A Tribute to the King of Harts
Originally published in 2004
Written by Kirsty Quested
“Do nothing wrong, play by the rules, be a good person… do everything right… it doesn’t guarantee you anything.” – Owen Hart, 1997
When Owen Hart spoke these words in reference to the tragic death of his young nephew, Matthew, he could never have known how horribly prophetic they would be of himself. His life, so tragically cut short, epitomised that of a “good person,” the kind the world unquestionably needs more of. There’s another old saying that fits Owen Hart – only the good die young. Many know of the tragedy of his untimely death. With the exception of his profile in the (then) WWF, what is less known is how he lived.
Owen James Hart was born on May 7, 1965. He was the baby in a family of eleven brothers and sisters, and he was special. “The prince had come in, and we all knew he was the last baby,” said Owen’s sister Alison Hart. “We were all in awe of him.” The Hart siblings were divided into boys and girls rooms. Because all his brothers were so much older, Owen initially slept in the girls room. “He was the girls project,” said Owen’s brother, Bret Hart. Blond-haired and blue-eyed, Owen was the girls very own living doll. They would dress him up, brush his hair, and cart him around. He was their spy, their tattletale, their loyal little grunt in the ever present Boys vs Girls feud that was undoubtedly more vicious than any dreamed up by professional wrestling scriptwriters. As Owen grew older, the day came when the Hart matriarch, the gentle and sophisticated Helen, announced that they were moving Owen into the boys room. “You could see Owen swallow pretty hard,” said Bret. “He knew this was a big moment.” The Littlest Hart had to figure out pretty quickly where his allegiance would now lie – imagine all those big brothers hulking over you! What kind of retribution could he expect for all his transgressions against the boys? When the day came that Stu Hart, the patriarch of the family, broke up a scrap between two of the siblings, Dean and Ellie, he turned to Owen. “What happened here?” Owen sized up the situation. He looked at the girls, and he looked at the boys. Without any further ado, he announced “Ellie started it!”
“That was it,” said Keith Hart. “He’d severed all the ties with the girls, and now he was one of the boys.”
Owen was born into what some refer to as “the first family of wrestling.” While this description falls somewhat short of the truth, it is indicative of the kind of lifestyle the Harts were all about. Stu Hart ran a local Calgary promotion, Stampede Wrestling. All seven of his brothers became wrestlers, and all four of his sisters married wrestlers. “We couldn’t be into it any more deeply than we are,” said Helen Hart. “Everything is wrestling.” As the baby of the family, and with a significant age gap between Owen and his closest brother, it was perhaps not expected of Owen as much that he too would lace up a pair of boots. Indeed, until the fateful day when Owen was forced into the “enemy” camp, he had spent all his time with the girls, and not on the Stampede circuit with his father and brothers. As he grew older, however, he began attending the local shows, a tow-haired dogsbody for his father. His main jobs were selling programs and queuing up the intro music for the Stampede performers. From this vantage point he would observe the theatrical violence, eventually building up enough courage to try some of the moves on his friends and brothers in his father’s infamous Dungeon.
The Dungeon was the basement of the Hart House where Stu practiced his art of submission wrestling. Countless athletes, both amateur and professional, received their training at the expert but relentless hands of Stu Hart. The gruff but kindly patriarch was also not adverse to using it as a tool of discipline if any of the kids got out of line, and Owen was no exception. “He’d take you down there and just methodically wrestle with you,” said Owen. “He always knew what he was doing, but some days you’d wonder – am I going to get out of this alive?”
Stu’s life was devoted to professional wrestling, but he had always longed for a legitimate champion. The Second World War had cost Stu his own chance to become an Olympic champion, and he hoped that one of his sons would fulfil that dream. Most of the boys had wrestled in high school – Bret with no small amount of success – but had not wanted to carry it any further. Owen was Stu’s last hope. “My dad never made me amateur wrestle,” Owen said, “but it was encouraged. Strongly encouraged.” In junior high school, Owen joined the amateur wrestling team. His abilities were many, his talent outstripping that of even his brother Bret. Despite being the epitome of a natural, however, Owen was dissatisfied. “I was living my dad’s dream,” he said. “I hated it. I didn’t like dieting, or being Owen Hart, the famous Hart boy… but I always had this feeling of wanting to please my dad.” Nevertheless, Owen continued to wrestle throughout high school, eventually garnering a wrestling scholarship to the University of Calgary. “It sounded kind of neat to come home and say, ‘Dad, I got a scholarship for wrestling.'”
The demands of his sport would unwittingly overshadow his academic commitments, with his grades predictably declining as a result. It frustrated Owen a great deal. His ambitions, career-wise, were clear. He wanted to be a high school physical education teacher. He was determined to live a normal life, determined not to follow in the footsteps of his father or his brothers in either amateur or professional wrestling. Despite his resolution, however, inevitably he was sucked into the vortex. “He was just too good at it,” said Alison. “Wrestling had already chosen him.” When his older brother Bruce pleaded with Owen to answer the “call of duty,” he did not let them down. In 1986, Owen joined Stampede Wrestling, thus beginning him on his fateful journey. “I’m back in this, this curse of wrestling,” he said.
Like his brother Bret before him, it was clear early on that despite his own misgivings about the profession, Owen’s talent was immense. He had a natural gymnastic ability, combining many high-risk aerial maneuvers with a solid technical prowess. Whether he wanted to or not, he was cut out for much more than a local promotion. The Hollywood of professional wrestling was Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation, an operation that already included his brother Bret, and his brothers-in-law Davey Boy Smith and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. The WWF had almost literally exploded onto the international scene in the early 1980’s and turned professional wrestling completely upside down and changed it forever. All of a sudden, names like Hulk Hogan were as well known as Arnold Schwarzenegger. And there was the lure of money – big money.
Owen had more than mercenary reasons for wanting the big bucks. He had a new house to pay for – and a wedding.
When he was 16, Owen had met 15-year old Martha Patterson at one of Stu’s Stampede events. She had been reluctantly dragged along by a friend, and abhorred the violence from day one, not knowing (and not caring) that it was all fake. She was a refined girl with strict morals; Owen was the son of a wrestling promoter and the product of a rough environment. In her book, Broken Harts, she describes their unlikely attraction as being evident from day one. “I definitely had a crush on him,” she said. “But I hated going to the wrestling shows.” Although Martha and Owen had spoken on a few occasions at Stampede, she eventually told him that she couldn’t face going to the shows anymore and that if he wanted to see her, it would have to be in a somewhat more traditional dating environment – the movies, perhaps. “For three weeks he didn’t call,” she said. “I was convinced he’d lost interest.” Not so. Owen did call, and their teenage romance blossomed into what anyone who knew them together describes as very rare. “Owen found what most people never find,” said Bret. “He found the one girl.”
“We had such great chemistry,” said Martha.
Owen and Martha dated steadily throughout their high school and college years. They knew without a doubt that they were each other’s only life partner, and when Owen proposed, they began saving for their first house, one they planned to move into on their wedding night. It was one of the reasons Owen had agreed to wrestle for Stampede rather than finish college. “I kind of said to him that college would always be there, but he wouldn’t be able to wrestle forever,” said Bret. “If he wanted to make some real money, now was the time.”
Martha’s abhorrence of the whole wrestling scene had not lessened as she grew to know Owen and his family. Possibly this was because no-one had informed Martha that pro-wrestling is all fixed. She would go to events, watch Owen wrestle and leave immediately. During one particularly brutal match with the (then) Bad News Allen, she was convinced Owen was being badly hurt. “I didn’t know, and Owen never told me, that wrestling was fake,” she said. Upon seeing Martha so upset, Bret said to Owen “Is Martha smart?”
“Not really,” said Owen with a chuckle. Upon overhearing this remark, Martha flew into an indignant rage, informing Owen and Bret in no uncertain terms that she was no dumb blond, until they calmed her down enough to explain that being “smart” simply meant knowing that wrestling was fixed.
Owen was Stu’s biggest star, and the money was OK, but inevitably it became clear to Owen that, since he was only in the business for the money, it made sense to take a shot at the international stage. With Bret already in the WWF, it was not difficult to get his foot in the door. He debuted as the Blue Blazer, a masked character, and he was nothing more than a glorified jobber. Despite the gimmick, he was still directed to lose almost every match. It was a waste of his talent and skill. Disillusioned, he left the WWF after failing to convince the WWF powers-that-be to give him a push. Soon after leaving, in 1989, he and Martha married.
Owen and Martha had saved hard, and realized their dream of being able to move into their own home on their wedding night. Martha worked for the post office and also attended classes at the University of Calgary. Owen briefly entertained the idea of finishing his college degree and becoming a teacher, but decided instead to apply to the fire department. When he was not accepted, he had to think hard about how he was going to earn a living and support his family – especially after the birth of their son, Oje. The WWF beckoned Owen, Vince McMahon promising him more of a push and a more rewarding career. Owen rationalized his decision to return to an occupation he disliked by focusing on the money he could earn and that he would not wrestle for years on end. He and Martha discussed his decision, agreeing that he would work as hard as he could and make as much money as possible, so that eventually he could return to university, finish his degree, and become a teacher while still relatively young. Owen yearned for a normal life, one that he could spend at home with his family, and the sacrifice of a few years hard wrestling seemed worth it to eventually have the kind of lifestyle he and Martha had always dreamed of.
In 1991, Owen returned to the WWF who tagged him up with his brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, in an effort to reignite the popularity of the former Hart Foundation. Owen slid into the spot previously occupied by Bret, who had gone onto a successful singles career. The New Foundation could not break free of the unflattering comparisons however, and Owen was moved to another tag team, this time with Koko B. Ware. This team, High Energy, had no more success than the New Foundation. On the verge of quitting a second time, Owen was finally given the push he needed. Recognizing the endless storyline possibilities, Vince McMahon decided to turn Owen heel, with the intention of working with Bret.
While Owen was thrilled, big brother Bret was initially wary. “I was reluctant to do it because of the family name, and the fact that we really were close brothers,” said Bret. While understanding his brother’s reticence, Owen went to Bret and asked him to reconsider. Working with Bret, the WWF World Champion, would mean a huge raise in pay – and after all, the money was the only reason he was there in the first place. He convinced his brother by pointing out that it was not fair that other guys with families got to work with him, and that he couldn’t just because they were related. “When he put it like that,” said Bret, “I said right away, we’ll do it then.”
It was a dream come true for any WWF scriptwriter. They drew up many and detailed plans for the feud, which they intended to continue for a period of years. Owen and Bret had agreed that, at some point, they would have proper closure on the feud with a public reconciliation, and they prepared themselves to go through the charade 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After examining many possibilities, the scriptwriters decided to kick-start the feud at the 1993 Survivor Series. It was a true family affair. Bret captained his team of brothers – Owen, Bruce and Keith, against Shawn Michaels’ Knights. After eliminating 3 of the Knights, Owen was eliminated himself. When he came back down the aisle after the Harts had won the match, people assumed it was to share in their victory celebration. Instead, Owen yanked Bret off the top rope where he was posturing, and the 4 brothers became embroiled in an argument about how the match had gone down. Later, in a TV interview with Vince McMahon, Owen vented his spleen about always being in Bret’s shadow, and challenged his brother to a match to prove once and for all who was the superior athlete. Bret, having never backed down from a challenge before, refused, stating that under no circumstances would he step into the ring with his own brother. In a clever twist, the writers had Bret and Owen temporarily reconcile long enough to tag up together and challenge the Quebecers for the tag title at the 1994 Royal Rumble. During the match, Bret “injured” his knee and failed to tag Owen in, resulting in their loss to the Quebecers. Furious at having lost, Owen castigated his brother while he writhed on the mat in pain, eventually kicking the injured limb. The crowd was disgusted, and Owen was a heel. Later that same night, Bret tied with Lex Luger to win the Royal Rumble while Owen watched in jealous rage. All ties were now severed – the brothers’ feud began in earnest.
To keep it as believable as possible for the fans, Owen and Bret avoided each other even when not at wrestling arenas. They traveled separately – and even if they happened to be on the same flight (which was rare) they would be seated as far from each other as possible. Because they were on the road almost constantly, there were few occasions the brothers had to be together for legitimate family reasons, and they carefully orchestrated their brief trips back to Calgary so they wouldn’t coincide. On one occasion, however, it was unavoidable. They traveled on the same flight and stood a few metres apart in the Calgary customs queue. For some reason the queue seemed to be moving extremely slowly. Fed up and bored, Owen cast a furtive glance around the customs hall and then sidled over to Bret for a bit of a chat. No sooner had the brothers greeted each other than a customs officer burst forth from a small office. “I knew it!” she yelled. “I knew you talked, I knew you were friends!” Had the queue been held up just to confirm this? Owen and Bret couldn’t help roaring with laughter.
Bret and Owen worked almost constantly. They knew each other so well, and were both such talented athletes, they were able to put together some incredible performances that still rank among the best matches today. Wrestlemania X, a Wrestlemania that was packed with fantastic action, included a brilliantly performed match between Owen and Bret, with Owen reversing Bret’s victory roll and getting the pin. At the 1994 Summerslam, Owen challenged Bret for the WWF World title, in an exciting and high-risk steel cage match. “At that time, they were having some of the best matches in the world,” said Mick Foley (Mankind). “I think they saw that as a source of real personal pride.”
“We were really happy working with each other,” said Bret. “It was a lot of fun.” In addition to Owen’s considerable athletic talent, he also displayed an aptitude for promos and interviews. “He had natural mike skills,” said Vince McMahon. “Most guys need to practice and work on their interviews – for Owen it just came naturally.” Owen also loved being a heel. His character was that of a sneaky, weasely bad guy, the kind that the crowd just love to hate – and he really got off on it. “He loved being the bad guy,” said Martha. “He did it really well!”
In sharp contrast to his ferret-like character, behind the scenes Owen was one of the best-loved performers in the business. His reputation as a prankster of mammoth proportions was well-known. He was forever ribbing people and planning practical jokes. “I tried to ban him from pranking me,” Martha said. “I got really mad at him, but it didn’t work. He just kept on.” On the road, the other wrestlers and crew were just as subject to Owen’s mischievous sense of humour. During a match in Jerusalem, in which Owen was tagged up with Shawn Michaels against Bret and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), Owen decided that the goal of this match was to see if people could still wrestle when they were doubled over with laughter. “I could tell going into the ring Owen was up to something,” said Bret. “He had a smirk he couldn’t wipe off.” Not caring if the audience was aware of it or not, he clowned around – huge dinosaur steps around the ring, exaggerated falls, pretending to smoke a cigarette when Razor had him in an “excruciating” arm bar. He would go limp when Bret or Razor tried to lift him, laughing as they struggled with his dead weight. Razor tried and tried to lift him, hindered by his own laughter and the fact that Bret and Shawn were almost falling off the apron with mirth. He took crazy, cartoon-like bumps all over the ring, and finally (god knows how) managed to hog-tie Razor with a microphone cord and leave him trussed like a calf in the middle of the ring. “If it hadn’t been for Shawn,” said Bret, “the match would have been over right there.” Under the guise of beating Razor up, Shawn managed to disentangle him. Eventually Bret got the sharpshooter on Owen, both of them laughing so hard Bret could barely turn him over.
Keeping up his spirits by continually joking around kept Owen from dwelling too much on home. He desperately missed Martha, and his homesickness increased when in 1995, their daughter Athena was born. Owen loved being a father. He pined for his family when he was away from home, often making detours when traveling even if he only got to spend a couple of hours with Martha and his children. They were the centre of his world, his only obsession. “A lot of people in this business, they say they live for wrestling,” said Mick Foley. “I think they have it backwards. Owen had his priorities straight – he lived for his family, and just wrestled to live.”
Unlike many celebrities, Owen also never forgot who was responsible for his fame – not Vince McMahon, not the WWF – but his fans. He had a very unique way of dealing with his celebrity status. To begin with, he read all his fan mail. All of it. “He figured that if someone had taken the time to write to him, he owed it to them to read their letter,” Martha said. Every now and again Owen would come across a letter that he found attractive. He would write back, and develop a relationship with his fan, getting them to pick him up from the airport in their city, often staying with them, and getting them free, prime tickets to the events. His head was never in the clouds. He was never too busy to stop and chat with fans who had waited for hours to see him. He took a genuine interest in all the people that had taken an interest in him. Even given his bad-guy character, which he played with such relish, the fans were able to separate Owen the Heel with Owen the man.
In 1994, Owen had won the King of the Ring title, with some outside interference from Jim Neidhart. He christened himself “King of Harts,” and along with a Slammy award he had stolen, continued to blow his own horn in the most annoying ways he could think of. Despite his underhanded tactics, he remained one of the WWF’s most accomplished, high-flying performers. His style was completely unique, and in no way like Bret’s, which people may have been expecting. When Bret’s feud with Shawn Michaels took precedence over Owen’s, the WWF decided to tag Owen up with his brother-in-law, British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. Davey, one of the strongest athletes in the WWF, was also capable of some fairly tricky rasslin’, and he and Owen made an exciting heel tag team, capturing the WWF Tag Team Championship from the Smoking Guns at In Your House 10. As scriptwriters predictably tend to do, eventually Davey and Owen turned on each other, with Davey heading in a babyface direction.
It was about this time that the direction of professional wrestling began to shift. The whole “good guy/bad guy” premise was wearing thin, and the fans began looking for more interesting characters than the cartoon-like superstars the 80’s had so venerated. The most popular performers were those who injected more reality into their characters, whether those characters were babyface or heel. The epitome of the new star was the up-and-coming Stone Cold Steve Austin, initially intended to be a super-heel in a very raw, gritty way. He was brutal. He was disrespectful to fans. He betrayed his friends, swore, flipped the bird and seemed to not give a damn what anyone thought. The fans loved him. A whole new “bad guy” had been created – one that the fans loved, rather than just loved to hate. Unexpected though this was, the WWF wasted no time capitalizing on his incredible popularity. It meant that heels of Owen’s type, the cowardly sneak, were wearing thin. It was time for a change.
Bret and Owen had been feuding for years. Steve had been working storylines with both Bret and Owen – and now that the WWF had plans to turn him babyface, they not only decided to turn Bret heel, but they also decided to re-launch the Hart Foundation – a whole new Hart Foundation. It was time for the brothers to kiss and make up, and also for Owen to reconcile with Davey. This they did on a Raw taping after Bret interfered in a match between Davey and Owen. It was an emotional moment, despite being scripted, and fans worldwide were thrilled to see the brothers reconciled. The new Hart Foundation consisted of Bret, Owen, Davey, their friend Brian Pillman and the return of Jim Neidhart. The gimmick the writers came up with for them was an “anti-American” angle. It was unique. They retained their babyface status in their home country of Canada, but turned heel in the States after they began lambasting the American fans, insulting them and the United States in every American town they went to. Bret led his brother and brothers-in-law through the anti-American campaign, going to lengths in their interviews never before seen. “If you were going to give the United States an enema,” Bret said in one ring interview, “you’d stick the hose right here in Pittsburgh!” Dangerous stuff. The Hart Foundation systematically alienated their American fan base, but were still beloved heroes in Canada, where at a Canadian Stampede (WWF In Your House show) they defeated Goldust, Steve Austin and the Legion of Doom in an exciting 5-way tag.
As Bret had worked with Steve Austin, so did Owen. Earlier in the year he had captured the Intercontinental belt from Rocky Maivia (later The Rock). Steve had his sights fixed on the belt, and was on the card challenging Owen for it at the 1997 Summerslam. It was an important match, and it was going extremely well. “The crowd was right where we wanted them,” said Owen. “We were like dance partners – he could do no wrong, I could do no wrong. Everything was going perfectly.” In an instant, it turned into a disaster when Owen attempted to pile-drive Steve and felt an impact on his thighs where he knew there shouldn’t be one. Steve’s neck, fragile and brittle from a trapped nerve, had kinked badly when it absorbed the impact from the pile-driver, and Steve fell to the mat, paralysed. “I can’t feel my fingers,” he said to Owen, and as he watched in desperation, Steve went completely numb. Owen was torn between concern for Steve and the performance for the fans and the cameras, not knowing what to do. Steve was scripted to win the match. Eventually he managed to crawl to Owen, hook his ankles and pin his shoulders, with Owen obligingly collapsing to the mat and putting up no resistance. Later it was revealed that Steve’s neck had actually been broken, although there was thankfully no damage to the spinal cord and the paralysis had only been temporary. Nevertheless, it scared Owen badly. Like Bret, he had always taken so much pride in protecting his opponent, and whether or not he was wholly responsible for Steve’s injury, his confidence took a knock.
Later in the year, Owen was witness to the infamous Montreal Screwjob. His brother Bret was viciously screwed out of the WWF title by Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels and Earl Hebner in a conspiracy that has been dissected and analysed countless times. Owen was one of the first to hit the ring as Bret was flinging expensive WWF equipment around the apron, hauling his brother away and consoling him. “He said to me right away, ‘you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,'” said Bret. Owen was upset for his brother and disgusted with Vince McMahon. He immediately attempted to get out of his WWF contract so he could follow Bret to the WCW. Vince clamped down and refused to release him, even threatening Bret with legal action when Bret tried to intervene on Owen’s behalf. Miserable, but without options, Owen’s only recourse was to refuse to appear on Raw the next night, along with several other performers who were disgusted with Vince’s actions.
With the Hart Foundation disbanded, Owen was tagged up with Jeff Jarrett. They were managed by the busty, blond valet Debra, and the writers kept coming up with increasingly sexual storylines. They ranged from Owen having his genitals fondled by the camp Goldust to having a scripted affair with Debra. Unwilling to put his family through the charade of an affair, Owen refused. He was walking a fine line with Vince, who essentially had creative control over all the characters in the WWF. But Owen refused to compromise his integrity and take part in any storyline he felt was sexually inappropriate, and eventually he was saddled with the old Blue Blazer gimmick. Possibly he saw this as a punishment for turning down the Debra storyline, but it didn’t matter. Owen was so disillusioned with wrestling by this stage that he was just waiting out his contract, and did not care how stupid he looked as long as he did not compromise his integrity.
A lone Hart in the WWF, mostly what kept Owen going, what was the light at the end of the tunnel – his contract – was what was waiting for him back in Calgary. He and Martha had started work on their dream home – a country mansion they had designed themselves. Owen was counting the days until he could come home, move into their new home, and once again pick up the threads of his teaching career. He was completely and utterly fed up with the world of wrestling. “The last time we saw Owen,” said his mother Helen, “he said, ‘Dad, I don’t want to talk about wrestling. I’m so SICK of it.’ A few minutes later, he had to go… and that was the last time we ever saw him.”
One of the functions of the Blue Blazer was to ridicule the stars of the WCW. Included was Sting, a huge draw whose trademark was floating from the rafters. It was decided that Owen would parody this stunt. Sting had been professionally trained to rappel from great heights. Owen, afraid of heights all his life, had no professional training whatsoever. “Owen told me he didn’t feel right about it,” Martha said. “I said to him, well don’t do it then.” Owen didn’t have a choice. He had already said “no” so many times, it was impossible to refuse again. The stunt was scheduled to be performed at Kemper Arena, Kansas City, at a pay-per-view billed as Over The Edge on May 23, 1999.
The day before Owen was to leave for Kansas City, he and Martha paid a visit to their new home. They were just one week away from moving in, and as they wandered from room to room, they spoke together of their future, and made plans for when Owen came home for good. His contract was nearly up, and Owen couldn’t wait to leave the world of wrestling and come home to his family, who he loved and missed so much.
On the day that he left for Kansas City, he was in his usual rush. “I never wanted to get in his way,” said Martha. “So I just kind of kissed him quickly on the cheek. I knew he was in such a hurry. And he just grabbed my arm, and kissed me on the lips and hugged me tight… it was the last kiss he ever gave me.”
Owen arrived at Kemper Arena early in the afternoon and ate lunch with friends in the cafeteria. He was introduced to the riggers who were to co-ordinate the stunt, and shown the harness into which he would be secured for the descent into the ring. This harness featured a special quick release snap-shackle, designed to free Owen from the harness as soon as he was in the ring, with one quick tug, thus preventing him from having to fumble with the cable. During the rehearsal undertaken in the afternoon, Owen managed to annoy a couple of WWF officials who felt that he was not paying enough attention to the instructions; the truth was that he was growing increasingly scared and did not want to perform the stunt any more times than he had to. After a harsh exchange of words, Owen uncharacteristically stormed off and did not return until it was too late to rehearse again. Thus, when the time came he had no proper training with the harness. Because of this, he refused to allow a midget wrestler to descend with him, as had been planned. He argued that he didn’t really know what he was doing himself, let alone take on the responsibility of someone else. The midget gimmick was scrapped but Owen was still told to carry on as planned with the stunt. It would save the little guy’s life.
On the platform in the rafters of Kemper Arena, Owen stripped off the coveralls and cap that had concealed the Blazer outfit. The riggers assisted him into the harness as the match below reached its climax. Owen was connected to the cable and swung out over the arena, 78 feet in the air, waiting for their cue. As the theme music for the Blue Blazer began to thump around the arena, Owen experienced a problem with the Blazer cape, which was stuck. The music made it impossible for Owen and the riggers to hear each other – possibly they would have pulled Owen back onto the platform to correct the cape. Instead, one of them leaned out to help him. Owen was tugging at the cape – and whether he accidentally knocked the quick release, or whether the equipment failed in some way remains unclear. But something caused the line to release and Owen plunged nearly 80 feet to his death in front of 16,000 horrified fans. His head hit the turnbuckle and he landed violently on his left side, fatally rupturing internal organs. “His aorta valve was torn,” said Martha. “He literally died of a broken heart.”
There was nothing anyone could do. Paramedics worked on Owen frantically in the ring, while the fans watched, wondering if this was just a shoot or for real. Home viewers were informed by announcer Jim Ross that this was no shoot, and that something had gone horribly wrong. They stretchered Owen out of the arena and into an ambulance but it was too late. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
In an appalling display of mercenary insensitivity, Vince insisted that the show carry on. The live crowd at Kemper Arena were not told Owen had been killed, although the viewers at home were. Many fans, upon realizing the truth after the fact, were disgusted that they had not been told, so they could have made the choice to leave out of respect. Vince McMahon’s excuse was that he thought the fans would riot, a ridiculously transparent excuse that thinly veiled the real reason – he did not want to refund the tickets or the pay-per-view. After Owen had been taken to hospital, Vince called Martha at home.
“He told me Owen had had an accident. He was very vague. When I asked, ‘is he conscious?’ he told me ‘no’ but that was all he said. He said he would call back later.” Martha, in the middle of packing up the house in preparation for their move, sat in her front room not knowing what to do. She called Owen’s parents, Stu and Helen, to see if they knew any more details. They didn’t. Everyone waited fearfully for confirmation of Owen’s condition. The phone call, when it came, was from a doctor at the hospital. He was outlining the details of Owen’s injuries when Martha stopped him. “I said, ‘just get to the end of it. Don’t give me the whole buffer thing. What is the end result?’ and he said, ‘Mrs Hart, normally we would fly you down here to tell you this, but I’m so sorry to have to tell you that your husband has died.’ I just melted into a chair. I could not believe it.” Martha called Stu and Helen and relayed the terrible news.
Bret Hart learned of his brother’s death as he was flying to LA. He immediately flew back to Calgary and made his way straight to Martha’s house, where they clung together mourning their loss. Bret stood by Martha as she made funeral arrangements and as she received Owen’s body back from Kansas. Together they viewed Owen in his coffin, holding his hands and weeping. Almost as soon as she had heard the terrible news, and the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death, Martha had a gut feeling that this was an accident that had resulted from negligence, and that there was blame to be laid.
Owen’s funeral took place on a grey, rainy day, befitting the sad occasion, but it did not stop hundreds of Albertans lining the streets to pay their respects as the cavalcade of white limousines containing the Hart family followed the hearse to the funeral service. Martha delivered the eulogy, which was broadcast to the mourners outside. Many wrestlers had made the trip to Calgary to pay their respects, including The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Mick Foley, Undertaker, Chyna, and many others. Vince McMahon attended. “I invited Vince for a few reasons,” Martha said. “I wanted him to realize how desensitized he was. To realize the degree of pain that’s been caused here, and I want to show you. I want to show you Owen in the coffin. That he was really gone, that he was really taken from me. This is reality.” Bret and his brothers Smith, Ross, Keith, Bruce and Wayne were the pallbearers and together they carried their youngest brother to his final resting place.
Martha Hart launched a wrongful death lawsuit against the WWF, Vince McMahon, and Titan Sports, following her intuition that Owen’s death should not have happened. Stu and Helen were also petitioners in the lawsuit, and Martha continued to receive unstinting support from Bret as she fought the might of the WWF’s legal resources. The lawsuit would rip the Hart family apart, with to this day, several of them no longer speaking to each other. Martha would eventually settle the lawsuit out of court, receiving an $18 million settlement, which she used to create the Owen Hart Foundation, dedicated to helping children and young people realize their potential. Bret Hart farewelled his young brother in a heartbreaking Calgary Sun column. “Everyone has a song in their heart,” he wrote. “My family’s has always been professional wrestling. The hardest aspect of it was always the never-ending loneliness. In reflection of that, both you and I understood from the very start that we were singing a very sad song. But neither of us, even at this dark hour, are ashamed at having sung that song. For, no matter what anyone ever thinks, Owen, yours will always be the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard. I’m lonely for you already. The world loved you very much and we will all miss you for a very long time.”
Martha hopes that her husband’s death will not be in vain – that promoters and wrestlers will take the time to see when things have gotten out of hand. That money is not the be-all and end-all, and that people should not have to die for ratings. For herself, she continues to bring up Oje and Athena without the love and support of her life partner, without the children’s father. She is a strong, brave woman, fiercely protective of Owen’s memory. “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.”
RIP Owen Hart 1965 – 1999
Written by Kirsty Quested (November 7, 2004)
Andrew J Davidson wrote: The first thing I need to say, thank you. Thank you for your incredible articles on the Hitman, Bret Hart and Owen Hart.
Regarding Owen’s article, it brought up tearful thoughts and memories that will be cherished forever. The way Owen made his living as a heel was unbearable and, being a diehard Hitman fan, extremely hated. The behind the scenes were ofcourse a different story and you portrayed him to perfection. A loving father, not only wanting the best for his wife and kids, but for himself and his peace of mind. If you were to take a poll (and I’m not suggesting one), millions of people would suggest taking Owen’s place in death, so he can fulfill the love of his life – his family. Not everyone gets their perfect match, and their perfect life and Owen came so close.
Oliver Newman wrote: Just when you thought the Bret Hart column can’t be equalled or topped Ms. Quested does it again! You are one of the finest Wrestling Columnists/Journalists I have ever had the pleasure of knowing, your work is so good you should be PAID for it! A guy on obssesed with wrestling got it write: Kirsty Quested you are the MEASURING Stick! I will look out for your columns from now on, and to think I came across your bret column by ACCIDENT! Out of Nash/Benoit can you write a column about Benoit as he is ONE of my favourite Wrestlers! May 23rd 2005 6 Year Anniversary of Owen’s Death. RIP OWEN! You are an extremely talented Journalist & it has been an pleasure to read your columns!
Wesley Martinez wrote: Kirsty, you are God. No, you’re more than God. You’re… uh… Kirsty. That was a great column; not boring one bit! I hope that I could write as well as you someday, but alas, that’s just a distant dream…
chris peacock wrote: Sorry Kirsty I am sure your artical is incredible like always. I got about a quarter of the way through it and started crying and couldn’t go on. Owen Hart was one of the great entertainers around and I am sure that most real wrestling fans miss him just about every time they turn on wrestling. Sorry I couldn’t pay your artical the proper respect it deserves.
Jeff Barna wrote: A long overdue hello to you, Kirsty! I had realized the other day that I never sent you feedback about your article on Owen Hart, which was another shining jewel in your wrestling portfolio. I first read it a few months back, and I was pleased to re-discover it on the site the other day. I’d like to say that it was very nostalgia-inducing. Your words do so much justice to the man, and it is a complete and utter shame he’s not here anymore. Since the anniversary of his death is recent, please accept my apologies for not responding to your article sooner, and keep up the wonderful work.
Langdon Beck wrote: Thank you so much for the article on Owen Hart, it was truly excellent.
John Pifer wrote: I am very pleased to see that someone would take the time to honor such a great man in such a great fashion. This article was written extremely well, making me cry for the loss of Owen Hart and smile for Owen Hart’s illustrious, but short-lived career. Thank you so much, Kristey for writing this. This article has reminded me why professional wrestling is what it is today. And that’s legends like Owen Hart. Not only was he an amazing athlete, but an amazing person. Thank you.
Colin Mackinnon wrote: I but a tear to my eye i was watching that event at home me and my mates could not belive what had happended and how could vince mcmahon roll that event after what had happened
C h r i S wrote: I liked the HBK column, but you guys have to get the facts right…lol Pillman died in 1997, in the fall, right before badd blood on PPV, and Shawn Michaels gave up the title in February of that year BEFORE Pillman ever kicked… so what is this?
At about this time Bret had returned to the WWF. He had been promised a shot at Shawn’s title at Wrestlemania XIII, but Shawn was not up for it. He had several reasons. “I didn’t know how to handle the situation with Bret,” he said. “I wasn’t about to step into the ring with my knee f***ed, with a guy I knew didn’t like me.” More importantly, Shawn felt he needed a break from the business. He felt things were spiralling out of control, and Brian Pillman’s death had shaken him badly. During an emotional RAW interview, Shawn forfeited his title, claiming he needed to go home and find his smile. “This was real life. Those were real tears,” Shawn said of his battered, emotional psyche. “My career was going down the drain. My life was right behind it.” that is pretty dumb guys.
Tiffany Thomas wrote: Kirsty, You did a great job writing. On May 23 1999 I was watching the whole thing on tv after I found out that Owen Hart had died I was so upset as well as others I quit watching Wrestling I just starting this year. It was hard to get back into it a little for me as well as others out there, but I’m getting back into it slowly. I wish the Hart family well. I know it something you could never forget. you need to keep writing your very good at it even though it made me and others cry that’s what make this article so good and so deep.Keep it up
Elizabeth Malpas wrote: Just read your owen hart article and it made me cry so much! I like a lot of people have watched proffesional wrestling nearly all my life! (im 23) I’m so glad u brought the memory of owen hart back to light! I wish all the hart family all my love, and I hope that they are happy to know how many people loved owen! R.I.P. OWEN HART xx
robbie culliford wrote: Hi Kirsty, my name’s Rob, and I just wanted to congratulate you on your HBK and Owen Hart articles, you are very talented as a columnist, your articles are really compelling due to how much detail you put into them. Yours are about the only articles I read fully anymore. I’ve yet to read your article on Bret, but I’m sure it’ll be great. Once again congratulations and thankyou for such great articles….may you write many more in the near future.