There are moments in everyone’s life where there will be such a huge event they will always remember where they were and what they were doing. For wrestling fans, May 23, 1999 will be one of those days.
I’ve been a wrestling fan ever since the late 80’s and never missed a PPV or WWE Monday Night Raw. Going to my aunt’s house on May 23 was just a routine monthly get together. We were looking forward to seeing Stone Cold and the Undertaker wrestle. It was during a promotional interview that, unbeknownst to me, would I change my wrestling status forever. Once the camera came back to the live crowd from the Blue Blazer promotion, it was spending an abnormal amount of time on the audience and there was an unusual hush. This was during the Attitude Era so quiet moments were unheard of. Jerry the King Lawler wasn’t at his post next to Jim Ross when JR started talking about a horrible tragedy that just happened. At 12 years old, I wasn’t used to serious and real world things happening and especially not on an entertainment program. WWF was the land of giants and immortals; not real people…right? I figured it was all part of the program and that The Godfather wanted to sabotage his match against The Blue Blazer. I didn’t give it a second thought and continued watching the PPV while my aunt, uncle and dad whispered to each other questioning the reality of their young children just witnessing a horrible accident.
A few matches later, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, looking as serious as ever, stare at the camera and deliver some haunting words. With Lawler’s head lowered and looking like a broken man, Jim Ross tells the world that he has the unfortunate responsibility to inform us that Owen Hart died. My heart stopped. Since the early 90’s I’ve loved Bret Hart and a year or two later started loving Owen as well. For a kid, they’re easy to relate to. They had cool colors and were always the good guys. How could this be? Was this real? Is this a sick joke? All these questions went through my head but as the PPV still continued, I figured it was part of the show. After all, the wrestlers knew how to fall, right? Once the PPV ended, we went quickly home as it was a school night and my dad said my mom needed to hug me. When I came home, my mom was crying worried what her little boy had just seen and kept asking if I was okay. I was confused because, well, of course I was okay. I just saw an awesome WWF PPV. She had the news on and the news anchor was talking about how Owen Hart died; not the Blue Blazer. Holy crap, I thought, this IS real.
The next night I was allowed to watch all of Raw. Usually, I had to set my VCR to record it because my mom would only allow me to watch the first hour (school nights, remember). As Raw started, they did the 10 bell salute with the entire locker room standing on the ramp all crying and all with “OH” black bands on their arms. It was a surreal sight. No one was in their character that night and it was real.
Throughout the night, segments aired before and after commercials with wrestlers and staff giving heart felt memories of Owen, including a heartbreaking poem by Mark Henry. The night had matches all with tributes to Owen. Road Dogg and The Godfather decided to go have a drink instead of fight for Owen. The Raw ended with Stone Cold raising a beer for Owen and leaving one in the ring for him. It was the first time I cried to wrestling (sadly not the last) and the first time I realized that this wasn’t just some televised drama; this was real life and a business. These guys were brothers and sisters working in this family to make us smile every week. Like every family, we smile and we cry and this proved that for me.
Ever since that day, I have dedicated my life to learning the ins and outs of wrestling. Finding out what kayfabe was, I started learning the real people behind the scenes, the way the shows are written and produced and even went as far as learning everyone’s real names. Wrestling is my life and it was WWF Over the Edge 1999 where I became a true fan.
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