The month of May is a special month in the lives of wrestling fans, and especially in the lives of the legendary Hart family. It was on May 7th 1965, that the Hart family welcomed Owen into the world. Owen was the youngest of the 12 children of Stu and Helen Hart. The Harts are one of wrestling’s greatest families, with Bret “the Hitman” Hart and Owen Hart being most known for their time in World Wrestling Entertainment. Both had their start in Canada where they lived, and had training from their father, and one of the toughest men in this business, the Hall of Famer, Stu Hart.
Owen Hart started his journey into wrestling in the infamous Hart Dungeon, which was basically a torture chamber in the basement of the Hart Family Mansion. A Dungeon that saw some of the greats in wrestling emerge like Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, and most recently Tyson Kidd (the last graduate). Owen started his career at the young age of 16, where he would put on a mask and take the place of wrestlers who did not show up to events.
The month of May would once again be important in the life of Owen Hart, as on May 30th 1986 he got the opportunity to debut in his father’s promotion, Stampede Wrestling. This would be the beginning of an amazing career with promotions like Stampede Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling, World Championship Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment. He had two memorable personas, himself, Owen Hart, and the high-flying Blue Blazer, which would also be the last character he would portray.
In 1988 Owen would become part of the largest wrestling promotion in the world, the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment). He wrestled as Blue Blazer, where he would be part of the “Survivor Series” and “Wrestlemania”, playing a masked superhero character, rather than the younger brother of Bret Hart. But when he returned he would play himself.
During his career in World Wrestling Entertainment, Owen had many memorable feuds with great names such as Kevin Nash (Diesel), Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin and his brother Bret. His rivalry with Bret Hart gathered him much attention and is still this day seen by many as one of the greatest feuds in WWE history.
It was on July 1st, 1989, that Owen would marry the love of his life, Martha Joan Patterson. The couple would have two children, Oje Edward Hart, born March 5, 1992 and Athena Christie Hart born on September 23, 1995.
While in WWE, Owen would use his technically sound style to win four tag team championships (with partners Yokozuna, Jeff Jarrett and the late British Bulldog), he would hold the WWE European Championship and the WWE Intercontinental Championship on two occasions. In 1994 Owen Hart became the winner of the prestigious “King of the Ring” tournament and would adopt the nickname “the King of Harts”. Owen would also add two Slammy Awards to his resume.
In 1997 Owen put his feud with his brother Bret “the Hitman” Hart to rest and joined forces with Bret, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, The British Bulldog (Davey Boy Smith) and “Flyin’” Brian Pillman. They formed a new Hart Foundation and proved to be more powerful than ever before, with each member holding championship gold.
But by the close of 1997, Owen would once again break free from the Harts and take a stand as a singles competitor. He gave himself the monikers “The Black Hart” and “The Lone Hart”. This led to perhaps one of Owen’s greatest moments, when he met Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship. But due to controversy, Owen did not add the WWE Championship to his list of achievements whilst in professional wrestling.
Superheroes are known for having the ability to save the world, having super powers, like super strength, and some superheroes can even fly. The Blue Blazer was no exception, and this was what Owen and WWE attempted to do on that fateful night of May 23rd 1999. Now there are a few versions of this day, so I will share the most common version and the version which seems most accurate to me.
On May 23rd 1999, Owen arrived at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, where that night WWE would present their pay-per-view “Over the Edge”. He would go through his entrance routine. The plan was to have Owen be in his Blue Blazer attire, including his cape. He would then descend down to the ring. WWE along with Owen went through the stunt, and all seemed to be fine. It was show time and Owen made his way to the position from which he would descend. But this would be where this story takes a deadly turn. As Owen came down, there was some kind of malfunction and Owen would fall to his death.
Many, including the Hart family, felt that the blame belonged with World Wrestling Entertainment and the company that provided the harness. And a few months after his death, his wife Martha sued WWE, as well as the company who had provided the equipment that caused the death of Owen. As a result, WWE would pay Martha $18 million and the charges filed against the harness company were dropped, as they too came to a settlement. Martha would use the money to found the Owen Hart Foundation, which helps needy students get the education they require.
However there is another chain of thought, one which is even more disturbing. “Wrestling with Shadows: The 10th Anniversary Collectors Edition” DVD documentary titled “The Life and Death of Owen Hart” dug further into the death of Owen, and what they found shocked even me.
Anyone who knew Owen Hart knew he was a family man. He loved his wife and children more than anything in this world. And that life on the road meant very little time with his family. During the “Raw is Owen” episode the night following the horrific incident in which Owen lost his life, good friend Bradshaw spoke and talked about how Owen spent as little money as possible while on the road, as he wished to retire early. But little did we know how serious Owen really was.
Owen’s contract with World Wrestling Entertainment was nearing an end, and Owen wanted to retire from wrestling at the completion of his contract. He wanted to leave the sport which he seemingly had lost his passion for, and wanted to spend more time with his family. However Owen had at the time recently built a dream house for his family. He spent all the money he had earned, his children’s college funds as well as money he had yet to earn, on this home. This meant Owen would not be able to retire early, and that they would have struggles to make their monthly expenses. Owen had set his mind on being a gym teacher at a local high school. This however would not cover the bills.
When WWE came to him with the opportunity to perform this stunt, it is believed that Owen saw an opportunity to ensure his family’s well being and that his children’s future would be secure. He took out a high life insurance policy on himself and agreed to complete the required stunt. They performed the test run, and all went well. Things were set. During a conversation with his wife she warned him not to complete the stunt, but he assured her that it would go fine and told her that he loved her.
75 minutes into the show and Hart was set to go, he took a deep breath, realising what was about to happen. He thought in those final moments about his loving family, he must have attempted to convince himself that what he was about to do was the right thing. And then Owen Hart did the unthinkable, he pulled the release to plummet to his death, making sure that his fall would optimize the potential for death by aiming his neck towards the ring ropes.
Owen Hart had planned the events that occurred… Owen Hart had taken his own life.
Which ever chain of thought you subscribe to. Owen will be missed for his ribs, his love of his family, his pure talent and his amazing work ethic.
I often wonder where we would be if that night never occurred. Would Owen have ever captured the WWE championship? Or would he have continued to be a comic relief character that the WWE had been portraying him as with the Blue Blazer gimmick. Would he have been able to retire and spend more time with the people he loved the most? Or would he still play a major role in the world of professional wrestling? Would he have been there helping young talent break into the business and perfect their craft?
- Mr. Paul, guest columnist
Mr. Paul was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. H fell in love with wrestling as a child, thanks to wrestlers like the Undertaker and Mick Foley. He has always looked for a way to be part of the business, and as Jim Ross would say, wasn’t born with the genetics to be a wrestler, being a skinny guy. He started commentating for XWE (Xtreme Wrestling Entertainment) last year and quickly took over all announcing and MC duties, as well as the promotions social media and any writing that was required