Remembering Owen Hart

Today marks 21 years since the tragic death of Owen Hart, who passed away after an accident saw him fall from the ceiling of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, MI. Similar to many genres of the entertainment business, there have been senseless deaths in professional wrestling of talented individuals that left far too soon. Sadly, most of those early deaths were caused by specific choices those people made and the unintended consequences of them. Owen Hart was not one of those statistics. Other than the despicable murder of Frank “Bruiser Brody” Goodish in Puerto Rico by Jose Gonzalez, the scenario that saw Owen pass away at just 34 remains the other example of two deaths that could’ve been completely avoidable. Earlier this week, Vice TV’s Dark Side of The Ring season finale examined the circumstances around his fall and provided a different view point on the whole scenario that many fans hadn’t heard before, including specific details about the aftermath of the incident that were explained by Owen’s widow, Martha.

In truth, the episode was absolutely heart-breaking and was very tough to watch. I found myself getting emotional as I watched the scenes where his family explained how it affected them, the same way I’m emotional now as I write this. For the past two decades, many have wondered why Martha chose to keep the former King of the Ring winner away from the spotlight that the WWE’s global machine provides. This documentary series answers the questions. First and most importantly, nobody, even someone with the best intentions to want to honor Owen’s memory and accomplishments, should attempt to tell Martha Hart how she should honor his legacy. Owen Hart died for no reason on WWE’s watch, and if Martha Hart doesn’t want that same company to promote and then be able to profit off of his legacy then it’s clearly within her right to do so. Others simply don’t have the right to lobby for her to do otherwise because they didn’t lose a member of their family in a totally illogical accident. The fact of the matter, which was highlighted very directly in the documentary, is that Martha lost her husband and her kids grew up without their father because of a stunt that should’ve never been suggested.

On the flip side, I sincerely believe that if Vince McMahon could go back and change the circumstances that he would. Surely, if anyone truly knew how dangerous the stunt would’ve been, Owen would’ve never been on the catwalk of an arena. The WWE was responsible for Owen Hart’s death, which is why they rightfully paid Martha $18 million, but to say the WWE is to “blame” for his death would be too harsh of a criticism because it was an accident. Obviously, nobody wanted Owen to pass away that night and it must be recognized that it was an accident. Martha, who the documentary revealed is a doctor, said in a recent interview with The Sun in the UK that she forgives the WWE so while she holds them responsible, even she knows it was a tragic accident that claimed his life.

It should also be mentioned that Martha is very well spoken and at least from what we saw in the documentary, she represents Owen’s legacy well. One of the interesting aspects of Dark Side of The Ring was the details behind the Hart family dissension, including those that didn’t want her to file a lawsuit against WWE. Very similar to many families, it appears that The Hart family had some tension and as sad as it sounds, this might’ve been a situation where certain members of the Hart family didn’t want a lawsuit because they were expecting another run in the WWE at some point after that. Who knows? Bruce Hart, who seemed to ooze jealously because of his brothers’ success, seemed to want to latch onto them for any type of relevance he could get, a prime example being when he legitimately punched Steve Austin during the famous Calgary Stampede pay-per-view to attempt to take the spotlight away from Owen at the finish. Bruce also published a book about a decade ago with outlandish claims that criticized Bret. However, I’m not sure there was a big market for the mediocre career of Bruce Hart. Bret wrote in his best-selling autobiography that he didn’t particularly trust Smith Hart, who was known as a rather odd character. Diana Hart published her own book, which resulted in a lawsuit from Martha because of slanderous claims and that particular book was taken off of shelves. The point being, the squabbles of the Hart family of complex to say the least so again, Martha is probably right in her decision to want to protect Owen’s legacy. Plus, we all have a few family members we would like to hit with a steel chair, right?

On a better note, as a fan of professional wrestling, I’ve always enjoyed Owen’s work and had a deeper appreciation for it as I got older, especially since five-year-old Jim cheered fanatically for Bret Hart as he faced off with Owen at Wrestlemania 10, where I originally watched the show on pay-per-view during a family party for the event. As time went on, I cheered for Owen as the “Black Hart” in his short feud with Shawn Michaels in an attempt to get revenge for Bret because of the Montreal incident. In elementary school, I thought the “Enough is a Enough” theme was great and would recite “It’s time for a change!” in front of the TV on Monday nights. As I got older and knew and could appreciate what work rate was, I became even more of a fan of Owen because the guy could go with anyone. You simply won’t find a subpar Owen match, which shows how much of a polished pro he was in the squared circle. The previously mentioned WM 10 bout is one of the my favorite matches because the pace and the work was absolutely seamless while the psychology of the contest told a great narrative. Their feud in 1994 and the cage match at Summer Slam are also memorable. Let’s not forget his tremendous run as a two-time Slammy Award winner in 1997, and the legendary run the Hart Foundation had the same year.

The year following Owen’s death, the settlement that was reached in the lawsuit surrounding his passing was used to launch the Owen Hart Foundation, a non-profit organization that has helped underprivileged families and provided scholarship opportunities for students. Owen was known as one of the kindest people in his profession and perhaps his legacy is that a tribute to his memory has been able to set up an organization that has helped people for the past twenty years. The memory of Owen Hart was immortalized in the ring and also through the work of the foundation that has helped people. It goes without saying that Owen shouldn’t have been on the catwalk 21 years ago. He was simply too talented for a tacky super hero gimmick. He was too special of a talent to be limited to an outlandish costume. However, his legacy will always continue from his skills in the ring and the efforts of the Owen Hart foundation because he will be remembered as a legend of the sport. Maybe his heart was too big and his star was too bright for this world.

Pro Wrestling Tees has t-shirts available with the proceeds going to the Owen Hart Foundation

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta