08/27/2007 at 01:00 AM EDT
For a guy who was 6'6", 300 lbs. and called himself "Crush," Brian Adams wasn't all that scary. "More of a gentle giant," says his friend Marc Mero, a retired pro wrestler who owns a gym in suburban Orlando and who recently spoke with Adams, 44, about Adams's interest in opening his own gym. "He sounded great. He was just a really nice, good person. You'd never know there were any problems."
No wonder that Mero was especially shocked to learn that Adams—a onetime star wrestler in the WWE—had died suddenly. On the morning of Aug. 13 Adams's wife, Irene, found him unconscious in his bed in his Tampa home. She called 911, but paramedics were unable to revive him; there was no sign of injury or evidence of foul play. An autopsy didn't immediately reveal a cause of death; Tampa police spokeswoman Kristin Molina said, "It's considered an unexplained death right now."
Adams's mysterious passing comes just seven weeks after another WWE wrestler, Chris Benoit, killed his wife, their young son and then himself in his suburban Atlanta home (toxicology tests showed Benoit had elevated levels of the steroid testosterone in his system, but there is no conclusive evidence steroids played a part in the tragedy). The Hawaii-born Adams debuted with the WWE in 1990 and won fans as part of a championship tag team known as Demolition. In 1995 he was arrested for receiving anabolic steroids in the mail and for unlawful possession of a firearm. Injuries finally forced him to quit wrestling in 2003.
His friend Mero has no idea if Adams took steroids in recent years. But he blames the early deaths of other pro wrestlers he has known on "pain medication, sleeping pills and muscle relaxants mixed with anabolic steroids—the lethal wrestling cocktail." As for Adams, who had two children, his death has left many people saddened. "Brian was a funny guy and everybody liked him," Mero says. "This just breaks your heart."