The news, which was a major topic of conversation among those in the independent wrestling community this morning, was broken by Chris Hero, who had been one of Sweeney's closest friends via Twitter, writing:
"We lost a dedicated friend and an overwhelmingly talented performer this morning. Alex Whybrow aka "Sweet & Sour" Larry Sweeney has passed. We spent a few yrs together on the road & Alex was gifted beyond measure. He could enthrall you with colorful stories from his personal life or he could captivate thousands with his undeniable charisma. I loved him & my heart is with his family, friends & his countless fans. First he was my student & he transcended that almost immediately. I will forever cherish our in depth conversations & time spent together."
In speaking to a number of Sweeney's friends, I can confirm the cause of death was self-inflicted. Sweeney, who was only 29 years old, had very publicly and privately dealt with being bi-polar.
In speaking to number of people who were close with Sweeney and had worked with him in different promotions, the common theme that came up was just how eclectic and creative he was as a person and what a life he had lived, even outside of professional wrestling. For every insane road story that wrestlers had to share, Sweeney could discuss what it was like living and wrestling in India. The same adjectives kept coming up in the conversations – one of a kind, driven, creative, genius, cultured, unique.
What made Larry Sweeney, the persona, such a great talker and over time, a very good worker, were the same things that drove Alex Whybrow as a performer. Like many in the business who want to make it so bad that they drive themselves harder than anyone outside of their immediate world can understand and appreciate. At times, you couldn't even separate the two sides. It's going to be debated whether the business had anything to do with Sweeney's passing, but the reality is his personal problems pre-dated anything to do with professional wrestling.
There's no denying Sweeney fought with problems stemming from being bi-polar. At times, he blogged about them, dating them back to a car accident from years ago. His ROH run was cut short after an out of nowhere departure, which led to rambling, angry statements being made about the company. While pop culture has embraced Charlie Sheen for similar antics in recent months, Sweeney was way ahead of that curve.
What was entertaining for some fans was worrying for friends, but like so many others who have dealt with bi-polar behavior, there was no way to reason with someone when they are in that "zone", because to them, they are right and everyone else are the ones who just don't understand. There's also no way to know when to step in, because of the eccentric nature of the personality. One day, it could be some minor personality quirk. The next, it's something explosive. There's no way for anyone on the outside to predict or know when true help is needed.
It's going to be very easy for some on the outside to dismiss Sweeney as someone who had problems and fell to them but as someone who's known many people that have dealt with bi-polar issues, every last one of them were conflicted, complicated and in many cases, genius-level personalities who were their own best friends and worst enemies. There was no in between and there was no barometer for when and why things would go one way or the other.
In speaking to Sweeney's friends today, that is exactly what many of them were going through. It's a rough situation for anyone to deal with, because you never know how far the person suffering might take their issues.
While Sweeney's most high profile run was working for Ring of Honor as the nucleus of "Sweet and Sour, Inc." as a heel sports manager (think Jerry Maguire), he had been part of a generation of talents that were working just about every independent they could find, working everywhere (and I mean everywhere) from CHIKARA to Action Zone Wrestling in Hawaii to Pittsburgh's IWC to NWA Upstate to promotions so small, you probably never heard of them. He was everywhere, to the point that even in the day of the Internet, you heard his name before you actually saw his work.
Sweeney initially debuted in 2000, working the Chicago independent wrestling scene. As a wrestler, there was nothing special about him - at first. When he was given the chance to speak, however, there was magic. The first time I heard Sweeney speak, I immediately had visions of Bobby Heenan. There was that perfect blend of comedic wit with serious delivery. You didn't look upon him as someone playing a character but as someone who lived what he was doing and believe me, there's a huge difference between the two.
Sweeney eventually migrated to CHIKARA, where he honed his training under Chris Hero, who was his closest friend in the business and Mike Quackenbush, among others. Over time, Sweeney's in-ring work caught up to his promo skills and he exploded, working everywhere and beginning to build attention for himself. Hero and Sweeney were soon working everywhere together with Sweeney as the mouthpiece as Hero evolved as a performer inside the ring. He was as important a piece when it came to building CHIKARA’s unique cult following as anyone.
Soon, Sweeney began carrying and defending The ICW-ICWA Texarkana Television Championship on all sorts of independent events. I have no idea what the origin of the belt was but it was a great nod back to the days of the traveling champion and someone who took their belt from group to group to prove he was the best. During a time period where everyone was about the strong style of indy wrestling or playing off an ECW thread, Sweeney had a nice throwback quality to his work.
Sweeney was soon managing Hero and Claudio Castagnoli, The Kings of Wrestling, in ROH. The Kings, who were already garnering momentum on the independent scene, hit ROH in a big way. ROH had grown from just being an independent group to one of the more well known staples. The Kings and Sweeney had been one of the hotter things on the indy scene during that time period, so when they finally moved over into ROH, it was a major deal for those who had followed them.
Sweeney's delivery was pitch perfect in ROH where the in-ring work was always good but great promos were immediately noticed, especially in places like NYC that had become an important market for the group. In keeping with his character, Sweeney announced he was creating a hostile takeover of the company. He was the perfect foil for the storyline, bringing in names like Adam Pearce and Brent Abright and even Daniel Puder into the fold. Sweeney’s abuse of hapless, overweight Bobby Dempsey resulted in making Dempsey one of the most sympathetic characters in the promotion. For several years, Sweeney was a major part of the ROH machine.
Then, he was gone. There were issues behind the scene and concerns about his behavior. Sweeney publicly announced he was quitting and demanded all sorts of money owed. Some fans thought it was an angle and loved it but the reality was Sweeney was dealing with far more than a wrestling storyline. Some of his friends wanted to help and others even tried, but when an adult wants to live their life how they see fit, how do you force them not to, even if you are worried for them? That was among the comments several friends made today.
The legend of Sweeney seemed to follow him in the months after he left ROH. He was, allegedly homeless. Then, he popped up at Wrestlemania in Houston, offering to wrestle in a parking lot for money. Fans paid, loving the craziness of the situation. Sweeney was all over radio shows and the Internet, and depending on what side you were on, you were either loving the out of control aspect or you were worried for the guy.
At some point, the burnt bridges were repaired, because Sweeney returned as an announcer for the company’s first Internet PPV. But, then he never appeared for ROH again. Sweeney was back all over the independent circuit again with all sorts of stories following him. What were true and what were rumor, I couldn’t begin to tell you.
Sweeney, who in recent years, had talked of running promotions, had been training and wrestling for independents in the New Orleans area. According to one friend, Sweeney had been arrested for a DUI recently and missed his trial date. Of late, he had been worried about the possibility of going to jail. But, no one that had spoken to him in recent days could have predicted that he was coming close to ending his own life and they, like everyone reading this, wishes that there was something they could have done.
On behalf of everyone associated with PWInsider.com, we send our deepest condolences to Alex Whybrow’s family, friend and fans. He was a personality that, like everyone in life, was flawed, but also one that was deeply loved - the name Larry Sweeney is already trending worldwide on Twitter. I can't say I knew Sweeney on a deeply personal level, but I sure hope that he knows how much he's going to be missed by his friends.