Originally posted by Arizona Republic (azcentral.com)Former WWE star Luther Reigns recovering from stroke in Glendale
by Derek Quizon - Apr. 19, 2010 09:07 AM The Arizona Republic
Stroke victim Matthew Wiese stands out among the patients being treated at the Valley of the Sun Rehabilitation Hospital in Glendale. His massive size - 6 feet 5 and about 260 pounds - gives the 36-year-old an imposing presence that contrasts starkly with the vulnerability he reveals when he opens his mouth to speak.
He talks slowly and softly, at times struggling to finish a sentence or a thought - the last person you would expect to be performing live and on television for millions of people.
Although the symptoms of Wiese's stroke are typical, the events that led to it are anything but. Known to wrestling fans as Luther Reigns, Wiese performed in sold-out arenas across the country as one of World Wrestling Entertainment's biggest stars for nearly two years.
It sounds like a dream come true for any aspiring pro wrestler, but for Wiese, it was also a period marked by tremendous physical pain and drug abuse, which he said was exacerbated by a culture of steroid and painkiller abuse that led to the debilitating stroke he experienced in December.
"We wrestled every night, damn near every night," Wiese said. "We were beat to hell. So we needed pain pills to do our job."
In addition to the 40 to 50 pain pills he took each day, Wiese said, he was on steroids, a habit he carried over from his time at ASU and his stint in the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling organization.
His addiction continued after he retired from the WWE to manage his girlfriend's acting career. The years of drug abuse caught up to him when he suffered the stroke at his home last year.
Wiese's speech therapist, Beth Lynch, said a stroke at his age is not normal but probably is the result of years of drug abuse.
Wiese's drug habits predate his days as a professional wrestler - his steroid abuse dates to his days working as a bouncer in Tempe - but he said the lifestyle surrounding his wrestling career only worsened his addictions.
Beginning his career with WCW in Atlanta under the name "Horshu," Wiese said he felt pressure to be big with both organizations.
"Guys would say, 'You need to get bigger,' " Wiese said. "The bigger guys were the ones getting (TV appearances)."
Professional wrestling has struggled in recent years with the deaths of current and former stars, many of whom had histories of drug abuse. The high-profile deaths of WWE stars Eddie Guerrero in 2005 and Chris Benoit in 2007 brought national attention to steroid abuse.
The WWE instituted a random drug test policy in 2006, the year after Wiese retired. The policy subjects WWE performers to a minimum of four tests annually. A positive test results in a 30-day suspension and a battery of follow-up tests. Three positive tests result in the termination of a wrestler's contract.
The tests are administered by Aegis Sciences Corp. physicians David Black and Joseph Maroon. Maroon said the program has reduced drug use significantly.
"It's been hugely successful," Maroon said. "There's been at least a 90 percent drop in the detection of (banned) substances."
The random schedule of the testing, added Black, makes it difficult to avoid detection.
Wiese's characterization of drug use in WWE doesn't ring true with former star Hazem Ali, also known as Armando Estrada, who now owns a restaurant in Glendale. Ali said drug use is mostly a matter of personal choice, pointing to 6-foot-1, 225-pound WWE star Shawn Michaels as an example of someone who did not need to be particularly large to make it as a professional wrestler.
Ali began his stint with WWE in 2006, the year the new drug testing policy was implemented, which he acknowledged could be a reason he and Wiese had such different experiences. Still, he said, wrestlers become addicted to drugs through a series of personal choices.
"I think it was a different time," Ali said. "(But) I don't think it's a fair assessment to say, 'Wrestling causes this, or wrestling causes that.' It's a decision."
Wiese's main focus is now on recovery. Having blown most of the money he made from wrestling, he now relies on financial support from his mother and royalties from television and movie appearances. He attends outpatient therapy at Valley of the Sun Rehabilitation Hospital three times a week and hopes to move to Los Angeles to become a full-time actor after his therapy is over.
It could be months before he is well enough to begin acting again, but Wiese said the stroke turned out to be a positive experience because it freed him of the addictions that had plagued him for over a decade.
"This had to happen," he said. "This (stroke) was a gift from God."
According to Meltz, Lufisto also recently suffered a stroke, although I would have to think that in her case it would be more likely to be the result of lots of head shots and such than steroids. Still, scary stuff. She's only 30.