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WRESTLING COLUMNS

The Death Of Owen Hart
May 9, 2006 by Nathan Dewey


"Here at Kansas city, tragedy befell World Wrestling Federation and all of us. Owen Hart was set to make an entrance from the ceiling... and he fell from the ceiling. I have the unfortunate responsibility to let everyone know that... Owen Hart has died. Owen Hart has tragically died from that accident, here tonight." Jim Ross

"PRO WRESTLER SUFFERS FATAL FALL" read the Kansas City Metropolitan shortly after Sunday May 23, 1999 which the Kemper Arena held WWF Over the Edge. Bellow an article written by Matt Stearns and Jason King entitled "Kemper crowd sees WWF star plunge to the ring" outlines the horrible tragedy that took place that night. "After World Wrestling Federation wrestler Owen Hart fell from a harness into the ring Sunday evening at Kemper Arena, emergency personnel worked frantically to save his life. He was pronounced dead later Sunday at a hospital." The wrestling world stood in awe, and the business was changed forever. Owen Hart was a master of the ring. His presence captivated audiences from around the world. Unfortunately, Owen Hart died at the early age of 34.

After watching Bret Hart's Hall of Fame speech in which he remembered a practical joke his younger brother Owen once played on him, I found myself in a heavy state of remembrance. I searched the Internet to fully understand the events of Owen's tragic death and came across a few articles (including Kirsty Quested's own "A Tribute To The King Of Harts") which explained that night in detail. I, like everyone else had absolutely no clue how to handle this situation when it occurred. It was such a devastating night, that it still resonates in my mind with absolute precision. It's a moment I will never forget. This particular event changed my perspective of wrestling, which is why I've written this column to remember the "King of Harts" and the night that altered everyone's lives.

"He was born into the sport," his father Stu Hart once said. "He was a pretty damn good amateur wrestler, a Canadian college champion. He was also an excellent professional wrestler."

The youngest of the twelve Hart children, Owen Hart began wrestling for his father, Stu Hart's promotion, Stampede Wrestling at an early age. However, despite what some believe, Owen Hart never really wanted a career in Sports Entertainment. His widow, Martha had explained in the book which was published after his untimely death called "Broken Harts" that Owen Hart tried numerous to find a living outside of the world of professional wrestling. His older brother, and recent inductee into the Hall of Fame, Bret "Hitman" Hart even stated in his DVD collection, "Who knows where he'd be if he was a fire fighter, like he always wanted to be." However, this never changed the quality of his performances.

Owen Hart made a name for himself with his athleticism and worked his way up to debuting in the World Wrestling Federation in 1988 as the Blue Blazer. This stint was dropped after a couple of years of basically jobbing to the veterans and up and coming superstars of the early years. Owen then found himself jumping between WCW and WWF. In 1990 he once again wrestled for WWF and quickly grew in singles competition.

During the year 1993, Owen Hart had developed a feud with older brother Bret out of jealousy during the Survivor Series. The hatred grew to the "Brother vs. Brother" showdown at WrestleMania X. In a close match, Owen was able to secure the win, which shocked the world. SLAM! Wrestling at www.canoe.ca interviewed him about the match "That was my first real big match." stated Owen "Everyone figured, this is a joke, Owen's going to get squashed. And then when I beat him, it blew everyone away. Not only was it that I surprised people by beating Bret Hart, but it was a great match." However, Bret Hart came off the loss with even more determination to win the WWF title later in the night. As the show went off the air, Owen looked into the ring to see Bret Hart hoisted on the shoulders of the superstars from the locker room as the new WWF Champion. This was a classic moment that spurred the legendary feud which culminated at SummerSlam later that year, which pitted the brothers one-on-one in a steel cage match for the WWF Championship. This match, above all should be remembered as one of the greatest matches that told an emotionally charged storyline. Bret Hart recalls the suplex from the top of the cage, saying that he simply remembers "protecting Owen" just like he had always done, tearfully concluding that "we were such professionals."

In 1997, Bret and his brother were closer than ever, and Owen's reputation became stronger in the locker room with this generations young superstars. Mick Foley remembers Owen being "... the nicest, funniest person I've ever met." Adam Copeland, better known as Edge stated on RAW is Owen, the night after Over the Edge, that he [Owen] was "a guru" who always helped him on the road and had an uncanny "ability to make everybody laugh." This is a business with many acquaintances and little friends, but Owen... He was one of those friends" said a tearful Jeff Jarrett that same night.

Following the "Montreal Screwjob" of Survivor Series 1997, Owen and the rest of the Hart Foundation were sketchy of their roles in the WWF. The foundation broke with Jim "the Anvil" Neidhart and "The British Bulldog" Davie Boy Smith leaving the company. Owen Hart suddenly found himself alone. Over the years, he was awkwardly handled by management and was paired with Jeff Jarrett in late 1998. They formed a strong reputation along with their manager Debra. The team secured the tag-team championships, successfully retaining the titles on many occasions. However, management once again saw fit to change Owen Hart's persona, by planning to have the team have a falling out when Owen began to lust over Debra.

Owen Hart was happily married to Martha with two kids, Oje and Athena. Hart, who was a loving father turned down the heavily planned change of character because he was concerned with his reputation around the house. He didn't want his children to see him with another woman every Monday night. It is because of this decision, management felt they had nothing for Owen, storyline wise, and instead of continuing his duties with Jeff Jarrett, decided to once again have Owen Hart don the Blue Blazer gimmick, however this time, it was basically a joke as a means of humiliating Owen instead of a glorified jobber. As punishment, Owen Hart found himself in a position that was actually beneficial. as far as his morals were concerned. Now, he would frequently show up and endow the famous lines of "take your vitamins and drink your milk." However, one important part of this gimmick was a dare devil stunt which featured him mimicking a superhero by being lowered to ring from the rafters by harness. Owen had successfully done this stunt two times prior, but was uncomfortable with the concept since he had always been afraid of heights. Rolling into Over the Edge, a pay per view featuring Stone Cold Steve Austin facing off against Undertaker for the WWF Championship, the Blue Blazer had developed a feud with Godfather, who was destroying the moral fabric of the business, as Owen had put it. The match would be for the Intercontinental Championship.

Over the Edge - May 23, 1999
Sources say Owen Hart arrived at the Kemper arena around 12 pm. He was introduced to Bobby Talbert, a rigger hired to oversee Owen's stunt. Talbert had recently acquired a quick-release snap shackle for the stunt, because Mr. McMahon wasn't satisfied with the way the two other stunts played on television. This new device would allow Owen to easily free himself. The plan was to have Owen release early, so he could land and continue his superhero style run around the ring, flapping his cape. All Owen would have to do is tug lightly on a cord that would release him from the rappelling line from his harness safely. Owen never really wanted to do it "but somehow, over the weekend" said Bret Hart, who was a major talent in WCW at the time, "he got talked into doing it again."

The Maverick of www.oratory.rajah.com wrote a column which explained in further detail the events of that day's rehearsals.

"Owen was supposed to turn up to the middle of the arena to rehearse the stunt at 2 pm. But, unbeknownst to anybody, he sneaked out of the arena to catch some fresh air, and didn't return until 3.30 pm. It was clear he left to avoid having to practice the stunt, and thought his absence would go unnoticed and management would quickly forget their orders.

But they didn't. And they weren't happy with Owen either.

The test run went perfectly, right up until Owen landed, when Owen inexcusably forget Talbert's earlier specific orders. He didn't pull the release cord, which caused a few WWF officials to get visibly annoyed at Owen. He was asked to do the whole thing again, but declined, and avoiding any potential argument, he walked forcefully back to his locker room. To those that saw Owen that afternoon, it was clear his mind wasn't focused on wrestling."

The event began that evening. Owen Hart was booked to win the Intercontinental Championship from Godfather that night in the second match of the card. After the first match was over, Owen made his way to the cat walk dressed as a member of the crowd. A pre taped promotional interview with Blue Blazer was shown on the Titantron as Owen prepared to make his decent. Talbert secured Owen in the harness and attached it to the lower mechanisms. At that moment the lights began to dim and Hart positioned himself, hanging onto the railing, waiting for his cue and for Talbert to lower him. It was then that Owen attempted to reposition his cape, accidentally triggered the quick-release, 78 feet above the ring. Owen was falling until he violently landed. Onlookers say he landed on his left side, hitting the top rope, just barely missing the turnbuckle itself. The landing caused severe internal bleeding and just six minutes after the fall, Owen Hart passed away. Medical personnel rushed to the ring and worked ecstatically, trying desperately to keep Owen's heart beating. He was loaded onto a stretcher and carried quickly to the backstage area. The 16,000 horrified fans in attendance were unsure whether or not the fall was staged and cheered for Owen as he was escorted to a near by hospital. Just minutes after the fall, Jim Ross along with Jerry "the King" Lawler announced that "Owen Hart has died. Owen Hart has tragically died from that accident, here tonight." Thankfully, fans watching the event live from home never saw the fall because of the interview.

The crowd was never informed of Owen's death. Instead, the show was ordered to continue. From there on, the night was dampened. Backstage, during an interview with Jeff Jarrett, Debra, and Road Dogg Jesse James, they broke out of character hoping that Owen was alright, and that they're praying for him.

The decision for the show to go on was controversial. WWF President, Vince McMahon stated "we have no answers" the night after, concerning the fall. "Out of respect for Owen, knowing the consummate performer he was, I'm sure members of the Hart family would concur with me that he would want the show to go on," McMahon said.

On May 24, 1999, WWF aired the RAW is Owen show much like the Eddie Guerrero tribute shows. With emotions running wild, the announcer ordered the ten bells to honour the fallen superstar. Superstars were not mandatory to wrestle that night, instead it was their choice.

Martha would eventually settle a wrongful death lawsuit against Mr. McMahon, the WWF and Titan Sports out of court and received 18 million dollars. She would use this money to create the Owen Hart Foundation, dedicated to helping children and young people realize their potential. "I guess why I want to make this a life's work for me is it brings meaning to my life, it brings meaning to everything that's happened to me," she said. "It's funny. In our life together, we both wanted this country home, this private life that we had created for ourselves. I didn't care what the rest of the world was doing. I had my perfect little husband, my perfect little family, and that's all I wanted - all Owen wanted. My path was lit. Now it's black, and I don't know what's around the corner for me." When describing what had really happened to Owen she said "His aortal valve was torn," and "he literally died of a broken heart."

When asked how he [Owen] wanted the fans to remember him he replied:

"Well, I don't want to become one of those watered-down guys, who just walked and talked in the ring. I want them to remember me as a guy who was diverse in his talents, could fight anybody and have a good match, whether it was Undertaker, or Vader. These big giant guys, I remember thinking, how can I have a good match with them, and coming back and saying, wow, those people were really entertained. They really thought that I had a chance to beat Vader or beat the Undertaker. And that's going against the odds, when you're 5'10", 220 pounds fighting a guy that's 6'7", 320 pounds, or Vader that's 6'4", 400 pounds. How am I going to go up there and convince these people that I've actually got a chance of winning" When you go out there and even beat them, people believe it, that's unbelievable, you know. It's kind of an art to going out and performing. I'd like fans to remember me as a guy who would go out and entertain them, give them quality matches, and not just the same old garbage every week."

OWEN HART

May 7, 1965 - May 23, 1999

Owen, you are truly missed...

---

I hope you enjoyed the "Death of Owen Hart" and understand the unbelievable impact of this shocking event. Like many other life altering moments, I'll always remember where I was when I first heard of Owen's tragedy. With the seventh year anniversary coming up, I thought this would be appropriate. Thanks for reading.

Sources: SLAM! Wrestling, Kirsty Quested's Owen Hart Tragedy and Owen Hart at Knarley.net

by Nathan Dewey ..


Martin Miller wrote:
Hey buddy. that was a really great article about owen hart. This is actually the first article I've ever commented on. Ever since Eddie's death all I've thought about is Owen's death. He was an amazing wrestler and I've been watching him wrestle since i was born. I was 11 years old when i was watching Over the edge. I'll never forget it. thanks again was that beautiful article.
Hector Vasquez wrote:
Thanks for the column, it was good to read it and bring back good and melancholic memories of Owen. RIP
Tabitha McKendry wrote:
I just wanted to comment on the great job Nathan Dewey did with this column. So many fans really don't know what happened to Owen that night. I was supposed to get that Pay-per-view that night, but my television wasn't working properly. I guess that was a blessing. Owen was a wonderful performer and I hope that his memory lives on. So often in wrestling, people are forgotten. But Owen needs to live on forever.
Carl A Hague wrote:
Reading that brought back some memories of how I reacted to the death of such a talented wrestler. I remember being in a state of shock when first hearing the news as I couldn't believe such a thing could happen. It wasn't so much as him dying as the manner in which it happened.

When the shock had passed, I then remember becoming angry regarding the circumstances of the death, and that a wrestler as talented as Owen Hart had been forced into performing such a stunt as part of a gimmick designed purely to make him look stupid. Reading the article has merely strengthened those views.
Kyle Ross wrote:
I think that Owen Hart was always underrated, despite having the talent of his brother, Bret, who was a legend in his own right. Perhaps with the re-bonding of the Hitman with WWE, we can finally see Owen take his place in the Hall of Fame he deserved to have a long time ago.

Great article, it really brought back memories, especially of the great matches Owen had, like the Wrestlemania one with Bret.
Stephen Holt wrote:
What a brillant piece about Owen Hart. Raw is Owen was one of my most memorable Raw's, and with the fairly recent death of Eddie Guerrero I have been thinking about Owen Hart. He was never my favourite wrestler (probably due to my age, his gimmick, and the fact that he turned on Bret). Nevertheless I will never forget the moment when Owen turned on Bret at the Royal Rumble, or the epic encounter these two wrestling legends had at Wrestlemania X.

I hope, that now Bret has been inducted into the Hall of Fame, that this will see the induction of Owen. I can't believe that it was almost seven years ago, it seems like longer. Still sorely missed, but not forgotten.
Navin Panesar wrote:
i must say this is a great article, and i bet Owen is Looking down and proud of it, you surely did him justice, i remember seeing the matches he would put on, and also hearing some of the things he did and how loved he was backstage. Owen Hart is one fo the best things to happen to Wrestling PERIOD, all the younger fans should get to watch Owen Wrestle because he was an inspiration, an amazing person, just unbelievable. Owen You Will Never Be Forgotten R.I.P
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