Davey Boy Smith — we knew him as “the British Bulldog” — passed away while vacationing in British Columbia, Canada. He was 39 years old.
At present, no official cause of death is known, though published reports have suggested either a heart attack or an accidental choking death may be possibilities. In any case, what is certain is this: the wrestling world has lost another performer at far too young an age.
Smith, a native of the UK who — due to his close ties to the Hart wrestling family — was transplanted to Canada in later years, first came to the attention of wrestling fans in the mid 1980’s. As one half of the British Bulldogs tag team, Smith (along with partner Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington) helped to revolutionize the in-ring product. The Bulldogs brought flash, speed, and high risk to a WWF product that was usually more mat-based. Davey Boy and Dynamite reigned as tag team champions for about 10 months after capturing the titles at WrestleMania 2 (where they were accompanied to the ring by Ozzy Osbourne).
Billington’s chronically bad back meant the end of the Bulldogs tag team by 1989 (and eventually landed Billington in a wheelchair). But Davey Boy Smith bulked up, and made a big splash in the WWF as a singles star as the 1990’s began.
Having already proven himself as a tag team star, Smith set out to put himself on the map as a singles wrestler, and did so in spectacular fashion: wrestling in front of his countrymen at Wembley Stadium, Smith won the WWF IC Title from brother-in-law Bret Hart in the main event of SummerSlam ’92.
However, Smith did not stay in the good graces of the Fed, and departed the company by the end of ’92. He wound up resurfacing in the Ted Turner-owned WCW, where he got his first taste of main event status. He was allied with the likes of Sting against villains such as Big Van Vader. But his WCW stint wound up being a relatively short one.
When brothers Bret and Owen Hart began feuding in the WWF in 1994, Davey Boy was on hand at ringside along with several other Hart family members. Of the Hart family spectators, only brothers-in-law Smith and Jim Neidhart wound up getting involved in the action. Of course, this led to the Bulldog’s full-time return to the WWF.
Smith began teaming with Lex Luger in 1995, and was slated to start feuding with Luger when Luger suddenly decided to jump ship to WCW. It didn’t take long before Bulldog’s on-air persona turned heel; he enjoyed a run as a top challenger to champ Shawn Michaels before joining up with Owen Hart to win the tag team titles (during the Fall of 1996). With Owen, Davey once again enjoyed a lengthy tag title reign…
It was also during this tag title reign that Smith helped launch a new WWF singles title: during a tour of Germany, Davey Boy actually pinned his brother-in-law and tag partner, Owen Hart, to win the WWF European Title in a tourney final. The seeds of hostility between the brothers-in-law were allowed to germinate for a while, until older brother Bret Hart stepped in and asked for the whole family to make peace.
This, of course, led to the formation of the Hart Foundation, a stable that included Bret, Owen, Davey Boy, Jim Neidhart, and Brian Pillman. They battled the likes of Steve Austin, and in doing so, became one of the most hated groups of all time. But only in the United States! In a strange turn of events, Hart and his cronies remained babyfaces just about every else in the world, especially in the Harts’ native Canada.
In late ’97, the infamous “Montreal screwjob” led to the dismantling of the Foundation. Only Owen remained in the WWF, as Bulldog and Neidhart joined Bret in WCW. For Smith, the WCW return was not at all memorable. Or at least, not for the right reasons. During a match in mid ’98, Smith suffered a back injury that left him hospitalized and facing the possibility of paralysis. Smith was terminated from WCW via a FedEx package received while in the hospital.
Despite the crass firing, Smith did eventually recover. In fall ’99, he made a surprise return to the WWF, where he added the Hardcore Title to his resume (making him one of a handful of four-title winners in the WWF). He also regained the European Title within 2 months of his return, and briefly toyed with returning to the upper echelon of WWF stars. But it was not to be.
Outside the ring troubles — including reported substance abuse problems and a rift within the Hart family after Smith was willing to go back to work for the WWF after the accidental death of Owen earlier in ’99 — mounted, and Smith again quickly disappeared from the wrestling scene.
By mid-2000, Smith was only making periodic waves due to these troubles. He was eventually divorced from Diana Hart as the divide in the Hart clan grew. At the time of his death, Smith had been vacationing with the ex-wife of Bruce Hart. [An article in The Sun (a UK tabloid) does report that Smith was scheduled to meet with Vince McMahon in the near future, which raises the issue of whether or not Davey Boy may have been on the brink of yet another comeback.]
However, for fans, it is the revolutionary in-ring performer of the 80’s and the bankable star of the 90’s that we remember today. Thoughts and condolences go out to all of the family, friends, and fans of “the British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith.