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Former star blames health issues on steroids, lifestyle of wrestler

  • Story Highlights
  • Vince McMahon: WWE has one of best drug-testing programs
  • Wrestling boss tells CNN that individuals bear responsibility for actions
  • Critics say WWE penalties for drug use are not harsh enough
  • Wrestlers still can get drugs if they have prescriptions from doctors
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(CNN) -- The late Chris Benoit idolized the Dynamite Kid, who was half of a professional wrestling team famous in the 1980s for spectacular high-flying, acrobatic moves.

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Chris Benoit strangled his wife and suffocated his son before hanging himself in June.

The Dynamite Kid and his partner, Davey Boy Smith, were known as the British Bulldogs. They were quick, agile and muscular, and in 1986 they won the World Wrestling Federation tag team championship.

Young Benoit dreamed of wrestling like the Dynamite Kid, whose real name is Tom Billington. At the beginning of his career, Benoit adopted the Dynamite nickname and copied his idol's signature moves.

In June, Benoit murdered his wife and young son before hanging himself. Investigators found testosterone, painkillers and anti-anxiety drugs in Chris Benoit's body, Georgia's chief medical examiner said a month later.

When asked about Benoit's double murder-suicide, Billington told CNN, "It can make you aggressive, the steroids. But personally I wouldn't, you know, kill no bleeding kid, or wife either."

Billington now lives in a public housing apartment outside Manchester, England. He has lost the use of his legs. A pin sticks out from one of his toes.

Billington blames his wrestling life for doing this to him -- wrestling and the fact that he ignored doctors who told him to stop the punishment to his body.

And from the steroids, he said.

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Billington told CNN that the steroids came from doctors, from friends, even from steroids meant for horses. He took them all, took a terrible pounding in the ring, and like his partner (who died at age 39 in 2002), began taking extensive amounts of painkillers.

Benoit's death has refocused a media spotlight on the organization for which he wrestled, now known as World Wrestling Entertainment, and the man who has ruled wrestling for years, Chairman of the Board Vince McMahon.

McMahon, appearing with Linda McMahon, his wife and WWE CEO, told CNN: "Nothing from the WWE, under any set of circumstances had anything to do with Chris Benoit murdering his family. How did we know Chris Benoit would turn into a monster." Read a full transcript of the McMahons interview

Vince McMahon defended the organization, saying its drug-testing policy was not just for show.

"Our policy stacks up just as well as anyone else's in sport, although again emphasizing we are entertainment, and no one in entertainment, no one has this kind of wellness policy," McMahon said.

Critics say McMahon pushes his stars and non-stars, works them too many nights per year and has encouraged the large physiques prevalent in modern wrestling. They say McMahon only looks at his employees as commodities, pawns in a huge business.

His businesses are quite successful. About 16 million people a week tune into WWE TV shows. Two of their cable programs -- "Raw" and "Friday Night Smackdown" -- are weekly ratings giants. Pay-per-view specials generate an average of $100 million per year.

When asked about the high number of former wrestlers who had died before they turned 50 years old, Vince McMahon said each person in the WWE bore responsibility for their own lives -- especially outside the arena.

"If someone passes through our organization, it is not our responsibility for someone's personal activities," he said.

He also said there isn't "any organization in the world, be it entertainment or be it sport, that can tell you that they are totally drug-free." Video Watch as a WWE wrestler says the perception of steroid use is wrong »

The McMahons said the WWE is taking steps toward improving its oversight of its athletes. Since the newest WWE drug screening program began in February 2006, more than 30 of the organization's wrestlers have been suspended, including two since CNN's interview with the McMahons.

David Black -- who helped the NFL develop its drug program and now runs tests for the WWE -- says twice that number have tested positive and been given a warning.

But Dr. Gary Wadler, a world-renowned expert in the study of drugs and athletes, says the WWE is not doing enough.

"It certainly falls far, far short of where it needs to be," he said. "And there is a gold standard, and I measure all these sporting and entertainment activities against this gold standard. And [the WWE is] miles apart."

Wadler, a longtime critic of McMahon, was referring to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in Colorado Springs, Colorado. U.S. athletes training for the Olympics are randomly tested and, if caught just once, face a two-year suspension from competition. If caught a second time, they can be banned for life.

Black's programs test wrestlers four times a year. The first is a "baseline" test, according to the WWE. Black then tests for "nonmedical" uses, meaning that if an athlete has a prescription, he is cleared.

"It's just a loophole that in my mind guts the entire program," said Travis Tygart, who heads the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.

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McMahon denies that his wrestlers are pushed to use steroids. He says the average wrestler is lighter than in recent years. Video Watch one of the new WWE stars talk about being "straight edge" »

"There's an expression in our business, that here is where you make your money. It's your face, it's what you do with it," he said. "It's your personality, it's what you do with it. It's your delivery, your elocution. It's storyline, it's things, all those things that are theatrical as well as athletic in the ring." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Drew Griffin contributed to this report.

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