Remembering Danny Havoc

Part of the joy of professional wrestling fandom is the allure and ease of parasocial relationships. You can find larger than life people with boundless charisma. You can latch onto the little things they say or do and you can imagine running into them at a bar or an airport gate and having a conversation with them. You can imagine having all your thoughts about them, all the traits that you thrust upon them, be realized in some way. There is vindication in that. It becomes even easier on the independent level. You can follow unfiltered Twitter feeds and watch them smile at their gimmick tables at intermission and you can ask them questions. It’s simple.

Fifteen years ago, it was harder. Information was scarce. There was a distance. You searched for LiveJournals under fake names and listened to endless conjecture on who lurked on which message boards. You had to judge wrestlers based on little in-jokes and entrance music and tattoos and the references in the names of their moves.

By that metric, Danny Havoc was the coolest wrestler I’d ever seen. Not cool in the way that some of the stars of the era were. He wasn’t bursting with energy. He didn’t take over a room with a mere gesture. Instead, he was cool because he let us in. He was a wrestler that revelled in his own obsessions. He walked slowly out to GG Allin songs. He named moves after Star Trek memes. Hell, he had announcers say that his middle name was Tiberius.

In all this, Havoc, who died on Sunday at the age of 34, always seemed as though he was winking and nodding at the audience. Not in the way that most indie wrestlers do, desperate to make sure everyone around them understands that they’re in on the joke. Instead, Havoc winked at the fans as someone who understands. He presented who he was with a shrug, and the fact that it resonated at all was a source of boundless glee.

This glee carried beyond his wrestling and into his commentary as well. Over the past few years, Havoc was in the booth for multiple deathmatch shows. Each match was peppered with endless references and one-liners, to music and film and history. To listen to Havoc call a match was to sit in the room with the kid in the Iron Maiden shirt who always skipped honors English but managed to get a C+ anyway.

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But beyond the gifted slacker or nerdily obsessed punk persona was a sincerity that was so apparent that to watch Havoc was to be enraptured by him. In an era of wrestling defined by cynicism and derision, Havoc treated deathmatch wrestling as a sacred space. There was an obvious reverence in his work, not to wrestling as a whole, but to the process necessary to make it work. This sincerity obviously had an impact on his peers. In an industry known for back biting and gossip, he was one of the few people who was universally spoken of highly. In life, they spoke of him as a wondrous person, an intelligent and kind friend, a man with a shy smile and a dry sense of humor. Now, those same people speak of him as someone who cared, for them and about them, for wrestling and about wrestling.

In the hours after his passing, Havoc’s friends shared the things he had left behind. Not just stories and ephemeral things, but physical things, drawings and cartoons, little pieces of himself. Rickey Shane Page shared page after page of what could only be described as deathmatch engineering schematics, weapons Havoc had dreamed up not only for matches of his own, but for others as well. In the corners were small cartoons and portraits, like the surreal and scatological marginalia from medieval monks. There was an innocence to them but more than that the sheer excitement burst through. This was the work of a person who desperately wanted to see what was possible, not only for himself but for everyone he knew.

The circumstances surrounding Havoc’s death are unclear, and it would not be fair nor right offer up conjecture. Instead, let it be said that his wife had died suddenly of heart failure not two months prior, and it is crushingly sad to know that his last weeks on this earth must have been empty beyond all comparison. On some level, Havoc’s death seems almost destined to be lost in a sea of great loss, bookended by on one side by the brutally sad suicide of Hana Kimura and the worldwide outcry against racial injustice on the other. On some level, this feels oddly fitting. Havoc forever stood out as a wrestler for being the one willing to stand in a crowd and smile shyly. For the people that knew him and the people that merely wished to, he will forever resonate.