Owen Hart was a professional wrestler, a dedicated family man, and a good
. When he died in 1999 at 33 years of age, he was survived
by his wife Martha and two small children, Oje (7) and Athena (3).
He was one of the Hart clan--son of Stu Hart
and Helen Hart, brother
of Bret Hart
Shortly after finishing high school, Owen began to train with his
father in the Hart Family Dungeon in Calgary and started wrestling in
Stu's promotion (Stampede Wrestling) shortly thereafter (1986).
He also began doing some tours of Japan, becoming the first North American
wrestler to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title in May of 1988.
When he returned to the United States in 1988, he was signed by the
World Wrestling Federation. His brother Bret was already in the
WWF, and because they didn't want to team the two up Owen became a masked
wrestler--the Blue Blazer. He had a memorable match with Mr. Perfect
at Wrestlemania V but otherwise failed to do anything notable during
his short stay--he left the WWF in late 1989.
He returned to Japan and the independent leagues for the next two years
and also had an extremely brief tenure in World Championship
Wrestling during this period.
The WWF re-signed Owen in late 1991, this time bringing him in with
his real name and no mask--acknowledging his relationship to his brother
Bret. Owen bounced around between several short-lived tag teams--with
Jim Neidhart in the New Foundation and with Koko B. Ware in High
In 1993 he was sent down to the USWA ( sort of a WWF minor league)
to retool and gain some experience in preparation for a big singles push
back in the WWF.
Returning to the WWF prior to Survivor Series '93, Owen first teamed
with his brother Bret (along with other Hart brothers) and then viciously
turned on him, setting up a brother vs. brother match between the two at
Wrestlemania X. That match, which Owen shocked just about everyone
by winning as the heavy underdog, is widely considered to be one of the
best North American matches ever.
Next, Owen was the winner of the 1994 King of the Ring, using it as
a stepping stone to another match with Bret at SummerSlam '94--this time
with Bret's WWF Championship on the line in a steel cage match.
He didn't win the title, but it was the first time Owen had really been
seriously considered as a contender for the belt.
He'd go on over the next several years to alternate between being a
tag and singles wrestler, most frequently teaming with Bob Backlund,
Yokozuna, and the British Bulldog.
Fast forward to the Spring of 1997, when newly-heel Bret Hart
asks Owen and Bulldog to join him in reforming the Hart Foundation.
This was the most successful angle for the WWF in all of '97, as Bret,
Owen, Bulldog, Jim Neidhart, and Brian Pillman would become violently
anti-America and pro-Canada. They claimed that the American fans
were cheering for the wrong people--most notably Stone Cold Steve Austin,
Bret's archnemesis and one of the premiere babyfaces in the federation
at this point. This unique angle saw them as hated heels within the
US while being incredibly popular in Canada and other foreign countries--at
a Pay-Per-View taking place in the Harts' hometown of Calgary, Alberta,
Canada (Canadian Stampede '97), the Hart Foundation is given the ovation
of a lifetime while Austin and his American partners are nearly booed out
of the building.
Owen's career as a singles wrestler also rose as a result of his association
with the Hart Foundation, winning the WWF Intercontinental Championship
from The Rock and going on to feud with Steve
Austin himself. At SummerSlam '97 Owen nearly crippled Austin
legitimately due to a botched piledriver, driving Austin's head into
the mat and temporarily paralyzing him for about thirty seconds.
Austin would be put on the shelf for months.
After Bret's departure from the WWF under dubious circumstances (see
The Montreal Incident for that tangent), most reports claim that Owen
wanted to leave the WWF to join Bret in WCW but that Vince McMahon
wouldn't let him out of his contract. As Neidhart and the British
Bulldog left the WWF to follow Bret, however, it remains unclear whether
Owen was really forced to stay or if he chose to.
After a token feud with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels to "avenge" Bret's
loss, Owen found himself back in the midcard. He joined The Nation
in mid-1998, which was a pretty obvious attempt by the WWF to dissuade
any notions of the Nation portraying a black supremacist group (which
it most certainly had been up until that point). The Nation was almost
dead by the time Owen joined, however, and upon its dissolution he was
back on his own.
Hart moved into a heel tag team with Jeff Jarrett along with Debra
as their manager. That teaming was pretty successful, winning the
WWF Tag Team Championship in January of 1999 and holding it for the next
After the team broke up (amicably, as Jarrett simply moved into a feud
with The Godfather), Owen donned the Blue Blazer costume and started
making appearances again, insisting that the WWF needed a superhero to
make us eat our vitamins and drink our milk--a rip on Hulk Hogan's tired
'80s routine. It is believed that the Blazer gimmick was punishment
for Owen not wanting to do a more risque storyline where he'd have started
having an affair with Debra.
Nevertheless, the Blazer gimmick was becoming moderately successful
when all hell broke loose.
May 23, 1999
In preparation for an Intercontinental Championship matchup against
The Godfather on the Over The Edge '99 Pay-Per-View, Owen (as the
Blazer) was going to repel down from the rafters of the Kemper Arena
to make a "superhero" entrance. He was hanging 50 feet above the
ring waiting for his cue to drop when his harness failed and he plunged
all 50 feet down into the ring. His head slammed against one of the
ring turnbuckles on the way down. Paramedics rushed the ring to
assist Owen as Jerry Lawler left his announcing position to assist and
20,000 fans in the Kemper Arena looked on in horror. Owen was taken
by ambulance to Truman Medical Center and was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. About an hour after the fall, Jim Ross announced to the TV audience that Owen had passed away. The live crowd was never informed, and were in fact not told any details whatsoever about what had occurred.
It is believed that the "quick release" catch on Owen's harness was
accidentally triggered, immediately letting Owen out of the harness and
sending him into a free fall. It is unknown whether Owen unknowingly
triggered the release himself or whether the catch simply failed.
The RAW broadcast the next night was dedicated to Owen. There were matches, but with no angles or storylines. Any WWF wrestler who wanted to--face or heel, place on the card, it didn't matter--was interviewed backstage and just said whatever they wanted to say about Owen. Jeff Jarrett, among others, broke down in tears.
Every single interview I've seen with someone from Owen's life paints
him as a dedicated family man who loved his wife and his two children
more than anything else in the whole world. Fellow wrestlers marvelled
at how his face would simply light up whenever he spoke about his family--something
he did at every opportunity. He also had a reputation as a prankster,
always willing to do something to make his peers laugh and brighten their
day. He took his job very seriously, although it was not his true
love-- it was just something he did to make the best possible life for
his family. They were about to move into a new house in when Owen
He was one of the genuinely good people in the entire wrestling industry.
He is sorely missed.