The Von Erich family is one of the most famous wrestling dynasties in history, known for their success in the ring and the tragedies that befell them outside of it. Only one remains alive of the six Von Erich brothers – Kevin, David, Kerry, Mike, Chris, and Jack Jr. The others each died prematurely, with five of the brothers taking their own lives.
The Pressures of Being a Von Erich
The Von Erich brothers faced immense pressure to live up to the family name in the world of professional wrestling. Their father, Fritz Von Erich, was a legendary wrestler who founded the World Class Championship Wrestling promotion in Texas.
As the sons of a wrestling icon, the Von Erich brothers were thrust into the spotlight from a young age. There were great expectations placed on them to carry on the family legacy. “We were going to go into wrestling because we wanted to be just like our dad,” Kevin Von Erich recalled.
This pressure only intensified after the tragic death of David Von Erich in 1984. David was viewed as the most talented Von Erich brother and the heir apparent to lead the family business. His sudden death at age 25 from a ruptured intestine left a void that the remaining brothers struggled to fill.
Injuries and Addictions
The grueling physical toll of professional wrestling, combined with the mental anguish of losing David, led several of the Von Erich brothers down a dark path of injury, addiction, and depression.
Mike Von Erich suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery, after which he developed toxic shock syndrome. The combination of his illness and being forced back into the ring too soon led Mike into a deep depression. He committed suicide in 1987 at age 23 by overdosing on tranquilizers.
Kerry Von Erich became addicted to painkillers after a motorcycle accident forced doctors to amputate part of his foot. His addiction spiraled out of control following David’s death. He took his own life in 1993 at age 33 with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.
The Pressure to Succeed
Chris Von Erich also felt pressure to succeed in wrestling despite lacking his brothers’ athletic talent and charisma. His inability to reach the same heights led to depression and ultimately suicide in 1991 at age 21 by a gunshot wound to the head.
“I believe the basic reason was the pressure to be a Von Erich,” Kevin later commented on his brothers’ suicides. “We were a close family – maybe too close, in some ways.”
Coping with Grief
The back-to-back suicides of his brothers took an immense toll on Kevin Von Erich. For years, he coped with suicidal thoughts and survivor’s guilt over being the last living Von Erich brother.
“I went a little crazy. I wanted to die, but I wasn’t going to kill myself,” he recalled. “I wanted to go to prison and get in fights, and I wanted to be punished like I had done something.”
Kevin credits his wife, children, and Christian faith for helping him ultimately overcome grief and find purpose in living. Though the family has known great tragedy, Kevin keeps the Von Erich legacy alive today through his sons Ross and Marshall, both professional wrestlers.
The story of the Von Erich brothers reminds us that fame and talent are fleeting, but finding hope and meaning in life is most important. Their memory lives on as both a cautionary tale and an inspiration.