HITMAN: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, by Bret "The Hitman" Hart

Description: "HITMAN" PUTS HIMSELF IN THE CROSSHAIRS FOR TELL-ALL MEMOIR By Anthony Kingdom James for ProWrestlingPundit.blogspot.com

When I was in my early teens, growing up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, my friends Bobby and Wayne introduced me to the exciting world of professional wrestling. Soon, we were watching every minute of every match we could get our hands on. There was Jim Crockett's NWA from the Mid-Atlantic States. Verne Gagne's AWA from the mid-west. The hours upon hours of Japanese tapes the Wayne brought home from his job as a dish-washer in a local sushi restaurant. The three hours of Bill Watts' incredible UWF promotion that my cousin had on tape. A new version of Stampede Wrestling was being shown across Canada on TSN. And of course, there was Vince McMahon's WWF.

Back then, there were three wrestlers in the WWF (now WWE) that I couldn't get enough of: The Dynamite Kid, Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart and Bret "The Hitman" Hart. The latter two formed a tag team aptly named "The Hart Foundation". When we wrestled on the lawn next to our apartment building, that's exactly who Wayne and Bobby and I thought we were. Dynamite, The Anvil and The Hitman. Then, as well as now, I was shaped more like Neidhart, so that was the part I played... but man, did I want to be Bret Hart.

As the Dynamite Kid's body succumbed to years of abuse in and out of the ring and Neidhart's star faded, I followed along as Bret Hart's career blossomed. From opening match "jobber" to mid-card workhorse to World Champion to icon, Hart grew in both stature and ability.

When I became a professional wrestler myself, I was still always more Anvil than Hitman but I tried to emulate Hart in small ways. When I finally had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Hart in January 2006, he had been living in Italy for some time after remarrying. I tried to soak in every moment I could; asking him questions, listening to his stories... catching him up on NHL and CFL goings-on. And still, those few days only gave me a small window into this man who was still a personal hero to me.

Now, Bret Hart has thrown that window wide open for fans and detractors alike to get a good look at the life of the man behind "The Hitman".

* * * * *

"Life as a pro wrestler is highly addictive", says Bret Hart in his new autobiography "Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling". "Once you get a taste for it, your old life fades away and disappears", and oh, what a strange new life awaits those who join Hart and make the journey.

Hart describes a life that harkens the reader to thoughts of living within The Matrix. He paints a picture that makes life on the road as a wrestler sound vibrant, colorful and adventurous yet fraught with pitfalls and temptations. And much like Keanu Reeves' character of Neo, Hart must learn a very special and sometimes logic-defying fighting system to survive in this surrealistic world. When Hart occasionally disconnects from that life, a life he knows isn't quite real, it means returning home to the drabness of marital strife and the type of familial in-fighting that most people attribute to Shakespeare's writing.... or possibly an episode of some tawdry afternoon talk show.

The 7-time World Heavyweight champion calls upon over two decades worth of audio journals he recorded during his time on the road as the foundation for writing the monstrous 500+ pages of this book. Hart chronicles his long struggle to protect the honor and integrity of his wrestling persona while admitting to a laundry list of indiscretions in his personal life and Hart's recounting of his life as meticulous as it is scathing. On one hand, Hart praises himself repeatedly for his professionalism as a wrestler; never missing shows, never injuring opponents, never "screwing" anyone. On the other hand, he frankly admits to dabbling in steroid and narcotics use in the spring of his career and having a voracious sexual appetite. And while he doesn't absolve himself of his sins, he at least attempts to justify the latter vice by claiming that chasing women distracted him from falling into the bottomless pit of heavy drug and alcohol abuse that swallowed up so many other wrestlers of his generation.

Part of the fun of this weighty tell-all tome is that Hart doesn't just employ these moral yardsticks for his own behavior but rather as a set of standards that he held everyone to. Both good and bad, Hart scrutinizes the behavior and the work ethic (or lack thereof) of everyone in his life: wrestlers and employers, fans and family. No one is spared, especially those closest to him.

Hart comes off as thoughtful and well-spoken, truthful and deeply emotional. At the same time, he uses the book to offer himself up as one of many martyrs to the wrestling industry. The problem with this is most people expect our martyrs to be humble and while it might be wrong to call Hart braggadocios neither could you quite call him humble. And although a lot has been said, written and put to film about Hart's life already, this book is a must.

Growing up as one of 12 children. Trying to measure up to his famous father's reputation and expectations. Learning the art and science of professional wrestling. The growth of his career. The slow death of his marriage. The infamous, industry-altering "Montreal Screw-Job". The death of his brother Owen. The accident that ended his career. His stroke and recovery. And all of the friends, enemies, parties, fights, triumphs and tragedies in between.

It's all there and it's all true, even the "fake" stuff. In fact, the fake stuff may be the truest of all.

"Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling" by Bret Hart is available now in Canada from Random House Publishing. Visit the publisher's official webpage for the book at http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780307355669

* * * * *

Anthony Kingdom James is a former professional wrestler living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. James now promotes shows under the banner of The Union of Independent Professional Wrestlers. For more information, please visit UIPW's official website at www.wrestlersunion.ca

Reviewed by Anthony Kingdom James on October 29, 2007.