Wednesday, June 29, 2016

I Listen So You Don't Have To: Talk Is Jericho, Ep. 259

Nancy Toffoloni's (Benoit) sister speaks about the murder
Photo Credit: Daryll Dyck
If you’re new, here’s the rundown. We listen to a handful of wrestling podcasts each week. Too many, probably, though certainly not all of them. In the interest of saving you time — in case you have the restraint to skip certain episodes — the plan is to give the bare bones of a given show and let you decide if it’s worth investing the time to hear the whole thing. There are many wrestling podcasts out there, of course, but this feature largely hews to the regular rotation we feel best fit the category of hit or miss. If we can save other folks some time, we’re happy to do so.

Show: Talk Is Jericho
Episode: 259
Run Time: 1:44:54
Guest: Sandra Toffoloni

Summary: Released around the ninth anniversary of the Benoit family murders, Chris Jericho interviews Sandra Toffoloni, sister of Nancy Benoit. Sandra was ten years younger than Nancy, so she grew up in awe of what her sister was doing in the wrestling business, though she never became a fan herself. She first met Chris Benoit backstage at Bash of the Beach '96 as a real fight was being broken up between him and Kevin Sullivan. From there, she got very close to the family, and basically lived with them for the last year or so of their lives. Sandra says the deaths of some of his close friends in the business, especially Eddie Guerrero, put Chris in a state of "perpetual bereavement" from which he never truly recovered. He also became increasingly paranoid and thought people were following him. She talks about the complex levels of grieving and anger that she has felt in the years since the murders, and she offers her own thoughts about what could have possibly caused Chris to do what he did.

Quote of the Week: "It wasn't the act of someone with brain damage. It's impossible for that to have been the case. And I understand being someone that is experiencing this loss still, I understand the necessity to want to put it on something and say, 'This is why he did it. This is the reason right here.' Because the daily pain of living with not knowing why and not really knowing what happened is crippling. I can understand his parents and his family wanting to be able to say, 'This is why he wasn't himself.' And I just don't believe he was himself, yes, but I can't put it on any one thing. It was a combination of many things, outside factors, and an inner struggle that he had been going through for quite some time after Eddie. He almost always had this look in his eye of not so much 'Who's next,' it was more 'Am I next?'"

Why you should listen: You should listen to this not so much because you are a true crime fan, or because you want to hear weird details about the crime scene at the Benoit house. You will get some of that stuff, to be sure. But you should listen to this because Sandra Toffoloni offers a glimpse into what it's like for someone to come to terms with an unimaginable horror that shatters everything about their life that they thought they knew. How do you reconcile the gentle soul and good husband/father that Chris Benoit was with the murderer that he became in his final two days? How do you live after such a terrible thing happens to the two people you loved the most in the world? These are questions that very nearly don't have answers, but Sandra's strength and honesty give us an idea of how one even begins to live again.

Why you should skip it: The Benoit murder/suicide might be too sad of a story to even think about, and if that's the case for anyone out there, it would be best to steer clear of this one. You will not hear gory details, but the unspoken gory details will undoubtedly enter your head at certain times, and such awful imagery might be too painful for some to consider.

Final Thoughts: Chris Jericho still refuses to completely disavow Chris Benoit and never say another good word about him or mention his name. He believes that if we ever want to make even a bit of sense of what happened over that weekend in June 2007, we have to consider the lives that Chris and Nancy and their son Daniel lived up to the point of their deaths. We also have to humanize Nancy and Daniel, and not let them become mere footnotes in a grisly crime. Sandra gives intimate personal details of Nancy's wisdom and ability to give great advice, as well as a clear picture of Daniel's shyness that was offset by his laughter and mimicry skills. She also tells us that Chris was a good soul who cared deeply for his wife and child. But she also doesn't shy away from telling of his darker side and the emotional troubles he fought with over his last few years. Rather than writing off the murder/suicide as a mere case of a wrestler with brain damage going crazy and killing his family, Sandra shows that it was much more complicated than that. The only trouble is that as our understanding of this tragedy becomes more complicated and complex, the more it haunts us.