Fans, Friends Look Behind Benoit Facade

He used to call it fate, being in the right place at the right time. One night a wrestler grabbed Jim's chair, heaved it into the crowd and a camera clicked away at Nancy's surprised expression. She was discovered that night, joined wrestler Kevin Sullivan's entourage, and her life as a valet/diva/manager put her in leather and chains and took her everywhere from Texas to Hawaii.

For a while, Daus was a happy part of the ride. They grew up fast and owned their first house as teenagers. Eventually, there was no room for him on the tour.

On New Year's Day -- Daus isn't sure what year -- he picked her up from the airport, heard all the places she was booked for and said they were drifting in different directions. He suggested a divorce. Within days, they were seeing the same lawyer.

"We cried a lot that day," he says. "It was very hard on me. That was the toughest year of my life, the year I got divorced."

He stopped watching wrestling. It was too painful. Nancy's career skyrocketed, and she married Sullivan, a booker/wrestler known for his satanic references in the ring. If the entourage ultimately pulled Nancy away from Jim, it almost seemed fitting that another wrestling saga eventually pried her away from Sullivan.

By the mid-1990s, Sullivan was on the outs with Nancy, and scripted an angle that had her canoodling with Benoit. Wrestling fans knew her as "Woman." Benoit called her Nancy. In a life-imitates-art moment, they fell in love.

Some people thought it was an odd combination -- Chris the quiet workmanlike wrestler, Nancy the headstrong, career-savvy manager. Some also wondered why she gave it all up, left the business to be a stay-at-home wife and mother.

She disappeared from the spotlight, showing up occasionally at her husband's side. In the flurry of video clips of the past week, she's seen hugging Chris while confetti rains down on another wrestling victory. He's shown kissing his little boy as the emotions seep from his sweaty, sculpted body.

How much did anyone know about what went on with the Benoits? She filed a divorce petition in 2003, and withdrew it a few months later. She also filed a temporary protection order from domestic abuse, and later dropped that, too.

Richard Decker, an attorney for Nancy's parents, Paul and Maureen Toffoloni, said the family had no reason to believe there was turmoil on those 8.6 acres in Fayetteville.

"None. Zero," Decker says. "They had a normal son-in-law relationship with Chris. They didn't treat him as a superstar, and he didn't want to be treated as a superstar. He took out the trash and they treated him as anyone would treat a son in law. (The couple) had a close and loving relationship as far as they knew."

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The testimonials for Chris Benoit, pre- and post-death, are almost pre-recorded from those close to him. Hard worker, they say. Loyal, polite and quiet. Passionate.

Nearly everybody in the wrestling business has a story of how they saw Benoit within the past couple of weeks, and he seemed like the same man who crawled through the ropes and into fantasy more than two decades ago.

One close friend, who declined to be named, says he vacillates from wanting to block the whole thing out to gluing himself to the Internet in search of the latest developments. One morsel of information might crack this thing, and explain the invisible demons.

It's one thing to grieve the death of a good friend. But how do you mourn a monster?

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