's Chris Benoit.  But, on June 25, 2007, Benoit's name ricocheted around the world, suddenly more notorious than for anything he'd ever done in a wrestling ring.  Inside his Atlanta, Georgia mansion were three bodies:  Benoit had strangled his wife and suffocated his seven-year-old son and then killed himself.  Quickly, the finger of blame was pointed at Benoit's steroid use, so rampant in pro wrestling; the deaths, it was assumed, the result of a steroid-fuelled rage.

But, an investigation into the deaths of Chris Benoit, his wife and son, by reporter Bob McKeown reveals that Benoit also may have been the victim of a physical condition brought on by years of undiagnosed concussions.

Examining Chris Benoit's Brain

doctor at microscope
Dr. Bennet Omalu from the University of West Virgina studied Chris Benoit's brain.

After Benoit's death, his father, Mike, received a phone call from scientists at the University of West Virginia.  They had an unusual request:  they wanted his son's brain.  They had already studied the brains of professional football players who had committed suicide and discovered the physical evidence needed to reach a ground-breaking conclusion:  that football players are at great risk of profound behaviour changes due to repeated head injury.  By examining Chris Benoit's brain, they believed, they could open the door to include wrestlers. (read more about this study)

High Cost for Many Wrestlers

Bret Hart
Fellow wrestler Bret Hart has seen too many of this friends die tragically young.

A Fight To The Death weaves its investigation around the history of modern pro wrestling.  Bret "Hitman" Hart and Jake "The Snake" Roberts recall the rough and tumble of the early years with Stu Hart's modest Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling organization.  But, eventually, the smaller, regional wrestling entities like Stampede were swallowed by the noise and glitz of an entertainment goliath:  Vince McMahon's re-invention of the pro wrestling wheel, the WWE. 

The growth of the WWE merchandising and broadcasting empire made instant international stars of the Stampede crowd.  But, the personal cost for that fame has been enormous.