by Phil Mushnick

EDDIE GILBERT was found dead Saturday.
They think it was a heart attack. He was 33.

No big deal. Gilbert was only a profesional wrestler. He used to work for the biggies - Ted Turner's WCW and Vince McMahon's WWF. So Gilbert wasn't real. He was a cartoon character, and it should be left at that. Besides, 33 isn't all that bad for a pro wrestler, these days. Why just a couple of months ago, a fellow named Art Barr, who wrestled as Love Machine. died at 28.
The cause of death is still unknown.

"In 1959, when I started my career guys just didn't drop off like that", Bruno Sammartino said Monday from his home in Pittsburgh. "In the past 10, 12 years, though it happens a lot.

Quick Draw Rick McGraw was about 26. Gino Hernandez was 27, Buzz Sawyer was 32. And the Von Erichs - they all were known to be heavy into drugs. It's almost always the same - cocaine, pain killers, steroids. Almost always, steroids. That's the drug that can get you work.

And the tragedy is that one minute they're wrestling on TV , then the next minute they're dead. But it almost never hits the newspapers. That college basketball player in California (Hank Gathers) dies, and it's big news for a long time, and everybody demands an explanation.
But in wrestling, it just doesn't matter. What's the difference?

Pro wrestling is a multi-million dollar, television-delivered, youth-targeted industry that has, for years, routinely seen performers die before age 40 of drug-related and drug suspected causes.

Blissfully suspended somewhere between and behind legit sports and legit entertainment, pro wrestling escapes critical inspection.

After all, the Associated Press doesn't have a guy on the pro wresting beat. And no wresting promoter is going to be inclined to call the AP with word of a 33-year-old performer who died in his sleep.

So pro wrestling escapes. It's fake, and therefore unreal. Except that they're really dead. And the drug abuse on behalf of winning and sustaining employment, seems to be catching up with a lot of the boys.

Barr, McGraw, Hernandez. Jay Youngblood was 27. Steve Schumann was 31. Gilbert, 33, was a star, but at 5-8, too small to get a "push" - to become a superstar. Not that he didn't try.

During a federal trial four years ago, Gilbert was exposed as a steady customer of pro wrestling doctor George Zahorian, who was convicted and jailed for distributing narcotics and steroids - to the biggest names in pro wrestling, including Hulk Hogan.

Four vonErichs - all natural brothers- are all dead, and all of unnatural causes.

David died in 1994 of a drug overdose. He was 24. Mike died in 1987 of a drug-related suicide. He was 23. Chris committed suicide in 1991. He was 20. Kerry, two years ago, shot himself He was facing a major drug rap. Kerry made it to 33, Gilberts age.
And all were professional wrestlers.

Dave Meltzer, for the last 13 years, has written the weekly Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Saturday, he receivedv word of Gilbert's death from a friend of Gilbert, not from the chairman of the Good and Welfare Committee of the Amalgamated Pro Wrestlers. "I didn't think I'd become an obituary writer,"said Meltzer. 'But that's what I'm becoming most known for.'

'Where are the state athletic commissions? Where are the authorities asked Sammartino. 'It's time to clean up this business or abolish it, because it's nothing like it used to be. Right now, it's filled with human junk.'

Yesterday's Daily News, inside a box that carried the WCWs latest pay-per-view TV results, included the following; Shocking news of a wrestling superstar who passed away this weekend & big update on the Ultimate Warrior.
But there was no news printed in the newspaper about this shocking death; no mention that it was 33-year-old Eddie Gilbert. What followed in print were the digits of a 900 number for the 'Daily News Ring Insider' - $2 per minute to hear that Eddie Gilbert is dead

As for The Ultimate Warrior, his real name is Jim Hellwig and he's an admitted steroid abuser from way back. He's getting up there in years. He's 37. So keep dialing.