Ex-USC Star Sam Cunningham Dead At 71 ... Helped Integrate College Football

Sam 'Bam' Cunningham, former USC and New England Patriots star running back, and one of the forces behind the integration of college football in the 1970s, passed away on Tuesday.

He was 71 years old.

Cunningham -- older brother of longtime NFL QB, Randall Cunningham -- starred at the University of Southern California in the early '70s. He was a consensus All-American in 1972 ... the year he helped USC go undefeated and win a National Championship.

But, more important than the accolades was Cunningham's impact on the game. He's credited with helping diversify the Alabama football team -- under legendary coach Bear Bryant -- and college football as a whole.

As a sophomore in 1970, Sam led USC's all-Black backfield in Birmingham ... routing 'Bama 42-21. Cunningham ran for 135 yards and scored 2 touchdowns.

The following year, Alabama's squad featured Black players (they won the National Championship). The USC-Bama game the previous year was said to have expedited the integration in the south.

After leaving Southern Cali, Cunningham was drafted by the New England Patriots with the 11th overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft.

Bam played 9 seasons for the Pats ... before hanging up his pads in 1982.

He finished his career with 5,453 rushing yards and 43 rushing TDs.

In 2010, he was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame ... and was also named a member of the team's 50th Anniversary squad.

Pats owner Robert Kraft weighed in on Cunningham's passing, saying ... “We are deeply saddened to learn of yet another loss to the Patriots family this week and our hearts ache for Sam Cunningham’s family and all who are mourning his passing today.”

The other former Pat that Kraft is talking about is David Patten ... a 3x Super Bowl champ who died at the age of 47 on Thursday night following a motorcycle accident.

RIP.

Tupac BMW He Was Shot in ... For Sale at Over a Million Bucks!!!

Tupac Shakur's "murder car" can be yours for the taking -- if you're into macabre stuff -- but it won't be cheap ... you'll need damn near $2 mil in cash to claim this ride.

This 1996 BMW 750IL is the same one Pac was riding in, while Suge Knight drove, 25 years ago today in Las Vegas. The rapper was shot Sept. 7, 1996, and eventually died in a hospital from his injuries.

The bullet holes from that fateful night have been repaired, and word is that it's been restored to its original condition. Now, the price -- a whopping $1.7 million! So yeah, this is definitely for the diehard and very wealthy Tupac fans.

The car is for sale and on display at the Celebrity Cars Las Vegas showroom -- not too far from where the fatal shooting went down.

Pac and Suge had stopped at a traffic light following a Mike Tyson fight ... when another vehicle pulled up alongside them and opened fire, hitting Pac multiple times while only grazing Suge.

As you know, the rest is history. Tupac's killer has never been brought to justice.

'Intervention' Host Ken Seeley Dealers' Deadly Gamble ... Fentanyl Hooks Users or Kills 'Em

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"Intervention" host Ken Seeley says fentanyl-laced drugs are contributing greatly to the epidemic of overdoses, and the recent deaths of 3 comedians prove dealers are playing a dangerous game.

The renowned addiction specialist told us on Tuesday's "TMZ Live" ... fentanyl played a huge role in the U.S. recording nearly 100k drug overdose deaths in 2020 alone.

Ken says fentanyl is a powerful drug that elicits a high so intense, users crave it. Essentially, he says dealers are using it to turn unwitting customers into full-blown addicts. Many users have no clue their drug of choice -- be it cocaine or heroin -- is laced with the fentanyl.

The problem is obvious ... all too often, instead of getting hooked, users are overdosing and dying.

As we reported ... comedian Fuquan Johnson was among 3 dead after an apparent overdose. Our sources say cocaine laced with fentanyl appears to be what they ingested.

Then there's "The Wire" and "Boardwalk Empire" star Michael K. Williams, who died Monday after an apparent overdose. Law enforcement sources tell TMZ cops are trying to locate the drug dealer who supplied the narcotics found at the actor's home.

Ken suggested a better path for users to ease their pain, instead of turning to dealers who prioritize their profits over human lives.

Michael K. Williams Cops Looking for Drug Dealer ... In Apparent Fatal OD

Michael K. Williams' death of an apparent drug overdose has triggered a criminal investigation ... because law enforcement sources tell TMZ cops are trying to locate the drug dealer.

Our law enforcement sources say NYPD detectives are conducting an investigation into the origin of the narcotics cops found at the site of the actor's death over the weekend ... which we're told are believed to be heroin-based.

As we reported ... Michael was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment, and authorities found drug paraphernalia. An official autopsy has yet to be conducted ... but we're told drugs seem to be at play. A toxicology report should provide answers, but that could be weeks away.

A relative found Michael after not hearing from him for a few days ... and once he was discovered, a swarm of NY officials descended on his Brooklyn high-rise.

Michael, of course, had a prolific career ... and might perhaps be best known for his award-winning role as Omar in "The Wire." He also starred in "Boardwalk Empire," "12 Years a Slave" and "Lovecraft County." He was working up until recently ... with a few projects in the can, and a handful of others released in the past year or so.

He was 54.

RIP

'Tiger King' Zookeeper Erik Cowie Dead at 53

12:49 PM PT -- Law enforcement sources tell us Erik was in town visiting a friend at her apartment, where he was found dead. Investigating officers learned Erik used alcohol excessively, and a large bottle of vodka was found at the scene.

Erik Cowie -- one of the zookeepers featured on "Tiger King" -- has died ... TMZ has learned.

Law enforcement sources tell us Cowie's body was found Friday in NYC. We're told a friend found him face down in the bedroom of a residence. Unclear if it was his or theirs ... but he was a long way from Oklahoma, where he'd worked and lived in recent years.

Our sources say there's nothing suspicious about the death at this point, and no drugs were found on the scene, though a toxicology test will likely still be performed.

The guy made several appearances in Netflix's hit show from last year as one of Joe Exotic's longtime animal caretakers. In fact, he's often cited as the head keeper of JE's big cats ... and even stuck around to work at the GW Zoo even after Joe got thrown into prison.

Speaking of that ... Cowie testified against Joe -- saying he'd seen Joe order some of the zoo animals to be shot and killed -- which contributed to his conviction.

Cowie said before showing up on Joe's doorstep, he was apparently "at the end of (his) rope" ... admitting to a one-time drinking problem, but denying any other drug use or addiction, despite his appearance.

People speculated Cowie might've used meth due to his bad teeth, but he shot that down and attributed it to old age. Funny enough, he got those chompers fixed up nice post-"Tiger King."

Like many other "Tiger King" stars ... Cowie had run into some legal trouble. Earlier this year, he got busted for DUI in Oklahoma following a car accident. He pleaded guilty and was supposed to be sentenced shortly thereafter.

However, he never showed up to court, so an arrest warrant was issued. It was unclear where he'd gone, but obviously he landed in the Big Apple.

Erik was 53.

RIP

Originally Published -- 8:21 AM PT

'The Whitest Kids U Know' Signs Trevor Moore Fell to His Death

"The Whitest Kids U Know" star Trevor Moore appears to have fallen to his death from an upstairs balcony at his home ... at least that's what the police investigation's turned up so far.

Law enforcement sources tell TMZ ... police and fire responded around 2:30 AM on Aug. 7 for a medical emergency at Trevor's home in L.A., where he was found unresponsive in the backyard and pronounced dead by paramedics.

We're told cops believe the comedic actor fell from the upstairs balcony, suffering head trauma when he landed -- however, it's unclear if he fell accidentally or intentionally jumped.

There was no suicide note found, but alcohol might have contributed -- we're told empty bottles were found in Trevor's house.

We're told the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner is still waiting on toxicology reports and will make the final determination on Trevor's cause of death.

Trevor, famous for co-founding the sketch comedy group "The Whitest Kids U Know," was 41.

RIP

Michael K. Williams Dead at 54

2:56 PM PT -- Wendell Pierce just shared a touching tribute to his friend and former co-star, saying ... "The depth of my love for this brother, can only be matched by the depth of my pain learning of his loss."

Pierce calls Williams an "immensely talented man with the ability to give voice to the human condition portraying the lives of those whose humanity is seldom elevated until he sings their truth." He says Williams was "Always truthful, never inauthentic. The kindest of persons."

"The Wire" star -- who played Det. Bunk Moreland -- also reminisces about their time together on the show, and their famous park bench scene in which Pierce says they "aimed to take that moment in time together and say something about Black men."

Pierce concludes ... "So to you, my brother Mike, there is a small comfort that I know, you knew how much we loved you.

Michael K. Williams -- best known for his breakout role as Omar Little on "The Wire" -- is dead from a suspected drug overdose ... TMZ has learned.

According to law enforcement sources ... Williams was found dead in his Brooklyn apartment Monday after a relative hadn't heard from him in a couple days and went to check on him.

We're told the actor was found in the living room of his home, and drug paraphernalia was on a table nearby ... suggesting he may have died from an OD. NY Post first reported the death.

After years of minor roles on TV and movies, Williams became a household name as Omar -- the gritty, streetwise and homosexual criminal on HBO's "The Wire" ... earning him critical acclaim and adoration from fans.

Williams would go on to star in several other hit HBO series' -- like "Boardwalk Empire," "The Night Of" and more recently "Lovecraft Country" -- as well as movies like "12 Years a Slave" and "Assassin's Creed."

One of the actor's trademarks was his signature facial scar -- the result of a bar fight he got involved in on his 25th birthday that almost killed him. According to Williams ... the scar helped to launch his acting career, leading to calls to do music videos and some minor work playing a thug in TV shows.

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Williams was a 5-time Emmy nominee, and when we last saw him we had a good convo about his nom for 'Lovecraft.'

He is survived by his son, Elijah.

Williams was 54.

RIP

Originally Published -- 1:33 PM PT

Hugh Jackman Dad Christopher Dead at 84 ... Passed on Australian Father's Day

Hugh Jackman's dad has passed, and making it even tougher ... it happened on Australian Father's Day.

Hugh made the announcement about his father, Christopher John Jackman ... "In the early hours of Father’s Day (AU), my Dad peacefully passed away. And whilst there is deep sadness, I’m filled with such gratitude and love. My Dad was, in a word, extraordinary. He devoted his life to his family, his work and his faith. I pray he’s now at peace with God."

Jackman returned to Australia from New York in June.

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Hugh and his 2 brothers, Ian and Ralph, were raised by Christopher in Sydney. Jackman was 8 when his mom left for her home country of England ... leaving Christopher as a single dad to care for his kids.

The divorce split the children ... Hugh's sisters, Zoe and Sonya, went to England to live with their mom while the boys stayed behind. Hugh said it was tough ... "It was traumatic. I thought she was probably going to come back. And then it sort of dragged on and on."

Jackman said she never came back, and he only saw his mom once a year after that.

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Hugh and his mom re-established their relationship many years later. He posts pics of them together at various events.

Christopher was 84.

RIP

Comedian Fuquan Johnson Among 3 Dead After Suspected OD ... 4th Comic Hospitalized

12:44 PM PT -- 9/5 -- TMZ has learned the names of the other two people who died from an apparent OD, alongside Fuquan Johnson -- and one is, indeed, another comic.

Law enforcement tells us that the two other deceased victims are Enrico Colangeli (Rico Angeli) and Natalie Williamson, who were 48 and 33 years old, respectively. Meanwhile, it looks like Kate Quigley is going to pull through.

Comedian Brian Redban posted an update on Kate's health, and she appears to have responded to him saying she's alive, although not doing great. Still, good news.

Comedian Fuquan Johnson died this weekend of an apparent overdose -- along with two others -- while a fourth person is in the hospital ... the recent girlfriend of one Darius Rucker, TMZ has learned.

Law enforcement sources tell TMZ ... there was a get-together Friday night at someone's house in the Venice neighborhood of L.A., where Johnson was in attendance -- as was Kate Quigley ... a comedian/model who has been, of late, dating the Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer -- this after the guy split with his longtime wife just last summer.

Darius' rep, however, confirms to TMZ ... he is not dating Kate, and hasn't been for a while. They were reportedly going out for a good chunk of last year -- and there's photos of them on her IG page as a couple from this past May. Seems there's no affiliation now, though.

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As for who owns the place where this went down -- there's a few owners listed ... and we do know Quigley was a resident (and perhaps still is) at what appears to be an adjacent property right next door to where the 911 call was directed to. Could be a duplex.

In any case, we're told cops were summoned a little after midnight, and when they arrived ... they found 4 people who appeared to be either deceased or close to it. Our sources say Johnson and 2 others were pronounced dead on the scene ... while Quigley was transported to the hospital in critical condition. Unclear how she's doing now -- we've tried reaching out to her team for comment, but have come up short on contacts for the woman.

We're told cocaine laced with fentanyl appears to be what was ingested by all. Autopsies will be done for the three bodies -- which are with the L.A. Coroner's Office now. We're working on getting the IDs of the other two victims ... who might also be comedians themselves.

Our law enforcement sources also tell us this ... the LAPD's homicide unit was notified about this case -- but no word on whether they're getting directly involved just yet, although LAPD is investigating. It's unclear who originally supplied the coke, who bought it or under what circumstances it might've been passed around/used by the four individuals.

Because of that ... we're told it's hard to tell if any charges might come of this -- as our sources say they don't know, for now, where the drugs came from. Still, it could spell trouble ... and possibly mean Uncle Sam gets involved, a la Mac Miller -- whose death spurred federal charges after an investigation ... with indictments for the alleged dealers.

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Fuquan and Kate are buddies, they've been photographed together dating back a few years now. FJ is knee-deep in the L.A. comedy scene, as is Kate -- they kick it with the likes of Joey Diaz, Donnell Rawlings, Jay Pharoah, Jeff Ross, Chaunte Wayans and others.

Fuquan was 43.

RIP

Originally Published -- 5:43 PM PT

Black Oak Arkansas Guitarist Rickie Lee Reynolds ... Dead at 72

Black Oak Arkansas's longtime string strummer, Rickie Lee Reynolds, has died ... TMZ has learned.

RLR's son tells us ... his dad passed away Sunday morning in a hospital, where he was battling long-term health complications, to which he succumbed. He adds that he hopes the public will hold Ricky's memory, magic and memories close to their hearts forever.

The Black Oak guitarist had been with the rock group since its inception in the 1960s, when he got together with Ronnie Smith (OG vocals), Harvey Jett (guitar), Stanley Knight (guitar), Pat Daugherty (bass) and Wayne Evans (drums) ... eventually replacing Ron with their famous frontman, James Mangrum ... who stuck around for the long haul.

They found a lot of success in the '70s, when they cranked out hits such as "Uncle Lijiah," "Lord Have Mercy on My Soul," "When Electricity Came to Arkansas" and more. That latter track ended up being controversial ... apparently, fundamental Christians thought it contained hidden Satanic messages.

1973 was even better to them, as they released their fourth and fifth albums ... which saw even more memorable tracks, like "Hot Rod," "Up," "Gigolo," and perhaps their best-known ditty, "Jim Dandy (To the Rescue)" which was a remake of LaVern Baker's '57 song.

Reynolds was with the band during this high point in their career but departed around 1976 while they finished out the '70s. In the '80s, though, RLR got back with the band ... and they produced a few more records then, although James had stepped away briefly then.

Eventually, everyone was back on the same page and touring again, and as the decades went on ... different lineups of the band formed with the OGs performing as much as possible. BOA is said to have inspired legendary acts like Van Halen.

Reynolds was 72.

RIP

Sarah Harding Girls Aloud Singer Dead at 39

Sarah Harding, a member of Girls Aloud, has died.

Sarah had been battling breast cancer and lost her fight Sunday.

Sarah's mom wrote, "It's with deep heartbreak that today I'm sharing the news that my beautiful daughter Sarah has sadly passed away," adding, “Many of you will know of Sarah’s battle with cancer and that she fought so strongly from her diagnosis until her last day."

Sarah got her big break in 2002 on the British talent show, "Popstars: The Rivals" ... where the band was formed. Sarah was picked last of the 5 women, and she sobbed like crazy.

Just 3 weeks after the show ended, Girls Aloud had a number one hit, "Sound of the Underground." Girls Aloud became England's biggest girl group of the 21st Century.

Sarah had plenty of heartbreak ... she was engaged to DJ Tom Crane, but the 4-year relationship ended and she went into a tailspin. In 2011 she went to rehab for depression and alcohol addiction. She said after getting out, "I've been to hell and back ... I'm just glad I survived."

Girls Aloud reunited in 2012 -- their 12th anniversary -- but the group broke up again the following year.

In 2017, Sarah was on "Celebrity Big Brother" and won.

She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020. She said at the time doctors told her she would not see another Christmas.

Sarah's mom says cancer should not define her daughter ... "I know she won’t want to be remembered for her fight against this terrible disease – she was a bright shining star and I hope that’s how she can be remembered instead.”

Sarah was 39.

RIP

'Today' Show Weatherman Willard Scott Dead at 87

Willard Scott -- the iconic "TODAY" show weatherman who preceded the Al Roker era -- has died.

Al himself confirmed the news this weekend, taking to IG with an honorary post for Willard and writing ... "We lost a beloved member of our @todayshow family this morning. Willard Scott passed peacefully at the age of 87 surrounded by family, including his daughters Sally and Mary and his lovely wife, Paris."

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AR adds, "He was truly my second dad and am where I am today because of his generous spirit. Willard was a man of his times, the ultimate broadcaster. There will never be anyone quite like him."

Willard started at "TODAY" in 1980, and became famous for his jovial anchoring -- be it during a weather segment, or any other special event he ended up hosting for NBC thereafter. The dude's antics were hilarious -- he'd dress up in crazy costumes, joke around like crazy on the air (and during MOTS interviews) ... and was just an overall hoot of a personality.

He's also perhaps best remembered for wishing Americans a Happy 100th Birthday in an ongoing Smucker's segment ... in which he'd feature different centennials who hit the milestone. Willard also hosted some of America's most memorable celebratory moments -- covering presidential inaugurations, holiday parades and parties, expos and more.

He was pretty much the Al Roker of his day, and did indeed pass on the baton when he retired from anchoring in the mid-to-late '90s. Still, they remained great friends ... and Al credits him as his mentor.

BTW, Willard also had quite the history in clowning around -- literally. He played the very first incarnation of Ronald McDonald in TV ads during the '60s, and even had a turn at playing Bozo the Clown too. Dude was just an all-around joy-spreader -- from start to finish.

He's survived by his wife, Paris Keena, and his children. Willard was 87.

RIP

Ex-NFL's David Patten Dead At 47 Years Old After Motorcycle Accident

Former longtime NFL player David Patten has died at 47 years old ... after he was involved in a motorcycle accident on Thursday, TMZ Sports has confirmed.

Law enforcement tells us the crash happened around 9:45 PM ... and Patten was pronounced dead on the scene.

Police say Patten -- on his motorcycle -- "traveled left of center" and struck a Chevrolet Sedan. The Chevy then sideswiped a Honda. The driver of the Chevrolet was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.

Patten had a wonderful football career ... winning 3 rings with the Pats in the early 2000s. David caught a touchdown pass from Tom Brady in Super Bowl XXXVI -- helping TB12 win his 1st ring.

It was an improbable path for the 5'10" receiver ... he went undrafted out of Western Carolina in 1996 ... before signing with an Arena Football League squad.

He only played arena ball for 1 season before catching on with the NY Giants. Patten spent 3 seasons with the G-Men, and 1 with the Cleveland Browns before signing with the Pats in 2001.

Patten won 3 Super Bowls in New England ... before leaving in 2004. Patten played several more season in New Orleans and Washington before retiring. He ultimately played 12 seasons in the NFL.

Since hanging up his cleats, Patten had been living with his wife in South Carolina ... the state where he was born.

Many of Patten's famous teammates have expressed condolences following his death.

Richard Seymour wrote ... "heartbroken 💔 great man of God… lost for words - David Patten… 🙏🏽"

Deion Branch also weighed in on the terrible news ... "🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽🙏🏽 Great Player, but Most of All A Great Man, Mentor and Brother #LoveYou #ChiefChief"

David's former coach, Charlie Weis, also talked about the loss of his former player.

"Shocked and saddened about the sudden tragic death of David Patten. Excellent player, even better person. Family guy, team guy, devout Christian. Prayers all directed this way. RIP David. You will be sorely missed."

RIP

Story developing ...

Natalia Bryant Kobe Inspired Me To Pursue Film I Want To Win An Oscar!!!

Kobe Bryant's daughter, Natalia, is gunning to follow in her dad's footsteps ... revealing the NBA legend inspired her to pursue a career in film -- and she's hoping to win an Oscar!!

The Black Mamba's 18-year-old daughter -- an aspiring filmmaker -- opened up about her favorite memories with her dad in a rare interview with IMG Models on Thursday ... saying they would spend countless hours watching movies together.

But, their time wouldn't end after the end credits -- the new USC student says the duo would take MONTHS dissecting storylines and comparing movies to their own experiences throughout the world.

Of course, Kobe was deeply invested in his off-court endeavors after retiring from the league in 2016 ... and won an Oscar for his animated short, "Dear Basketball" in 2018.

When asked where she saw herself in 10 years, Natalia said she's hoping to get the same recognition.

"I want to win an Oscar. I'm not sure for what, or for what Oscar category, but that's on my list," she said.

"And I want to make a film where I can incorporate fashion and those fashion aspects, and I think combining my two passions, that's just amazing. I want to be able to do that."

Keith McCants Ex-NFL Player Dead At 53

Keith McCants -- the 4th overall draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1990 NFL Draft -- has passed away. He was 53 years old.

McCants was found dead Thursday morning in St. Petersburg, Florida by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, according to The Athletic.

The former Alabama defensive end played in 88 games over his 6 year NFL career for the Bucs, Oilers and Cardinals ... and finished with 192 tackles and 13.5 sacks.

He also recorded one touchdown -- reaching the endzone off a 46-yard interception return.

McCants was an All-American at Alabama and was named CBS National Defensive Player of the Year in 1989. He was also selected as the Iron Bowl MVP.

After his playing days were over, McCants fell into financial troubles ... and opened up about his experiences on the ESPN "30 for 30" documentary, "Broke."

Unfortunately, Keith also shared his battles with drug abuse and painkillers ... telling Vice Sports back in 2015 he was taking more than 183 pills a week before the end of his NFL career ... and it took a toll on him mentally.

RIP

Ex-WCW Star Daffney Unger Dead At 46 After Wrestler Posts Suicidal Video

Former wrestler Daffney Unger -- who starred in the WCW from 1999 to 2001 -- has died after posting a very disturbing video to her social media page, TMZ Sports has confirmed.

She was 46 years old.

A spokesperson for the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the death to TMZ Sports, but did not reveal a cause or manner.

Daffney's friend, wrestler Lexie Fyfe, said the former WCW star -- real name Shannon Spruill -- was found dead Thursday morning.

"We are very sad to have to announce the passing of Shannon Spruill aka Daffney Unger," said Lexie, who told us she and Daffney were so close, they "called each other sisters."

"We are posting this at the request of her family. Please respect their privacy at this trying time. I will miss you my logical sister from another mister."

Daffney had gone on Instagram Live late Wednesday night and appeared to be in a suicidal state, saying in her video, "Do you guys not understand that I am all alone? Do you not understand that?"

She later could be heard in the footage saying, "Remember, my brain goes to Boston."

Fyfe tells us Daffney had been battling mental health issues in recent weeks ... and urged anyone who's going through similar struggles to reach out for help.

Fyfe also tells us cops initially had trouble finding Daffney following the posting of the video ... explaining Daffney had just moved into a different apartment just four days ago.

The wrestling world was rocked by the news ... with legend Mick Foley saying, "I'm so very sorry to learn of Daffney's passing. A terrible loss for her family, friends and wrestling. She was far ahead if her time in our business. #RIPDaffney."

Added wrestling star Frankie Kazarian, "RIP Daffney. Just, awful news. She was a guest at my wedding…This is so incredibly sad. Please, reach out. Always. Godspeed."

After her stint in the WCW, Daffney went on to have a big role with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling from '08-'11. She retired a short time later.

RIP.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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