Kurt Angle’s Tragic Real-Life Story
Kurt Angle may be the ultimate wrestler, in that he conquered the amateur stage to the point of winning an Olympic gold medal before seamlessly transitioning into the wacky world of pro wrestling, conquering that as well. He’s won world championships in WWE, TNA, and Japan, and has proven himself to the point where he’s earned perhaps the greatest honor an old wrestler can receive: a non-physical TV role as a general manager. This way, he can soak in the fans’ adulation without worrying about suffering another broken freakin’ neck and possibly never moving again.
Whether playing a dorky-yet-condescending villain who thinks he’s an American hero, an actual American hero, or a deadly serious wrestling machine, it seems there’s nothing Kurt Angle can’t do. Well, aside from having a normal, peaceful life, that is. Angle’s story is filled with dark turns, some outside his control and some very much self-inflicted. Luckily, he’s still around despite all that life has thrown at him.
He lost his dad at age 16
Everything Kurt Angle has accomplished in both his career and life, he’s had to do without his father. This was nobody’s fault, except whatever spirit is in charge of setting up freak fatal accidents.
Kurt’s father, David Angle, wasn’t a star athlete. He was a crane operator, one who worked hard at supporting his kids’ dreams. He attended all Kurt’s wrestling matches and football games, but unfortunately, he never got to see his Kurt become an amazing athlete. In August 1985, when Kurt was 16, his father fell out of a 15-foot-high crane and landed on his head. Even with his skull cracked, David Angle walked himself to the hospital. His gumption, however, couldn’t save him from slipping into a coma, and he died two days later.
Kurt responded to this catastrophic loss by doing what he did best: excelling at athletics. He had an amazing football performance the same week his father passed. That said, his father’s death might’ve been why young Kurt eventually became Kurt Angle. As he said in his autobiography, “I grew up and overcame my fears the day [my father] died. I vowed right then and there to become a champion, to do whatever it took.”
The murder of trainer David Schultz
Like all great athletes, Kurt Angle had a great trainer, a man named David Schultz. Schultz, who won Olympic gold in 1984, helped prep Angle for the ’96 games, but never got to see his protege triumph, thanks to perhaps the most violent and senseless murder in amateur wrestling history.
Schultz and Angle were members of Team Foxcatcher, a wrestling squad financed by wealthy philanthropist John du Pont (above). Sadly, du Pont had serious mental issues, including delusional schizophrenia and paranoia. According to court testimony, his issues got worse as his team prepped for the Olympics. He threatened multiple wrestlers, including pulling a gun on one while kicking him off the team.
Du Pont turned deadly on January 26, 1996, when he pointed his gun at Schultz and opened fire, shooting him three times. For that crime, du Pont was sentenced to 13-30 years in prison. (He died behind bars in 2010.) A devastated Angle wound up being the only member of Team Foxcatcher in the Olympics, and he dedicated himself to honoring his trainer’s memory as best he could. Considering he won gold, his best was obviously good enough.
His sister died of a heroin overdose
Between his father and coach, Kurt Angle had already dealt with plenty of loss. But then, on September 15, 2003, he got yet another tragic slap in the face, with the death of his sister from a drug even worse than what he was starting to feed himself.
Kurt’s sister, Le’Anne, had a heroin addiction, one she succumbed to in 2003. Her devastated brother didn’t talk about it publicly for a long time, until a 2014 YouTube video journal he put together to chronicle his comeback after surgery. As he explained, he dealt with her death in roughly the same way as his father’s death and his coach’s: going out there and being amazing at athletics. In this case, he wrestled a scheduled one-hour match with Brock Lesnar just a day after Le’Anne’s passing. While it was an incredible match, in retrospect Angle realizes it was a pretty awful grieving mechanism. As he said in his journal, “I didn’t deal with [her death]. … I went out there and had one of the best matches of my life. I hid the pain.”
He broke his neck during Olympic trials
Throughout his pro wrestling career, Kurt Angle has constantly bragged about winning his gold medal “with a broken freakin’ neck.” He’s said it enough that it’s easy to forget just how serious the incident really was, and how it helped to start him down a long, rocky, drug-addled path.
During the Olympic trials, Angle landed hard on his head, herniating two discs, cracking two vertebrae, and pulling four neck muscles. And yet, despite suffering injuries that absolutely should’ve knocked him out of contention, he soldiered on, winning that trial match 4-3 after being down 0-3 pre-injury.
When he went in for his MRI the next day, his doctor ordered him to rest and heal for at least six months. That would mean no Olympics, so Angle got a second opinion. He found a doctor who was, in his words, “either smart enough or stupid enough to allow [him] to wrestle.” The doc’s solution: No more training and tons of Novocaine before each match. For normal people, wrestling with a broken-but-numb neck would be the stupidest idea ever, but Kurt Angle rode that numbness all the way to Olympic gold. However, getting pumped that full of drugs turned into an addiction.
A long history of drug addictions
Kurt Angle isn’t the only wrestler to battle drug addiction. However, his fight’s been particularly ornery, and probably should’ve killed him a while back. In addition to the Olympics, Angle says he’s broken his neck several times as a pro wrestler. One break in particular led him to start taking painkillers, which he unfortunately discovered he enjoyed very much. Soon, as he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 2006, he found himself chowing up to 65 pills a day, of all sorts: Percocet, Vicodin, Lorcet, and more. He even had a system where he’d go from doctor to doctor to get various prescriptions and collect pill bottles.
In August 2005, he suffered a laundry list of injuries in a match, but this time he refused to take any more pills. He apparently steered clear of them for a while — a year later he told the Tribune-Review he was still clean — and worked on cleaning his life up. That, unfortunately, didn’t last, as shortly thereafter he was on more substances than ever. During a 2014 CBS interview, Angle admits to a seven-year battle with a potentially lethal cocktail of morphine, Xanax, and alcohol, one he had only kicked about a year before. At the time, he was winning his addiction battle, though he knows drugs are too stubborn to stay down without a constant fight. Just like him.
Kurt Angle’s potentially lethal drug cocktail consumed his life until a few years ago and helped him rack up four DUI arrests along the way. His first arrest occurred in September 2008, when a Pennsylvania woman reported Angle had almost hit her car as he left a bar. He was arrested at his home after refusing a breathalyzer (according to WTAE). Because he wasn’t arrested on the road, cops couldn’t prove Angle had driven drunk, and a judge found him not guilty.
Subsequent arrests showed 2008 was no aberration. In March 2011 he was arrested in North Dakota for driving drunk. He was given a year’s probation, a fine, and suspended jail time. He stayed out of trouble until being arrested in September that year by Virginia police. Luckily for him, the judge didn’t hold that pesky probation against him, simply fining him $1,500 and sending him on his way.
Then, in August 2013, TMZ reported Angle had been arrested yet again, this time in Texas for reckless driving following a TNA show. Though he appears to have received no punishment from law enforcement, he tweeted shortly after that he was going to rehab.
His brother's a convicted murderer
Though Kurt Angle’s life has been largely clean and drama-free since around 2014, he did recently have to deal with one of the worst things anyone could possibly face: the realization that a beloved family member is a killer.
On September 20, 2015, Angle’s brother David (not Eric, who had previously appeared on WWE TV as Kurt’s doppelganger) called 911 to say his wife, Donna, was unconscious. According to him, the two had a domestic argument that ended with her on the floor and his knee in her chest. She later died. Shortly after, David Angle was arrested and charged with homicide.
In June 2016, Angle pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, and in September that year a judge sentenced him to a minimum of 2.5 years in prison, with a maximum sentence of ten years. There’s no word on whether Angle will see freedom anytime soon, but it hardly matters. A woman is gone, and even though Kurt had no hand in the incident, knowing it happened likely haunts him even during his happiest, most sober of days.
Losing his wife to a fellow wrestler
In late 2008, Kurt Angle and his wife, Karen, finalized their divorce. What makes this a truly dark moment in Kurt’s life is that Karen soon found love in the arms of another wrestler. Namely, one who worked for and co-owned TNA, the company that employed Angle. There are awkward situations, and then there’s this.
In July 2009, someone called into the Bubba the Love Sponge radio show saying he saw Karen Angle canoodling with Jeff Jarrett, TNA’s co-owner and one of their biggest stars. Obviously, he could’ve just been a crank, but a week later PWInsider confirmed it was true. Imagine losing your spouse to your CEO and having to work side by side with the CEO every day. That was Kurt having to deal with Jarrett.
According to PWInsider, Kurt knew about the relationship before it became public. He apparently knew when he and Jarrett had a storyline feud, meaning when Angle was yelling at Jarrett and threatening him, it may have been very real. But Karen and Jeff Jarrett have been happily married since 2011. Kurt, meanwhile, has been married to an actress named Giovanna Yannotti since 2012.
Another wrestler accused him of harassment
As if working in TNA with Jeff Jarrett, the guy who wound up with his wife, wasn’t bad enough, Kurt Angle found himself in a sticky situation with another TNA coworker years later.
In August 2009, Angle was in a live-in relationship with fellow TNA wrestler Trenesha Biggers (known professionally as Rhaka Khan). Things turned sour and, as reported by WTAE, Khan wound up going to the police and reporting that Angle had harassed and assaulted her. She filed a PFA (protection from abuse order), and Angle was subsequently arrested.
In November 2009, Khan dropped the PFA prior to a court hearing. In its place was a civil court agreement that ordered Angle and Khan to stay away from each other completely for three years, unless wrestling schedules forced them to cross each other’s’ paths professionally. So Angle mostly got off scot-free, but it’s either a dark chapter because he was unfairly dragged or it’s a much darker chapter because he actually did it.
His painful rift with Vince McMahon
Kurt Angle’s relationship with WWE chairman Vince McMahon went way beyond dollars and cents. Citing a WWE 24 documentary, Wrestling Inc. quoted Angle as saying, “Vince and I had a connection. He wasn’t just a boss. He was a friend, a father figure, and I actually loved him. I loved him like a father.”
At times Vince treated Kurt like a son. When Angle wanted to perform at WrestleMania with a broken neck, Vince tried to dissuade him. But when the wrestler insisted, Vince not only offered his support but told Angle, “I love you.” A succession of neck fractures would fuel the wrestler’s ever-worsening painkiller addiction. Part of the problem was that he “kept rushing back” from injury. He was desperately clinging to his spot in the company, which Vince had specially carved out for him.
In 2006 Angle unhappily departed from the WWE. He later wrote in his blog that he left because he “felt guilty about being a liability to Vince McMahon.” He migrated to TNA, where he continued nursing his addiction. All the while he still yearned for his father figure’s approval. WWE star A.J. Styles recalled that Kurt still “talked about Vince all the time” after leaving WWE. In 2017 Kurt made a triumphant return to WWE programming and to Vince.
He has a grim history with a deadly heart condition
During the early 2000s, Kurt Angle used his star power to spotlight a serious heart condition called angina. An indicator of coronary artery disease, angina causes chest pain, fatigue, and difficulty breathing, making simple physical activities extremely taxing. Unfortunately, it’s a condition Angle is all too familiar with.
At least 14 of Kurt’s family members have suffered from angina or another heart problem. In 2003 he told ABC, “My sister had a heart attack at age 41, my dad had two heart attacks before he was 55, my uncle and all four of [my] grandparents died from heart attacks.” In a blog post the former Olympian revealed that his grandmother, the only grandparent he ever knew, died of a heart attack the day before his first NCAA Division 1 title.
Kurt witnessed so many relatives struggle with heart ailments that until about the age of 15 or 16 he believed everyone died of heart attacks. Sadly, when he was finally in the position to raise awareness about the disease that haunted his family, Angle’s efforts were partially hamstrung by the very persona that made him famous. As a wrestling heel he wasn’t supposed to do “heartwarming stuff,” so the WWE made limited efforts to publicize his awareness campaign.
He was implicated in an ugly steroid scandal
In 2007 Sports Illustratedmade the bombshell revelation that back in 2004 Kurt Angle and other prominent athletes obtained banned substances like steroids from soon-to-be-banned doctors. This wasn’t a get-ripped-quick scheme for Kurt. He told ESPN he needed steroids to recover from his broken neck and had every intention of procuring them legally. But his doctor vetoed the plan and instead “went online illegally and bought them for cheaper so he could make money from me,” Angle said. “The doctor robbed me is what happened.”
Unfortunately, there’s more to the story and none of it is good. According to AL.com, J. Michael Bennett, the ethically flexible pharmacist who signed off on Angle’s steroids, had been supplying athletes with drugs exclusively meant for livestock, which is incredibly dangerous. Angle insisted he had nothing to do with Bennett, who was sentenced to four years behind bars. He dismissed it all as “rumors” and called journalists “hideous” for reporting on it.
It’s important to point out that one of the drugs Kurt reportedly received was trenbolone. If you slept through steroid class, trenbolone is a hormone administered to beef cattle. Per CNBC, the drug is “many times stronger than testosterone” and illegal for human use. So either the media was full of bull or Kurt was full of bull steroids.
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