One of the most inspiring stories in wrestling history, Cheating Death, Stealing Life sees Eddie Guerrero recount his saga in remarkably candid fashion, chronicling a life of heartbreaks and painful personal struggles in frank, graphic detail.
Guerrero was born into Mexico's first family of sports entertainment. His father, Gory Guerrero, was a Mexican wrestling legend. Before Eddie turned twenty, he was wrestling in Mexico. Soon Guerrero was blowing away fans as part of the upstart Extreme Championship Wrestling.
World Championship Wrestling was looking for innovative new talent, and Guerrero's unique style fit the bill. Unfortunately, the backstage politics of WCW kept Guerrero away from the spotlight. Eddie sought solace from the pressures of life on the road by living hard and partying harder. Even a series of drug overdoses and a near-fatal car accident could not change his ways. When a group of wrestlers opted to leave WCW, Guerrero joined them, signing with World Wrestling Federation. Unfortunately, a freak injury in Guerrero's debut match took him out of the action. Upon his return, Eddie was paired with Chyna, which launched his indelible Latino Heat character.
However, years of the wrestling lifestyle, of nightly partying and frequent injury, led to addictions to both alcohol and painkillers. Guerrero spent four months in a rehabilitation facility. Sadly, he had not yet hit bottom. A relapse into alcohol abuse resulted in a DUI conviction and the loss of his job. Though Guerrero had lost everything -- his family, his money, his job -- he never allowed himself to lose his pride. Eddie returned to the independent circuit, where he regained his reputation as one of wrestling's most electrifying performers. Guerrero searched deep within himself and fought to regain the life he had lost. His journey of self-discovery reawakened his relationship with Jesus Christ, and he found peace and strength in the Bible.
Before long, World Wrestling Entertainment offered Guerrero a second chance. From the moment of his return, it was clear he was instilled with a new focus and passion. With his nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr., Eddie made up one half of the wildly successful Los Guerreros tag team. The pair became one of WWE's hottest attractions. Ultimately, Guerrero not only regained his life, he surpassed his wildest dreams, becoming WWE Champion.
Cheating Death, Stealing Life offers a no-holds-barred glimpse into the secret world of wrestling. It's also the story of Guerrero's private struggle, of a son caught in the shadow of a larger-than-life father and three older brothers, of a marriage that reached the brink of disintegration before being reborn. Throughout, Eddie Guerrero pulls no punches describing his battles with self-doubt and inner darkness. Sadly, in November of 2005, Eddie died due to complications of a heart condition. Cheating Death, Stealing Life is a story of great courage and personal redemption.
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World Wrestling Entertainment
September 30, 2006
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Excerpt from Cheating Death, Stealing Life by Eddie Guerrero
After Starrcade, we were given a very brief Christmas break. My marriage wasn't in big trouble yet, but it was well on its way. Vickie and I were arguing all the time, usually about my partying. She was dealing with it as best she could, but I could see her frustration mounting. Even though my drinking had been a part of our life for as long as either of us could remember, it was clearly growing out of control.
"Let's throw a New Year's Eve party," Vickie suggested. "That can be my turn to have some drinks and enjoy myself."
It was a fun party. All our friends and family came over, and of course everybody got pretty wasted. After everybody had gone home, Vickie and I had a bit of a spat, though to this day, I don't remember what set it off.
Vickie went to bed, but I decided to stay up a while longer. I was feeling pretty hungry and started looking through the kitchen for something to munch on. For some reason, I had an intense craving for eggs. We didn't have any in the fridge, so even though it was three in the morning, I decided to go to the store.
As I was getting into my TransAm, I grabbed a bottle of Renutrient and threw it into the backseat. Renutrient was a legal form of GHB, a drug that promotes fat reduction and muscle building by stimulating growth hormone release. It also gives you a hell of a buzz and makes you pass out. Looking back, I realize I was still feeling upset from my fight with Vickie and thinking very bad thoughts. I'll show you, I thought. I'll hurt myself.
The store was closed, so I went ahead and drove to the next convenience store up the road. I bought some eggs and a twelve-pack of beer, and then got back in the car.
Before I drove off, I decided to take some of the Renutrient. It's a liquid, taken by the capful. Usually one or two caps would put me down, but God help me, that night I took five good-sized shots.
I blocked that memory for so long. It wasn't until much later that I remembered what I had done. It was a suicide attempt, plain and simple. Maybe I did it subconsciously, but no matter how you slice it, that was what I was doing. I was tired of life and wanted to die.
I had given up believing. I had tried to fill the empty place in my heart with wrestling. I tried to fill it with booze and pills. I was making good money and I was still feeling empty. I was miserable in WCW. I knew I wasn't going to go any higher there, and jumping to WWE hadn't even crossed my mind. I couldn't stop wondering, Is this it? Is this what I worked my whole life for?
It didn't help matters that I was constantly fighting with Vickie. I think that night was a culmination of all those bad feelings. The hole inside me had just gotten too large.
I took those five caps knowing that I was going to fall asleep. If I make it home, I thought, then I make it home. If I don't, that's okay too.
I just didn't care anymore. I just wanted the pain to stop.
I wasn't thinking about Vickie or the kids. I was being selfish, thinking only of myself. I wasn't knowingly trying to commit suicide, but it was clearly going on deep inside my subconscious. Why else would I do something like that?
I started driving, heading down Highway 54. I pushed down on the gas pedal and felt the power of my TransAm -- Vrooom! Here we go!
The next thing I knew, there were doctors all around me, holding my leg. As my eyes opened, the first thing they said was, "What are you on?"
"What?" I had no idea where I was or what was going on.
"You've been in a car accident," one of the doctors told me. "You're in the emergency room. Your leg is in very bad shape and we need authorization to start surgery on you."
I sat up and looked at my leg. "Oh wow," I said. "I'm pretty fucked up."
The doctor looked straight at me. "Yep," he said, "you sure are."
And then I passed out.
I woke up again as the doctors were trying to work on me. I freaked out and started trying to fight them off, but they grabbed my arms and held me down.
Again they asked me, "What are you on?"
"Alcohol," I told them.
"No, you're on more than that. What are you on? Tell us what you're on."
They kept pushing and finally I said, "Renutrient."
"Okay," the doctor said. "Can you give us any contact information so that we can call your family?"
I managed to give them our phone number before going unconscious again.
I was in and out of consciousness for a couple of days. I remember opening my eyes and seeing Shaul by the bed, with tears streaming down her little face. I knew I was in bad shape -- they don't allow little kids into the intensive care unit unless they think the person isn't going to survive.
My family all came to the hospital the afternoon after the accident. My brothers and sisters all flew in from their respective homes. My mom had just flown home to El Paso after spending the holidays with us in Tampa -- she literally got to Texas, then turned around and flew back to Florida. All my friends, like Dean and Tury, came to see me. Our family pastor came and prayed over me.
When I finally came to, the police told me what had happened. I had fallen asleep at the wheel -- obviously -- while going upwards of 130 miles per hour. I came to a curve in the road but didn't make it. The car went off the embankment into a ditch and just started rolling. The embankment basically acted like a ramp, sending the car into the air, soaring up over some trees. They knew this because they found parts of the car in the treetops, which weren't all mangled like they would've been if the car had hit them.
The car flipped so many times it was flattened like a pancake. It looked like a Coke can after somebody stomped on it. Luckily for me, I shot out through the T-top as the car started rolling. I must've flown a hundred feet or so before landing in the gravel on the roadside. Vickie thinks an angel pulled me out through the T-top, because had I stayed in the car, there is no way on earth that I'd have lived.
The cops came to the scene and started dealing with the traffic situation. They saw me lying there and just assumed I was dead. Fortunately for me, a lady who had pulled over to volunteer her help saw me moving. They called for an air evac -- a helicopter ambulance -- and immediately flew me to St. Joseph's Hospital.
My injuries were pretty brutal. I'd fractured my collarbone and compressed a few discs in my spine. I had severe scrapes all over my body from the gravel and broken glass -- Vickie was still pulling little pieces of glass out of my back a month later. I was bruised and swollen all over from the trauma.
Both of my legs were a complete mess. I'd broken my right hip socket and shredded my left calf. A piece of glass had severed the nerves and ligaments so badly that there was no way the doctors could reattach them. Instead, they just pulled the skin over the wound and sewed it up. They literally removed a pound of my calf.
The worst injury I'd sustained was a badly lacerated liver. When Vickie first got to the hospital, the doctor pulled her aside. "We suggest you call your family," he told her, "because we don't believe he's going to make it through the next two nights."
By the grace of God, somehow I didn't hit my head. My brother Mando jokes that it was because of my dad's training. He taught all the Guerreros to tuck and roll whenever we fall. I guess it was instinctive. Even when I was shooting a hundred feet out of a flying car, I still managed to tuck and roll and protect my head.
I only found these things out after all was said and done. A lot of what happened -- in the accident, in the hospital afterward -- remains a mystery to me. I suppose I could've asked more questions, but I don't think I ever really wanted to know all the details.
All things considered, I was very fortunate. My hip socket broke cleanly, so they didn't have to repair it surgically. All I had to do was give it time to mend and it'd be all right.
I wasn't so lucky with my other leg injuries. After performing reconstructive surgery on my calf and thigh, the doctor told Vickie that he doubted I would ever walk again. "What does he do for a living?" he asked.
"He's a professional wrestler."
"Oh no, he'll never wrestle again," the doctor replied. "That's certain. He'll have to find another career. That is, if he makes it."
Within a couple of days it became clear I was going to survive. My liver showed definite signs of healing and it looked like I was out of the woods. The doctors told me that my physical condition was a huge factor in my ability to heal. A normal thirty-six-year-old, without my level of physical activity, would've probably been crippled for life.
Still, the doctors were all pretty surprised. They would come into my room and tell me how fortunate I was. "You're a lucky, lucky man," they said.
Yeah, right, I thought. Sure I am.
While I was in the hospital, the doctors had me on morphine drip all day long. I was able to push a button and get a dose every seven minutes. And believe me, I pushed that button every time.
Obviously I couldn't do that after I went home, so I started taking a lot of pills. Anything to stop the hurting. How could I do the physical therapy if I was in terrible pain? I had to dull the pain before I could begin learning to walk again.
But as a result of having so much painkiller in me, I was pretty much in a fog. I was like the walking dead -- only I couldn't walk!
I started physical therapy about a month after the accident. My whole body hurt, like I'd taken the worst bump ever. I was in pain all the time, on the inside. My hip socket was still in the process of healing, but I couldn't wait anymore.
The physical therapy was as frustrating and painful as anything I'd ever experienced. I didn't want to be there and behaved like a real asshole. They were poking and pushing at me, and all I wanted was to go home and take more painkillers.
I eventually got my legs working again. My hip healed. It was painful, but I was able to get through it. The physical therapists were shocked at how quickly I started walking again. Still, they didn't think I should even consider wrestling. "No," I said, "I'm going to wrestle."
"At least wait a year," they said. But I couldn't put it off that long. I needed to get back to work.
I was in a pit of despair, but still determined to push myself back into shape. I knew that if I was ever going to get back in the ring, I was going to need to do some serious training. I probably would never come close to the condition I was in before the accident, but at least I'd be able to wrestle.
When I started getting back into shape, I couldn't believe how hard it was. My legs were working, my body was just about healed, but I didn't have the same strength that I used to. I couldn't even curl five pounds without it hurting. But I was persistent, spending all day, every day, in the gym. Slowly but surely, I got my strength back. After five weeks, I was back to where I was before the accident.
I was on painkillers almost all the time. I was taking Vicodin, OxyContin, anything I could get. I wasn't getting high -- I was using them to get through life. Along with the pills, I was drinking pretty much all the time. Anything to dull the pain.
Most people, when they've taken that much painkiller, can barely walk, let alone hit the gym and train. But it was normal to me. I was driven to keep going.
Once my body was back in some semblance of shape, I went back to the ring. Steve Keirn -- a great wrestler who was a star in the AWA and went on to WWE fame as Doink the Clown -- had taken over Dean Malenko's wrestling school, and he invited me to come on down and work out. I'd get in the ring with whoever was there.
Other than my close circle of friends -- Tury, Dean, Chris -- not many people knew the extent of my injuries. In this business, no one talks about getting hurt. You get injured and you just keep going.
Being a wrestler gave me the ability to deal with my injuries in a way that most people couldn't. I've been wrestling with injuries my entire life. Even though what had happened to me was far beyond the normal wrestling injury, I didn't let myself go there in my mind. To me, it was another injury.
I was running on pure instinct. Even though I was feeling pretty down, wrestling is my way of life. It's how I support my family. I don't know any other way. Since the day I was born, wrestling has sustained me and my family. It's the way my father fed me; it's the way I feed my kids.
More importantly, wrestling is my greatest release. It's been such a blessing for me. I can step into the ring and let it all go -- all my anger, all my frustration, all my pain. Whoosh! Everything just comes out of me. It's a beautiful feeling, a gift.
I honestly can't describe what goes on in my head when I'm out there. People who don't wrestle can't possibly understand it. When I'm in the ring, I don't feel any pain. I'm in another world out there.
When I'm backstage, I walk around like Slowpoke Rodriguez. My lids are heavy, my head hangs low, my shoulders are slumped. But the second I go through that curtain I become Speedy Gonzalez. The adrenaline starts pumping and I just go to a different place in my head. My energy picks right up, everything starts clicking, and I feel like a million bucks. The shift from one persona to the other is instantaneous. It's almost as if I'm two different people -- Superman and Clark Kent.
To me, wrestling is therapy. No matter how bad my personal situation is, when I step into the ring, all my troubles disappear. My baggage stays in the back where it belongs.
After the accident, I started to see myself as bulletproof. I wrecked my car, came within an inch of killing myself, and I was still here. In my mind I felt nothing could stop me.
At the same time, there was part of me that felt guilty for being alive. I still feel that way sometimes, especially when I hear about other wrestlers that were in the same boat that I've been in, but didn't make it. The emotions hit me hard. I understand that my survival is by the grace of God, but it's still very difficult to accept.
My brother Mando asked me, "Did you see a light or a tunnel or anything?"
There was no light, no out-of-body experience. That made me question my relationship with God. I wondered that if I had died, was I going to heaven? I thought that maybe God had left me here because I wasn't saved. Maybe He knew that I hadn't really made that choice in my heart and He was still giving me another opportunity.
Things between Vickie and me began improving a bit. At first, we were both still scared by the idea that I almost died. Then it was simply that we were spending more time together. It was great to be able to be around Vickie and the kids. Even though I wasn't completely there, I was still around more than I'd ever been.
But it turned out to be a false peace. Just because things had chilled out and we weren't at each other's throats all the time didn't mean the issues between us had gone away. They just went into hibernation for a few months.
Physically, everything healed with time -- my hip, my ribs, my liver. My spirit was another story. That hole inside me was still empty.
I knew I needed to change my life. But knowing you've got to change doesn't mean you're going to do it. It's meaningless unless you actually take steps to make those alterations.
I had so many questions about my own behavior. Why am I doing these things? Why am I trying to hurt myself? Why do I keep hurting my loved ones?
With all that was going on, I never once considered therapy, let alone going into rehab. I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. I just thought I was making bad decisions. I thought I had no willpower. I think I probably didn't want to know if there was anything wrong with me.
I just wasn't there yet. I still hadn't reached rock bottom.
In the spring, WCW did a show in Orlando, so I drove down to talk with them about my comeback. Kevin Nash had the book at the time. "I know it's only been a few months," I said, "but I'm ready. Can I please start working again?"
I've got to admit, Kevin was cool. He totally put me over. "Sure, Eddie," he said. "Nobody with a wrestling show would ever have a problem having you as part of it," he said, paying me a nice compliment.
But the truth was we both knew that there was a good possibility that things were going to be different, that I wasn't going to be the same wrestler I was before the accident. I knew I'd fucked up with the car accident. I just wanted the chance to come back and earn my spot again. I wasn't done. I didn't want my career to end like that.
On June 21, 1999, I flew to New Orleans for my return to WCW. Despite having been told that I'd never wrestle again, I honestly didn't think of it as being that big of a deal. I was just going back to work.
I was obviously pretty nervous. I'd seen it so many times -- a wrestler would take time off due to injury, and when they came back they just weren't the same.
There's no mercy in this business. If you can't produce, the fans can tell. It doesn't matter how much they love or respect you, they'll turn their back on you if you can't deliver in the ring. Like it or not, they're going to compare you to the person you were. Does he still have what it takes?
Kevin used the car accident as a way of getting me over. I walked out and the crowd seemed genuinely glad to see me. They chanted, "Eddy! Eddy!" even though I was a heel the last time I was on TV.
I got my heat back pretty quickly. I gave an interview, talking about how lucky I was to be alive and how pumped I was to be back. Juventud Guerrera came down and gave me a hug, then offered his hand in friendship. I refused, letting him know that I hadn't forgotten how the LWO called it quits. As Juvi tried to explain, I slapped him right across the face, setting up our match.
It was an okay match. I remember watching it later and thinking, I'm not down.
For better or worse, I've made a lot of comebacks, and if there's one thing that I've learned, it's that you've got to come back right. You can't come back out of shape. If you don't, you're never going to be able to get back to where you were.
I knew the boys were going to test me, to see if I still had what it took. You can't just come back and expect to be treated the same way you were before you left. You have to remind people who you are in the ring. Sure, there was going to be some ring rust, but I was determined to work at the same level I was at before the accident.
That first night, I realized that I had a lot of work left to do, but at least I was back.