The pro wrestling community is mourning the loss of former WWE Diva Search winner Ashley Massaro, who passed away at the age of 39.
Massaro was rushed to a local hospital early Thursday morning after a rescue call came from her home on Long Island. She died later that morning. No official cause of death was immediately released, other than it was “non-criminal.”
The New York native reportedly was planning to celebrate her 40th birthday in Las Vegas. She would have turned 40 on May 26.
Massaro thanked her many followers on Twitter in her final post Wednesday night. The tweet was accompanied by a photo of fan mail. “Just answered a ton of fan mail so you guys should be receiving them soon! Love ya punx.”
In an Instagram post earlier this year, Massaro wrote: “Those who died yesterday had plans for this morning. And those who died this morning had plans for tonight. Don’t take life for granted. In the blink of an eye, everything can change. So forgive often and love with all your heart. You may never get to have that chance again.”
A Miss Hawaiian Tropic USA in 2002 and a Miss Hawaiian Tropic Canada in 2004, Massaro won the second edition of WWE’s Diva Search in 2005, beating Leyla Milani in the finals and winning $250,000 and a one-year contract with WWE.
Massaro, who posed for Playboy magazine in 2007 and was a contestant later that year in CBS’s “Survivor China,” worked for both the Raw and Smackdown brands. She served as a valet for the team of Paul London and Brian Kendrick on Smackdown.
Among those she enjoyed programs with during her time in the company were Mickie James, Torrie Wilson, Beth Phoenix, Melina, Candice Michelle, Kristal Marshall, Maria and Jillian Hall. She unsuccessfully challenged Melina for the women’s title at Wrestlemania 23 in 2007.
Declaring that she “can’t be on the road with WWE when my own flesh and blood needs me,” Massaro was granted a release from WWE in 2008 to care for her 7-year-old daughter.
“At this point when she is sick and needs me home, I have to make the decision to bow out of WWE for a while and take care of my daughter … I wish I could do both and that there were more ways to get everything done, but with the severity of the situation I’m going to have to ask for an early release for now,” she told People magazine.
Her last pro wrestling bout was in September 2017 with former WWE diva Jillian Hall for Zero One USA.
Massaro was a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in communication with a minor in business.
Friends and former colleagues shared condolences and memories of her on social media.
“This is just awful news – Ashley Massaro is gone. She was only 39. She lived in the same town as me ... I loved seeing her around. She was always so nice ... and now she’s gone,” WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley posted on Twitter.
“I have no words,” wrote WWE performer Maria Kanellis Bennett. “Ashley was my tag partner at Wrestlemania. My sometimes road wife. We did countless photo shoots and press days together. It seems like yesterday Ashley was a major part of my life and then our worlds changed and now she is gone. I’m heartbroken for her family.”
“I can’t even begin to explain how devastated I am to hear about Ashley Massaro – legit one of the sweetest people I’ve ever known,” posted former WWE star Torrie Wilson. “When we fall into a dark place it can seem like it will never change, but if you are there please keep hope and reach out for help.”
“I am gutted by the news of Ashley’s passing and my brain doesn’t want to believe it. It’s difficult and awful news to take in. I’m sending my heart and condolences to her loved ones and to everyone whose heart she touched,” wrote former WWE champ Melina (Perez).
“I am so terribly sad to hear of the passing of Ashley Massaro. She was always so kind to me and supportive. This is an incredible loss,” posted Brandi Rhodes of All Elite Wrestling.
“We are saddened to learn of the tragic death of former WWE Superstar Ashley Massaro,” WWE said in a statement. “She performed in WWE from 2005-2008 and was beloved by her fellow Superstars and fans around the world. WWE offers its condolences to Ashley’s family and friends.”
Massaro had been part of a 2016 class action lawsuit filed by 60 former wrestlers against WWE claiming that the company failed to protect them from repeated head trauma and concussions. In the lawsuit she also alleged that she was sexually assaulted at a U.S. military base during a WWE tour of Kuwait.
The lawsuit was dismissed in 2017.
Massaro had one daughter, Alexis, who will turn 19 in July.
‘Dark Side of the Ring’
A riveting new series that recently premiered on the Viceland network has drawn critical acclaim for its in-depth look at some of pro wrestling’s most infamous moments and controversial characters.
The docuseries, aptly titled “Dark Side of the Ring,” gives viewers an intriguing peek behind the curtain to “find truth at the intersection of fantasy and reality in the veiled world of professional wrestling.”
The six one-hour episodes that have aired in the first season have examined controversies, scandals, questionable deaths and double-crosses in the ring.
One of the most gripping episodes profiled the last surviving brother of the legendary Von Erich wrestling dynasty as he revisited the unfathomable tragedy that plagued his once iconic family.
In “The Last of the Von Erichs,” Kevin Von Erich, the lone survivor of patriarch Fritz Von Erich’s famous wrestling clan, reflects on the unrelenting tragedy his family suffered.
It’s a gut-wrenching tale that has been well-documented over the years, but this latest version serves as a testament to Kevin Von Erich’s determination and strength to survive after watching all of his brothers perish, several by their own hands.
There are also compelling pieces on the mysterious death of Gino Hernandez, the murder of Bruiser Brody, the Montreal Screwjob involving Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Miss Elizabeth’s roller coaster love story, and allegations of exploitation against women’s trailblazer The Fabulous Moolah.
As in the wrestling business itself, it’s up to the viewer to decide who the babyfaces and who the heels are in this cinematic exercise, with a number of industry figures offering their opinions in a search for the truth.
Shadow recreations of scenes, with body doubles for reenactments, are frequently used in lieu of actual footage.
While directors were unable to garner the cooperation of some wrestling companies, most notably WWE, or involvement from some major personalities, they were nonetheless able to produce credible, well-researched stories.
Hulk Hogan was one of those major personalities who refused to take part in “The Match Made in Heaven” episode on former teammate and rival “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 58.
“Really good but relied too much on a couple of pictures someone had and believed stories that were half-truths and some that were just wrong. What a shame they didn’t check all sources,” he tweeted after watching the Savage-Miss Elizabeth episode.
Hogan’s ex-wife, Linda Bollea, was, however, featured prominently in the piece, as was Savage’s brother Lanny Poffo.
No less than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson praised the work.
“Highly recommend a gripping docuseries @DarkSideOfRing on @VICE. Hits home for me as all these tragic stories are from pro wrestlers who my grandfather, my dad and myself have all wrestled and became friends with over the years. Kudos to the filmmakers – a captivating watch,” Johnson posted on social media.
Jason Eisener directed, Evan Husney and Ed Hatton produced, and Viceland’s Chris Grosso was executive producer for the series. Famed wrestler, booker and manager Dutch Mantell serves as narrator.
The network will air “Extended Cuts” of “Dark Side of the Ring” on May 22 at 9 p.m. with never-before-seen footage.
The series logged the highest premiere ratings in Viceland history, and chances are good that it will be renewed for a second season.
Viceland is jumping on the pro wrestling bandwagon with another series.
Following the success of “Dark Side of the Ring,” Viceland will begin airing a 10-part series beginning May 22 titled “The Wrestlers.”
The series, which will air Wednesdays at 10 p.m., will look at wrestling around the world, and how it is influenced by local cultures.
The show will be hosted by hardcore musician and lifelong wrestling fan Damian Abraham.
“The series goes beyond the world of mainstream professional wrestling to dive into the vibrant, fascinating subcultures in the wrestling universe around the world. From Lucha Libre in Mexico to the women’s scene in Japan to “voodoo wrestling” in Congo and countless points in between,” according to a press release.
Upcoming episodes include:
May 22: “The Best New Talent in America.” Nobody had a larger impact on pro wrestling than veteran promoter Gabe Sapolsky. Damian follows Gabe’s crew on an American tour as he trains the next crop of superstars.
May 29: “The Changing Face of Wrestling.” Damian documents the handoff of one generation to the next by visiting a famed wrestler at the close of his career, and profiling the rise of one of wrestling’s newest stars.
June 5: "Japan’s Finest Wrestlers.” Japan boasts the finest women’s wrestling in the world. Damian visits Tokyo to learn what makes these women so good and meet the upcoming generation of female wrestlers.
June 12: “Death Match.” On the fringe of wrestling is Deathmatch, where wrestlers battling with barbed wire, razor blades and broken glass challenge the idea that wrestling is fake.
June 19: Two new episodes airing back to back. “Powerful Women of Wrestling.” Damian travels to Florida and Bolivia to learn how women wrestlers around the world are using professional wrestling to battle inequality, misogyny and domestic abuse.
11 p.m. “The Next Wave of Mexican Luchadores.” As Mexico copes with an ever-present drug war and Trump’s Wall, Lucha Libre is more popular than ever, and some wrestlers see Lucha as their ticket to America.
June 26: Two new episodes airing back to back. “The Craziest Wrestling in Japan.” Invisible wrestlers, blow-up dolls and waterpark matches: Welcome to the weird and wild world of Japan's DDT, the world’s strangest wrestling promotion.
11 p.m. “Wrestling on Canada’s Reserves.” Damian heads to northern Quebec to join a crew of wrestlers who brave weather and isolation to bring professional wrestling to remote and disadvantaged First Nations communities.
July 3: Two new episodes airing back-to-back. “Voodoo Wrestling in the Congo.” In war-torn Congo, a cultural collision has made one of wrestling’s strangest subgenres: voodoo wrestling, in which suplexes and powerbombs mix with hexes and deadly black magic.
11 p.m. “Body Slamming Homophobia in Mexico.” Exoticos, male wrestlers who embrace the feminine and dress in drag inside the ring, have been defying the macho side of Lucha Libre for decades.
“The Wrestlers” is a Vice Studio Canada production and is produced and directed by Nathan Drillot and Jeff Petry. Damian Abraham co-produces. Chris Grosso is executive producer for Viceland.
Reach Mike Mooneyham at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His newly released book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com.