The Death of Owen Hart
Mr. Tron takes a look back at May 23rd of 1999, when Owen Hart passed away.
He was born to Canada's first family of wrestling. Owen James Hart was the last of 12 children for Stu and Helen Hart. His brother, Bret, would go on to be a six time world champion. He would go on and marry his high school sweetheart, Martha, and together, they would raise two children, son Oje and daughter Athena. Then, on May 23rd 1999, tragedy struck.
Jim Ross: Here in Kansas City, tragedy befell the World Wrestling Federation and all of us. Owen Hart was set to make an entrance from the ceiling, and he fell from the ceiling. And I have the unfortunate responsibility to let everyone know that Owen Hart has died. Owen Hart has tragically died from that accident here tonight.
What happened? How did a stunt that has been done hundreds of time before go so wrong?
We may never know the answers to all the questions.
Owen Hart was born May 7th 1965. He was the youngest child to Stu and Helen. For his first 5 years of life, his older sisters claimed him as they're own. But Owen turned out to be "one of the boys." Owen never really wanted to be a pro wrestler, he wanted to be a phys-ed teacher. But his father's Calgary based promotion, Stampede Wrestling, needed wrestlers. Owen was a fantastic amateur wrestler when in university. He applied his trade and became a top draw for Stampede after his brother Bret left for the bright lights of the World Wrestling Federation, winning the Stampede North American Championship, British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Champion, and Tag Team champion with Ben Bassarb. In 1989, Owen got his brake at the big time. Only, he was put under a mask under the name The Blue Blazer.
The Blazer's main job was to put over, or job to, the bigger name heels, like Mr. Perfect, and Ted Dibiase. By 1990, The Blue Blazer was gone from the WWF. Owen Hart spent time in Japan. He beat Hiroshi Hase for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. In 1991 Owen returned to the WWF with his brother in law Jim The Anvil Nidhart, to form The New Foundation. The New Foundation only lasted 6 months, before Owen was teaming with Koko B. Ware in the tag team High Energy. After an altercation on an airplane, Koko was let go from the WWF, leaving Owen on his own. Owen teamed with older brother Bret upon his return to the WWF after being out of action for over nine months with a knee injury. They teamed with brothers Keith and Bruce to take on an also returning Shawn Micheals and the Knights of the Squared Circle. (Shawn was a replacement for Jerry Lawler who was suspended from the WWF.) Owen was the only Hart brother eliminated in the match.
Owen and Bret teamed up for the first time ever as a tag team at the Royal Rumble of 1993. After Bret was pinned, Owen attacked him kicking his chronically injured knee out from under him. Thus starting the feud that made Owen famous. At Wrestlemania X, in the opening bout, Owen took on Bret. In prior promos, Owen said that he was tired of living in older brother Brets shadow, and that at Wrestlemania, Owen would escape his shadow. Owen beat Bret in an amazing back and forth match. But Bret would go on to steal the show later, as he beat then-WWF Champion Yokozuna to win his second WWF Championship. Owen came out after the match, a look of disgust etched on his face. He was still in his big brothers shadow.
That all changed at the 1994 King Of The Ring. In the finals, it was Owen Hart verses Razor Ramon (Scott Hall) for the crown. With help from returning brother in law Jim Nidhart, Owen became the second King of The Ring. The first being older brother Bret. With the crown came the new royal moniker "The King Of Harts." Owen was never able to win the big one from Bret, but he would help Mr. Bob Backlund become 2 time WWF Champion. By Wrestlemania 11, Owen wanted more. So he challenged WWF Tag Team Champions Billy and Bart Gunn to a tag team title match with a surprise partner. That partner turned out to be the man Bret had beat a year earlier for the WWF Championship, Yokozuna. After a Banzai Drop and a roll up, Owen and Yoko where new tag team champions. During this time, Owen gained a new nick name, "The Slammy Award Winner" after winning a Slammy Award for most shocking moment. A year later, before Wrestlemania 13, Owen would steal the Slammy for best bow tie, and start calling himself "The Two Time Slammy Award Winner." Owen and Yoko would win the tag titles twice before separating. Owen would then form another tag team with another brother in law, The British Bulldog Davy Boy Smith. They would hold the belts until the summer of 1997. In the meantime, Bret had turned his back on the American fans. Bret asked Dave and a tearful Owen to stop the fighting and join him on teaching the American fans about Family and morals. And in the spring of 1997, The New Hart Foundation was born. With Bret, Owen, Dave, Jim Nidhart and The loose Cannon Brian Pillman. In October of 1997, tragedy first reared it's ugly head, and Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room the day of the WWF Pay Per View Badd Blood. Then in November of the same year, Bret was screwed out of the WWF Championship by federation owner Vince McMahon at the Pay Per View Survivor Series from Montreal Canada.
Owen stayed behind as the other members of The Hart Foundation left for the WCW. He was dubbed The Black Hart, And started a one man war against D-Generation X members Shawn Micheals and Triple H. Owen would beat Goldust (who was subbing for an injured Triple H) for the WWF European Championship. Only to lose it back to Triple H a few weeks before Wrestlemania 14, thanks in part to Owens badly broken ankle. Owen realized he could not fight this war alone, and he enlisted the help of The Nation Of Domination. Owen stayed part of The Nation until the start of 1999, when he started teaming with Jeff Jarrett. They would beat Ken Shamrock and The Big Boss Man for one last run with the WWF Tag Team Championship. In March and April, Owen once again donned the mask of the Blue Blazer. But this time, it was as a joke at WCW's array of babyfaces like Sting. And it was not only Owen under the mask. Jeff Jarrett would don it from time to time, as would Owen's former tag team partner Koko B. Ware. At the Over The Edge Pay Per View, it was to have been Intercontinental Champion The Godfather taking on The Blue Blazer for the championship. The match never happened.
As Owen was being lowered down into the ring, something happened. It is most commonly speculated that the max weight was no where near Owen's own body weight. The cord let go, sending Owen 70 feet to his death. He hit the top turnbuckle head first. He was rushed to a near by emergency room. But it was too late, Owen Hart had died on route to the hospital.
Bret reflected on his relationship with Owen through his Calgary Sun column. He wrote.
"He was, without a doubt, the finest family man that I ever knew. His life was centered around his wife, Martha, his one and only childhood sweetheart, and his two beautiful children, Oje and Athena."
What really happened? Was it a mistake, someones miscalculation? Did Owen misjudge his height? No one knows. All that is known is that Owen had always had a fear of heights, and he had a bad feeling about the stunt. He told Bret that he was uncomfortable with the stunt, and Bret tried to talk him out of it. But to no avail. Owen said he had to go through with it, if it meant not being stuck with a bad gimmick. Owen's widow, Martha sued, and settled with the WWF for the sum of $18 Million.
Who is to blame? Is it the company that made the harness Owen was waring? Is it Vince McMahon for pushing Owen into this gimmick? Who's to say. Little has changed from 1999 to now. Wrestlers are still needlessly dying too young.
Owen Hart always put his family before his carrier. He wasn't a wrestler, then a family man. He was a family man first, then a wrestler. Something Mick Foley said every wrestler should be. Owen had a lot of friends, who will miss him everyday. There is a sad epilogue to Owens story. A year after Owens death, his mother Helen passed. In 2002, brother in law Davy Boy Smith passed. Then in 2003 his father Stu also passed.
The Hart family has been wrought with tragedy over the years. But none like the death of Owen Hart.