Eddie Guerrero passed away this past Sunday. I’m sitting here watching men and women who worked with him crying as they pay tribute to him both through their words and through their work. They aren’t folks you would normally see cry. You see, Eddie was a professional wrestler.
He grew up in wrestling. He was born into the Guerrero family, which had been wrestling for years. He and his nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. — only three years younger — wrestled in his family’s promotion before he was ten, as an intermission act. Eddie later attended the college on an amateur wrestling scholarship.
At 5’8″, 220 pounds, Eddie Guerrero wasn’t a stereotypical pro wrestler, particularly not in the venue where he worked for the past several years: World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World Wrestling Federation). There is a preference for bigger wrestlers in that organization, more stereotypical wrestlers. Eddie was a smaller Latino whose primary advantages were a high-energy style, a great work ethic, and incredible charisma. Would that be enough to make it in his chosen profession?
Yep. Eddie was a tailor-made heel (bad guy). However, no matter what he did in the ring, Eddie still grew into one of the most popular wrestlers in the world because of his great mike skills and his enthusiasm and dedication to his profession. As a result, sheer weight of public opinion made Eddie a face (good guy). WWE made him its Champion in 2004.
Paying his dues in pro wrestling may not have been Eddie’s greatest challenge. He suffered from drug and alcohol addiction after a car accident and was released by WWE in 2001. After going to rehab, he came back to WWE in 2002, and according to Chavo had been sober for four years when he passed away.
Eddie’s work ethic, spirit, and sense of humor were obvious even just for people who watched him once a week on TV. I can’t imagine what his friends are feeling right now. (I just watched Chris Benoit — another smaller wrestler, but one called the “Rabid Wolverine” — break down and walk away from the camera. He was Eddie’s best friend.)
The wrestling memory that pops into my head when I think of Eddie Guerrero? A couple of years ago he was wrestling Rob Van Dam, an extremely athletic wrestler, in a ladder match. (The object of a ladder match is that one wrestler has to climb a ladder in the ring to grab a championship belt hanging above it. Yeah, even in fake wrestling, that sort of thing can be dangerous.) Eddie was up on the ladder, and a spectator ran in from ringside and pushed the ladder over with him on it. Eddie dropped easily off the ladder as it fell, threw the guy to security, and then returned to the match as smoothly as if nothing had happened, only taking a second to look out at the audience with a wry smile and a “Can you believe that?” look, breaking that wall of performance for just a bit to make a personal connection. The match was great, and even as a heel, the crowd was chanting “Eddie, Eddie, Eddie!” at the end.
In the end, that kind of performance isn’t about putting in your hours, getting paid, doing what you have to do. It’s about doing the best you can for the people who came to watch you. It’s about joy — and dedication — in life. It’s that kind of thing, along with his extraordinary dedication to his family and friends, that made…makes Eddie into someone who can be a hero. He has been one of mine.
Besides, how can you not like a person who regularly got the whitest of white-bread wrestling fans to shout “Viva La Raza!” 😉
Eddie is survived by his wife Vickie and daughters Shaul, 14, Sherilyn, 9, and Kaylie Marie, 3. They’re in a lot of folks’ prayers right now.
Image courtesy of WWE.com
Update: WWE.com is selling an Eddie Guerrero tribute shirt. All proceeds go to his family.