On Friday, Chris Jericho had Sandra Toffoloni, Nancy Benoit’s sister and family nanny, as a guest on his podcast, Talk is Jericho. It was nine years ago during a three day period, when former WWE Champion Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son, Nancy and Danny Benoit, and then committed suicide. In a brave and insightful interview, Sandra spoke candidly about Chris Benoit’s behavior leading up to the tragic event, provided her own insight and opinions to what drove Chris to commit these horrible acts, and shared fond memories of her nephew and sister with Chris Jericho.
Nancy Benoit was known in the wrestling world as Woman. Through her 13-year stellar career, she managed many talents including the tag team of Doom, Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen, ex-husband Kevin Sullivan, and Chris Benoit. Nancy was also Benoit’s business manager during his tenure in the WWE. Sandra shared with Jericho how she felt about her sister’s fame.
“I was just very proud of her because she stayed true to herself and was happy and content with what she was doing. And she also brought a lot of women up along in the business; which until then really wasn’t a thing. She was one of the very first valets in the business that parleyed itself into now, what we know in the modern wrestling world as, ‘the divas.’ She turned that into being a manager, she parlayed that into an actual managing career.”
Nancy Benoit was married to Kevin Sullivan and they were together as a couple for nearly 10 years. During the mid-1990s, Sullivan was a booker for WCW and his manager in the ring was Woman; they also played a couple on-screen. In a bizarre circumstance of art imitating life, or perhaps life imitating art, Sullivan created an angle that Woman was having an affair with Chris Benoit. Sandra Toffoloni spoke about this with Chris Jericho.
“It’s been said over-and-over in the business and behind the scenes, and right up front I guess, that Kevin Sullivan wrote and produced his own divorce. But it was so much more than that; Nancy and Chris really just fell in love — madly in love. They were both in weird different situations [both were married] when it happened — nothing mattered though — they wanted to be together and start a life and family together.”
Much like her sister Nancy, Sandra’s personality beamed through the interview revealing her natural charisma and charm as she spoke of her memories about Christ Benoit.
“He was kind and considerate, very quiet, very focused, and just a driven guy—but caring. He loved my sister, he wanted be around myself, my parents a lot.”
Chris Jericho and Sandra Toffoloni shared stories about Benoit and it was refreshing to hear the pair laugh during their exchange. Sandra then described how she felt when Nancy was pregnant with Danny.
“It was the greatest thing ever. It was the greatest thing ever. She was thrilled and happy, he was thrilled and happy, we all were. He’s my only nephew, we were just very, very thrilled, very excited, and just couldn’t wait — couldn’t wait to meet him.”
The constant theme though, when the two spoke of Christ Benoit, was his intensity; Sandra expounded.
“There was always, no matter what holiday it was or what was going on, there was always a layer underneath that even — you know hindsight’s 20-20 — but even looking back now I’m not even a hundred percent sure that my sister ever permeated. There was just something underneath with him that kept him, it almost seemed like self-flagellation for any kind of misstep or mistake in his life, not just professionally, but personally as well. He was a very intense person. There were a lot of light moments, and levity, and love along the way; but coming up to the event. I had noticed that all that light and levity was getting fewer-and-further between, even with family.”
Sandra Toffoloni described how Chris Benoit’s personality changed through the years and how he became paranoid for his family’s safety.
“What really became noticeable was a little bit more of — like a sense of — un-safeness and paranoia for the family. He’d just would like, be constantly checking the alarm at night, constantly be checking things, and for himself. Like when we would go to the gym and do things like that, he would take different ways every time, different routes, The way we would go in the morning is not the way we would go after dinner, and never ever before had that been. He used to be fairly laid back about stuff like that, there was never any issue like that, so when it did start happening I noticed immediately.
“It was a huge personality change, not crazy-huge where everyone else would notice, but people that was around him a lot would notice. I didn’t really understand what was happening and to be frank, I still kind of look back on it…was it a precursor to everything that happened — I don’t know.”
— Chandler Koenig (@ChandlerKoenig) June 24, 2016
Benoit’s celebrity status was at its peak; he won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XX and after that event, his level of stardom was forever changed. Sandra commented on how professional wrestlers have been victims of family kidnappings, so, when she talked to her sister about Benoit’s behavior Nancy “chalked it up to part of the business.”
There has been a lot of speculation on why Benoit committed the tragic crime; from the media blaming steroids, to people giving ridiculous speculations that it had to do with devil worship or demon possession. The truth is, fans and family will never know the exact reason on what caused Chris Benoit to commit these horrific acts. Sandra Toffoloni is the person with the most insight because she was there for it all. She provided Chris Jericho with what is perhaps the most thoughtful and intelligent opinion of the tragedy.
“There were two wrestling deaths right before Nancy and Chris…it really started to put a strain on everything. I think that Nancy was getting nervous that something was going to happen to him or that he was going to get hurt, with Eddie’s [Eddie Guerrero] death it put a ton of pressure on Chris as well. I said a long time ago to Paul [Paul Heyman] that he was in a state of perpetual bereavement. It did not stop, it was constant.”
Many wrestlers that both Chris and Nancy Benoit were close to died in a relative short amount of time within each other, including Ray Trailer (Big Boss Man), Michael Durham (Johnny Grunge), Chris Benoit’s best friend Eddie Guerrero, and Sherri Schrull (Sherri Martel).
“When fabulous Sherri [Sherri Martel] died that was one of the last conversations I had with my sister. When Sherri died she called me crying and crying and crying, ‘It just won’t end, it just won’t end.’ I couldn’t wrap my head around it…what they were experiencing was a pounding of grief and it was affecting everything, and there was a lot of self-medicating going on in that house with both of them. My sister was not a saint, but it was really, really next level after those events, especially after Eddie, with Chris.”
There is much speculation as to what drove Chris Benoit to murder, and as the New York Times reported, many people blamed it on head trauma caused by a series of untreated concussions.
“I think that it [drug abuse] was a huge contributing factor to what happened. The autopsy said so, I had seen it prior to that — the alcohol and medication, not just the steroids but everything else that had been going on — it was a huge factor. I know that everyone talks about the concussion issue with Christopher, maybe that played a role as well, the autopsy never said he had Alzheimer’s, that he couldn’t find his way, the things they are saying related to concussions wasn’t Chris and wasn’t anything I observed ever. That guy could get in and out of an airport in eight minutes flat, and I mean any airport. It wasn’t that, it was a combination of a lot of things. A huge boulder of weight from loss and grief, I think it was a ton of medication altering his body chemistry, his brain chemistry, alcohol, everything that was going on at that time.
“I know there were issues in the house that he was having, again, with himself. Struggling inside with things that are privy to he and I, and my family and my sister, that I wouldn’t put on blast for anyone to know. But that coupled with the facts of what I know from being there immediately after that weekend, and seeing everything, it wasn’t the act of someone with brain damage. It wasn’t, it’s impossible for that to have been the case. I understand the necessity to want to put it on something and say, ‘this is why he did it, this is the reason right here.’ Because the daily pain of not knowing why and not really knowing what happened, is crippling.
“I can’t put it on any one thing; it was a combination of many things, outside factors, and an inner struggle that he had been going through for quite some time after Eddie and everyone else…he almost had this look in his eye — it wasn’t more of who’s next, it was more of, am I next — in his eyes.”
Strange day today. Miss my bro. Wish he was still around.
— Chris Jericho (@IAmJericho) June 25, 2016
Toffoloni gave even further insight to the brutal murders of Nancy and Daniel Benoit.
“To be clear — it was serious rage — he brutalized my sister. Even though the police report, and the freedom of information act, and the people can kind of see some things — they didn’t have to see what I saw. And I have to put that out there as fact; he brutalized my sister. He murdered her brutally. Again, not being the Chris I would equate to that.
“My sister was killed Friday evening between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., and then Saturday morning Daniel was killed, and then Chris killed himself Sunday evening. So he spent two full days in the house with Nancy and Daniel not alive.”
Fans, friends, and family will continue to mourn the loss of Danny, Nancy, and Chris Benoit. Sandra shared many memories and theories with Chris Jericho on this episode of Talk is Jericho, and she did so with a brave poise and composure that many people would not be able to have. She clearly has her sister’s and nephew’s spirit within her and sharing these stories, with Chris Jericho and the listening audience worldwide, has helped keep the spirit of Nancy and Danny Benoit alive.
“She was just thoughtful, thoughtful, thoughtful; she thought about everyone else before herself — always.”
[Image by Simon Hofmann/Getty Images]