On May 16th, 2019, Ashley Massaro was found unresponsive in her Long Island, New York home. Later, she would be pronounced dead just ten days before her 40th birthday. She left behind a daughter, and a myriad of questions left unanswered.
"Ashley’s death hit me real hard in a way no one’s death has in a long time outside of immediate family."
The Heartbreaking Story of Ashley Massaro
Ashley Massaro competed in WWE from 2005-2008. Thanks to her stunning beauty, infectious charisma, and punk stylings, the two-time Miss Hawaiian Tropic winner, Playboy model, and 2005 Raw Diva Search winner, quickly became a favorite amongst the WWE Universe.
Even with her relatively short career in wrestling, the fans adored Ashley. And she adored them, too.
Years later, she continually gave thanks to fans for voting for her in the 2005 Raw Diva Search, the competition that landed her a WWE contract and a check for $250,000.
"There were a lot of ‘at the right place at the right time’ moments in my life, but I’ve always hustled hard and worked hard," admitted Ashley Massaro in an interview with Over The Top Sports Show.
"I always tried to do my best and had a soft heart and gratefulness for the fans that put me there. Winning the WWE Diva Search was the fans calling in and voting. I feel that everything I’ve obtained has been because of them. I love them and am very interactive with them."
Although she was always thankful to her fans for getting her into WWE, her journey with the company — and after — wasn’t a pleasant one.
Class-Action Concussion Lawsuit Against WWE
In 2016, Ashley Massaro was amongst 60 former wrestlers that filed a class-action lawsuit with the Kyros Law Offices, known as the WWE Concussion Lawsuit.
The lawsuit called for neurological testing and neurological care for all former WWE wrestlers. It also accused the company of failing to sufficiently protect their employees against the long-term health repercussions of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), employment misclassification, wrongful death, and concealment of the risks of head injuries.
The lawsuit stated, "The WWE engaged in systematic misclassification of wrestlers as Independent Contractors resulting in the deprivation of their rights under federal law. Many are now disabled with occupational injuries that include the effects of repeated head trauma resulting in the increased risk of long term neurological diseases."
It also added, “WWE brazenly maintains that the named Plaintiff wrestlers are independent of any regulation because they are falsely said to be fully independent, like house painters, cleaners, and subcontractors who happen to set foot in a WWE ring.
“This lawsuit is their only means of getting redress for this structural situation that has deprived them of the rights enjoyed by all workers in the United States. The lawsuit seeks to have the courts in their equitable power to fashion a comprehensive remedy for the working conditions and injuries wrestlers have endured."
The Hardships Ashley Massaro Faced in WWE
In a November 2017 affidavit, Ashley Massaro explained the hardships she faced while with WWE in full, grim detail:
"Aside from my ongoing physical injuries that were sustained in the ring and my former battle with addiction, to this day, I suffer from depression, for which I take medication, migraine headaches, and severe short-term memory loss.
"I have been receiving medical treatment for these problems since I left WWE and which I’m currently still undergoing.
"I attribute these issues to my work-related injuries sustained while working for the WWE, and specifically to the routine, repetitive blows to the head I received in the ring over the course of my career, which were not properly diagnosed or treated, despite WWE’s admittance that they had and have a duty to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its performers and to inform its performers of the risks of long-term impairments from repetitive brain trauma.
"They owed me this duty during and after my wrestling career, and they failed to live up to its obligations. As a result, it has caused me severe and ongoing pain and suffering, emotional distress, and financial hardship."
Ashley continued, "I received a letter from Paul Levesque (Triple H) dated November 7th, 2014, regarding the ‘WWE Former Talent Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Assistance Program.’
"The letter, which I still have, states that ‘help will be provided to participants regardless of the reason for departure from WWE or amount of time performed for WWE.’ It seems contradictory that WWE acknowledges a duty to assist former talent with drug and alcohol treatment but does not acknowledge any responsibility for the treatment of the head injuries that led to the addictions."
The Mistreatment of Ashley Massaro by WWE
In her 15-page affidavit, Ashley Massaro also explained the injuries and abuse she purportedly suffered while with WWE.
"I’ve had multiple documented concussions during my career. Aside from the times, I was knocked unconscious and out cold for five minutes. I also have a fractured spine, a five-inch metal plate inserted in my ankle, and debilitating back injuries.
"Vince McMahon himself ordered a cast to be sawed off my right hand/wrist moments before I was thrown back out into the ring to wrestle on TV even though my cast was not scheduled to come off for another two to three weeks. I was beat down, broken, and being almost forced to perform.
"Since then, I see pain management doctors on a monthly basis for ten years because of the pain and problems that came from my time being there. I’ve been plagued by these injuries my entire life after leaving the company.
"I believe WWE has caused major problems, life-altering problems, and wish more than anything that I never worked for them."
After winning the 2005 Raw Diva Search on August 15th, 2005, Massaro claimed that WWE offered her a one-year contract to become the "face” of the women’s division, but in a spokesmodel capacity, not as a wrestler.
Nonetheless, WWE classified her as an independent contractor rather than as an employee.
Inconsistent with her status as a “spokesmodel,” WWE required Massaro to perform four to five days a week as a wrestler only one week after winning the competition and without any training under her belt.
Almost immediately, the injuries began piling up. In time, this led to pain medication dependence and addiction, something she claimed contributed to her plunge into a deep depression.
WWE even tried to unscrupulously take a 20 percent cut out of her $250,000 Diva Search winnings. The explanation given to Massaro by WWE was that someone named "Rich" from Marina Del Rey, California, had "represented" her in the deal. When she refused and denied this information, WWE almost took away her contract.
During her second week with the company, Ashley asked Stephanie McMahon if she could receive wrestling training at WWE’s Ohio Valley Wrestling school in Louisville, Kentucky. Stephanie said no, stating that Ashley would be off TV and lose her fanbase and spot on the roster if she were to do this. Ashley’s popularity almost guaranteed her exposure but didn’t allow her to be out of the spotlight to get proper wrestling training.
Within a month of being with WWE, Ashley Massaro had a match with a veteran WWE female wrestler at a house show who performed a back-breaker on her. Ashley’s back was slammed directly onto the unnamed performer’s knee, leading to a severe back injury. Ashley had expected to be taken aside before the match to be shown how to adequately protect herself during the move, but this never happened, despite, as she claimed, everyone knowing that she didn’t have proper in-ring training. She also asserted the other wrestler worked her stiff because she was new.
With Massaro’s lack of training came multiple concussions. Ashley remembered a match that took place on September 5th, 2005, when Torrie Wilson performed a neckbreaker on her. Again, Ashley was knocked unconscious for five minutes because nobody taught her how to be on the receiving end of the move safely. The only person who advised her afterward was Trish Stratus, who told her to “shake it off” because she knew that wrestlers often got in trouble when they spoke up.
Being Told She Cannot Receive Wrestling Training on Her Off Days
After being refused permission to train on her two days off each week, Ashley Massaro disobeyed and did so anyway.
She feared that she’d continue to accumulate injuries, become permanently disabled, or even die without learning proper techniques on how to protect herself.
When Stephanie McMahon found out about her training, she stopped it immediately, stating that they didn’t know anything about the gym Ashley was training at and that it could become a liability for WWE if she got injured.
The Many Unfortunate Injuries of Ashley Massaro
Ashley Massaro learned years later that she was within her rights to continue training on her days off, but at the time, she wasn’t aware of her rights as an Independent Contractor. She believed that it might have prevented at least some of the injuries she suffered, like a hairline fracture in her spine, the numerous back injuries, and herniated discs.
“An injury that haunts me to this day occurred on February 20th, 2006, when I was injured in the ring in a Women’s Battle Royal. I suffered a large fracture that went around my leg bone twice, and a piece of the bone became loose.”
Massaro continued, “On February 22nd, 2006, I underwent surgery to have a five-inch metal plate, eight screws, and staples placed in my leg.”
Despite the serious injury, WWE forced Massaro to get into the ring. During a spot that inevitably went wrong, Mickie James "kidnapped" her, causing Ashley to fall out of a chair. Trish Stratus then accidentally landed on Ashley’s already severely injured leg. As a result, Ashley required further surgeries, including an operation to fix her ankle in 2010.
In the summer of 2006, Massaro shattered her knuckle against Kristal Marshall (Lashley). With her hand placed in a cast, it was to remain there for about four weeks, but soon Vince McMahon ordered it to be taken off weeks before properly healing so that she could perform in a match. She was acting as Brian Kendrick and Paul London’s manager/valet at the time, and according to her affidavit, Paul London was a witness to the incident.
The Living Nightmare Ashley Massaro Experienced In Kuwait
In 2007, on a visit to Kuwait during a two-week tour in support of the troops that included stops in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, Ashley Massaro experienced an unspeakable ordeal that affected "her mind, body, and soul."
She was drugged, violently raped, and sodomized by someone professing to be a US Army doctor.
“I can’t even find the words to describe what it felt like to be thrown on a table, stripped, and then brutalized in the worst possible way that one human being is capable of brutalizing another-all while being unable to move or speak. In addition to the pain and terror, I felt almost dehumanized."
According to her affidavit, she began to suffer from menstrual cramps and wanted to take some time to rest in an air-conditioned Humvee. However, some of the US Army soldiers insisted that she was suffering from dehydration — a common occurrence in the dry, hot climate — so they transported her to a nearby military base in Kuwait where she would receive an IV for dehydration, despite her insisting that she did not need it.
Massaro detailed the terrible ordeal that followed.
“After sitting with the IV in my arm for what felt like hours, Jimmy Hart came to check up on me and make sure I was okay. I told him I was fine but that they wouldn’t let me leave because they said I had to wait to see a doctor. Jimmy said he and the rest of the group were going to get lunch and left.
“Another couple of hours went by, and then a man appeared in the sickbay, dressed in an orange t-shirt and cargo shorts, and I had heard others comment that it was his birthday. He represented himself as a US Army doctor, but I observed that all the other doctors at the facility had been wearing scrubs, so I do not know whether this was true.
He was with a woman who was dressed in full military fatigues. While I was still in the sickbay, he approached me and almost immediately administered an IV of an unknown substance in my other arm.
“Almost immediately after, the alleged doctor and the woman in fatigues moved me into a room that did not appear to be a treatment room and placed me on a table. The woman guarded the door while the man proceeded to inject me with a drug that caused me to be unable to move my body or to scream.
“The man then proceeded to violently rape and sodomize me.
“I was completely helpless to defend myself against this attack as the drug he injected rendered me temporarily paralyzed. Despite being unable to control my movements, I remained fully conscious for every second of the attack.
“I felt excruciating pain as a result of this man penetrating me by force and against my will, in a violent and aggressive manner, while I was completely defenseless. Each second that went by was excruciating, and I have never felt more helpless or been more terrified in my entire life. The experience was a living nightmare.
“I don’t know exactly how long this went on for, but it felt like an eternity.
“The suffering I endured far surpassed all the injuries I had ever suffered in the ring put together; I was experiencing not only severe physical pain but severe emotional and psychological trauma.”
Although Ashley herself didn’t want the information of this appalling incident to become public, once back in the United States, Vince McMahon led a meeting with her, including other WWE executives.
McMahon said that it wasn’t in WWE’s best interest to make the details of her attack public and should be kept confidential. He did apologize for what had happened but told her not to let one bad experience ruin the excellent work the military was doing. He didn’t want to tarnish WWE’s relationship with them.
To ensure that this wouldn’t happen again, WWE instituted a new policy where a female escort would accompany any female performer who went to the Middle East 24/7. But with the damage done, nobody in the WWE suggested therapy. Ashley was forced to deal with the incident herself. Sadly and to be expected, she “relived it countless times” in her mind.
Breaking Her Silence in a Hope to Help Others
"I am angry that WWE silences its performers,” Ashley would later say in her affidavit.
"I’m angry that WWE puts its performers in dangerous situations. I am angry that WWE fails to provide appropriate treatment when injuries occur.
"I am angry that I’m already suffering from long-term effects of in-ring injuries, which may get worse over time, and that WWE disclaims responsibility. This pattern of behavior illustrates a lack of concern on their part for the health, safety, and well-being of its performers.
Massaro continued, “I finally broke my silence because I thought my story would help shed light on what I view as an important cause that has deeply affected me and so many others. WWE has utterly failed in its duties to promote and protect the safety and well-being of the men and women who dedicate their lives to the business, and it should not be permitted to continue to sweep important issues under the rug.
“Finally, I hope that telling my story may cause a young person aspiring to be a professional wrestler to think twice and consider the realities of the situation and not make the same mistakes that I did."
The Tragic Death of Ashley Massaro
On July 9th, 2008, Ashley Massaro was released from her contract with WWE. Her daughter Alexa was sick at the time, so she asked for an early release to be able to take care of her.
In September 2017, nine years after her last match, Massaro made a brief return to the ring by competing in Zero1 Professional Wrestling USA with former WWE Diva Jillian Hall.
On June 30, 2018, Massaro began working as a radio DJ for Long Island station WWSK-FM 94.3 The Shark, where she worked 10 am to 3 pm on Saturdays. The following May, she was promoted to hosting the station’s evening program on Wednesday nights.
Ashley was always thankful for her fans and regularly kept in touch with them on social media, as well as through fan mail.
On May 15, 2019, Ashley finished replying to fan mail but failed to show up for work at WWSK-FM later that evening. At 5:23 a.m. the following morning, paramedics responded to a rescue call where Massaro was discovered unresponsive at her home in Smithtown, New York. She was pronounced dead upon arrival to the hospital, 10 days before her 40th birthday.
TMZ would report Massaro’s death as a suicide, though other news outlets, including CNN and The Nation, did not. The Suffolk County medical examiner’s office did not release an official cause of death, citing a New York state privacy law that allows withholding information that “would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
Remembering Ashley Massaro
In a moving tribute on his Facebook page entitled “Goodbye Ashley,” Mick Foley wrote the following:
“Ashley Massaro was only 39 years old. She had her whole life ahead of her. We lived in the same small town on Long Island. Her daughter and my two younger children went to the same elementary school together. Ashley and I often talked about getting the children together for activities, but it never happened. I was always sure there would be another time, plenty of time to get the children together.
“Ashley loved her daughter so much and hoped through wrestling that she could make a better life for her. I am looking at this photo as I’m typing, and my heart is just breaking. She was so beautiful and so kind-hearted. I wish so much that I had followed through with our plans to get the kids together. She was always so nice to me and everyone in my family, and now she’s gone.”
The Squared Circle Sisters Help Turn a Tragedy Into a Positive
In the aftermath of her tragic death, Trish Stratus and Lilian Garcia were determined to help Ashley’s family and daughter but weren’t exactly sure how.
At a convention, Mick Foley spoke with Lisa Marie Varon (Victoria), who informed him of Trish and Lilian’s situation. At Ashley’s service, he spoke with her parents, mentioning that twenty women Ashley worked with, calling themselves The Squared Circle Sisters, wanted to help out by doing something special.
Fortunately, Ashley’s family wasn’t in need of funeral costs, but Mick Foley convinced them to agree to a fundraiser for a college fund for Ashley’s daughter, Alexa. It was a way of helping out that also involved the fans. Mick Foley even promised to watch Raw or Smackdown with fans who donated $5,000. For $10,000, he’d fly overseas.
$17,000 was raised in the first twenty-four hours, and thanks to her fans’ generous support, over $100.000 was raised in total. It was a classy move by all involved, and it truly showed how much Ashley Massaro meant to her fans and loved ones.
Ashley will not be forgotten. We hope her story inspires a much-needed change in the way physical and neurological care are handled within the business of professional wrestling, particularly in the WWE.
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