The Vince McMahon “Death Angle” was a controversial death storyline coming out of WWE’s June 3, 2007 “One Night Stand” PPV event. After losing the ECW Championship at the PPV the Mr. McMahon character began to show signs of a depressive breakdown. To begin with he was angry that he lost the title to Lashley, taking out his frustrations on the new champion and other stars, but in the end it all became too much for him and the TV shows leading up to the limo explosion presented a weak shadow of a man who would babble incoherently and walk to the ring looking sad and despondent. Some wrestling pundits believed that this was Vince playing out a genuine inner struggle with becoming and old man and out of touch with his company.
June 11, 2007 was the date of the angle. It was Raw’s Vince McMahon “appreciation night,” the perfect setting for his character’s send off. The special episode showed many former and current stars giving their opinions on the Chairman’s career – almost all negative – to play in to the depressive progression of the character. The whole show seemed to be focused on the bad things Vince had done over the years, with all the superstars finally having the last laugh. The viewer felt sorry for the frail old man, which was perfect for what was to come at the end of the show.
After being booed out of the ring Vince with tears welling in his eyes, seemed to walk for hours backstage past every superstar on the show. It was a proverbial walk of shame. He reached the fire exit and after one quick glance at the company that had turned its back on him, he made his way to the limo. After some bystanders laughed at him in the background he opened the passenger door and sat down. As he slammed the door shut … BOOM! It exploded. The end of Vince McMahon and a shocking end to that episode of Raw.
Immediately after the incident there was a lot of confusion within the non-wrestling media and even among some fans. WWE treated it as 100% real, so a lot of outlets reported it as a legitimate death and WWE’s Stamford HQ even got phone calls from business partners offering their condolences. The stock prices even dropped because some investors really thought their Chairman had died and the business was going to suffer.
WWE.com stayed loyal to the story for days, covering the investigations of “federal agents” and showing flowers and cards outside WWE HQ with the company flag at half mast.
Yahoo’s buzz index and other search engine results were flooded with Vince McMahon queries and message boards could barely cope with the hordes of questions asking if he had really died. It’s amazing that even in 2007 people were fooled by a wrestling angle. That being said, WWE certainly blurred the lines of reality far more than they usually do.
On the following ECW and Smackdown shows WWE used their genuine methods of mourning to mourn the fake death of Mr. McMahon. ECW showed a teary-eyed and speechless Joey Styles and Tazz trying to come to turns with “this tremendous loss,” like Owen Hart had just died, and Smackdown had a Ten Bell Salute featuring all the locker room standing solemnly in the entrance way. A lot of fans and even wrestlers were turned off by this because the salute is usually reserved for real deaths, like that of Eddie Guerrero only a few years earlier.
Then perhaps the worst thing that could happen during the storyline, happened. A real wrestler died – Chris Benoit. We now know the shocking details of that particular tragedy, but at the time you could still feel the “I told you so” tension in the air when wrestlers who just days ago were giving heartfelt messages about Vince, were now giving them about Chris Benoit for real. The storyline was immediately dropped and the Mr. McMahon character disappeared from television.
If this shocking turn of events hadn’t happened, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter says the plan was to have Vince return in the summer claiming that he faked his death. He was then going to reveal an accomplice with several names being mentioned for the role. Mr. Kennedy was a top candidate as WWE wanted to build him in to a top bad guy.
The June 25th edition of RAW (which ended up being a Chris Benoit tribute show) was scheduled to be a memorial service for Vince. WWE brought in a casket, flowers, candles, and pictures of the Chairman. All of the talent were told to wear a black attire for the evening. The show was supposed to end with a cliff hanger with lead detective “Mr. Beck” making an arrest of the fake culprit – Linda McMahon.
Following a freak ratings decrease to a 2.5 (later turned out to be a false reading) WWE decided to return Vince McMahon to TV, hopefully boosting ratings and on the August 6th episode it was hyped as “Mr McMahon Strikes Back.” The chairman returned and quickly dismissed the angle stating he faked his own death because he needed to know if the fans and his family still loved him. He said his family didn’t care and just wanted their inheritance, but he was willing to bring them back together. Later it was revealed that Vince had an illegitimate child leading to another crazy storyline that involved Hornswoggle.
How The Limo Explosion Was Pulled Off
Before the live episode of Raw, on the Saturday and Sunday the actual explosion was filmed. WWE hired a Hollywood pyro team – Zenith Pyrotechnology – and had to acquire several permits to legally pull off the stunt. As Vince left the arena they cut the live feed and went to the pre taped explosion, giving the impression that it was live. Before the crowd left the arena they placed the burnt out husk of the limo in position to add to the effect.
There is a small continuity error when Vince leaves the arena, as the ground near the limo is dry. When he goes to enter the limo (the pre-raped footage) the ground has a puddle of water.