Axl Rotten died of an accidental overdose, according to a report from the Baltimore Sun.
Forty-four-year-old- Rotten, whose real name is Brian Knighton, gained fame in the 1990s through Extreme Championship Wrestling. He was found dead on the bathroom floor of a McDonald’s located in the Maryland city of Linthicum on February 4. Axl’s body was in a bathroom stall in which he had pulled down the infant changing table. On the table, police found drug paraphernalia, including a broken burnt tablespoon with “crystalline residue.” On the towel dispenser was an unlabeled pill bottle with capsules containing a brown substance police believed was heroin. Responders tried for 25 minutes to revive Rotten, but he was pronounced dead at the scene at 3:09 p.m. It was unknown how long he was dead before being found.
Axl Rotten “helped establish ECW… as the anti-establishment organization and a stark contrast to the family entertainment” that is offered by World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). In his personal life, Rotten struggled with addiction issues involving alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and prescription drugs. In 2005, prior to a pay-per-view appearance, Axl told the Baltimore Sun that he had been sober for a year. In 2014, he was told he needed cervical spine surgeries. He was told that if he did not have the surgery, he would likely end up spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair.
Rotten created a fundraising page to raise money to pay for his surgeries. The page states that Axl had exhausted all of his medical coverage and was unable to work, which meant he was also unable to pay his bills. Rotten was seeking assistance to pay not only for the surgeries but also for the installation of a ramp and other home modifications that would be necessary in order for him to get around in a wheelchair during his recovery. The page also states that Axl was “clean of all non-medically prescribed drugs” and was “both emotionally and mentally in the best place he has been in years.” No money was raised through the fundraising page.
The WWE issued this statement regarding the death of Axl Rotten.
“WWE is saddened to learn of reports that Brian Knighton, best known for competing in ECW as Axl Rotten from 1993 to 1999, has passed away. WWE extends its condolences to Knighton’s family, friends and fans.”
Rotten was from Fells Point, a neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. He dropped out of high school in 11th grade to pursue a career in wrestling. Axl rose to fame through his tag team runs in the ECW. Among those were The Bad Breed with Ian Rotten (real name John Williams) and The Hardcore Chair Swingin’ Freaks with Balls Mahoney. He was known for extreme and highly violent behavior in the ring, including mutilating himself with barbed wire and broken glass. Axl left the ECW in 1999. In 2015, a documentary about Rotten titled Extreme Injuries, Hardcore Recovery was released. In it, he openly discusses the physical toll that wrestling took on his body, his struggles with addiction, and his recovery from both.
Rotten’s mother, Maria Leydig, had this to say about the death of her son, according to the Pro Wrestling Sheet.
“Brian lost his battle with his demon… Wrestling was what Brian lived and breathed. He loved his fans. Please pray for him and may God hold him in his arms forever.”
Axl’s close friend and former tag team partner John Williams posted to Facebook on the day following Rotten’s death that he was not completely surprised by it.
Rotten posted this tweet on the morning of his death.
[Photo by John Jewell//photo cropped and resized]