Lance McNaught, a professional wrestler who had been under contract on-and-off with World Wrestling Entertainment for the past decade, died Thursday night at the San Antonio home of his father, Harley, according to company officials. The official cause of death is pending results of an autopsy, but the company, which has been in contact with the family, stated that the preliminary belief was heart failure.
McNaught, who wrestled under the names Lance Cade and Garrison Cade during different tenures with the company, was 29.
McNaught's death has the potential to become a political issue in a U.S. Senate campaign.
Republican Linda McMahon, who was CEO of the WWE until resigning to run for office, is opposing Democrat Richard Blumenthal in Connecticut in November's election. McMahon, who has run a self-funded campaign and spent approximately $21 million thus far to capture the open seat left by the retirement of Democrat Chris Dodd, won the GOP nomination on Tuesday.
The wife of the company's larger-than-life chairman, Vince McMahon, came under heavy criticism from opponents in the Republican primary race for the high mortality rate of wrestlers who had at one time worked for the company, often due to drug-related issues.
McNaught, who was released by the WWE in April, was the first death of a young wrestler with ties to the company since McMahon's campaign started.
Five wrestlers age 40 and under have died in the past 13 years while under contract to the company: Chris Benoit, 40; Eduardo "Eddy" Guerrero, 38; Owen Hart, 34; Brian Pillman, 35; and Russ Haas, 27.
McNaught is one of several performers in recent years who has died not long after leaving the company, including Andrew "Test" Martin, 33; David "Davey Boy" Smith, 39; Michael "Crash Holly" Lockwood, 32; Louis "Louie Spiccoli" Mucciolo, 27.
The publicly traded WWE, recently valued at $1.05 billion, classifies its performers as independent contractors and does not offer health insurance, though the company pays for the treatment of injuries suffered on the job.
McNaught, who was married and had two daughters and one stepson, was scheduled to leave Saturday for a pro wrestling tour of Japan. He was scheduled to headline an Aug. 29 show at Sumo Hall in Tokyo.
McNaught's wife, Tanya, told company officials Friday morning about the death and asked them to contact his trainer, Michael Hickenbottom, a star wrestler known as Shawn Michaels.
She said that on Tuesday she noticed her husband not looking well and having difficulty breathing and called an ambulance to get him to the hospital. At one point he passed out, but he was revived in the hospital and stayed overnight. He asked to be released the next day, went home, became upset and left.
She did not see or hear from him until late Thursday afternoon, when his father called her to say he showed up at his work, not looking well, and that he was going to take him to his house. He passed away that night. McNaught, who was 6-foot-5 and 270 pounds, was considered a top prospect when signed by the WWE at 19 years old, upon the recommendation of Hickenbottom. He wrestled for years in their developmental system, but always seemed a step away from his predicted stardom.
He rose to the level of a solid middle-of-the-card performer, and he got his biggest break in 2008, when he was being groomed to be the partner of headliner Chris Irvine, better known as Chris Jericho. But he was fired just as he was ascending to the top level due to concern of substance issues, shortly after an incident on an airplane in which he suffered a seizure.
He was rehired in September '09 for a new storyline. In January of 2010, company officials said he asked to be sent to rehab, and he completed a 30-day program in February. Company officials stated he got positive reviews from those at the program. However, he was released from his contract in April.