Owen Hart & the Hart Foundation

So I’m pretty sure most of you reading this blog can tell…I’ve been a fan of professional wrestling for a fairly long time, and when you follow anything for the amount of time I’ve followed professional wrestling, you’re going to have a lot of memories of some very big events that have happened during that time span. For example, I can remember watching these major events that shaped the history of professional wrestling like it was yesterday: Hulk Hogan turning on Randy Savage and WCW to form the New World Order with Scott Hall & Kevin Nash, Bret Hart’s exit from the WWF in what is now known as the Montreal Screwjob, or D-Generation X storming the Norfolk Scope — the building WCW had been running that night, or how about when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin cut his infamous promo after winning the King of the Ring on a defeated Jake “The Snake” Roberts, coining the phrase of “you talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16…Austin 3:16 says I just whipped you ass!”, or when Vince McMahon stood in a WWF ring on one side of the split screen while his son Shane stood in the middle of a WCW ring on the other side after the purchase of WCW. 

Those were all notable moments in the history of professional wrestling where I’m sure if you were there watching, you can remember exactly where you were when you saw them. There’s another night I’d like to mention here now that I can also say I remember where I was and the emptiness I felt that night when it happened (and that same feeling of emptiness & sadness is rushing over me now as I relive that night while typing this), and that’s the night that Owen Hart fell to his death from the catwalk at Kansas City, Missouri’s Kemper Arena at the WWF Over The Edge Pay Per View, May 23rd, 1999…now 20 years ago last month. 

Ladies and gentlemen, earlier tonight 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. I have the unfortunate responsibility to let everyone know that Owen Hart has died. Owen Hart has tragically died from that accident here tonight.

Jim Ross

I’ve written tributes for a number of personalities over the years, but I’ve always avoided this one for a number of reasons. First off, in 1999, I really hadn’t started writing for fun yet. Secondly, and probably most important is that though I never met him, watching him on TV for an extended period of time, he sort of became a part of my friends I’d tune in to watch on a weekly basis for a number of years by then. I didn’t know-know his family or friends, but I knew of the man I fondly watched week in & week out on WWF television. I also saw the very real reactions that the people who did really know him were having either live that night or the following night on the tribute show for him. Seeing a teary-eyed Jeff Jarrett, Debra McMichael, Mark Henry, Mick Foley & countless others recounting stories and sharing their stories of the Owen Hart they knew was a very hard thing to face.

As a performer, Owen could really do it all. He was a great old school mat-based grappler with an amateur wrestling background who could run through reversals and counters to just about any hold with ease and was so fluid in his motion that he made it look easy. He was also an innovator in the use of high-flying maneuvers. Guys like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero & Chris Benoit have cited Owen Hart as an idol and tried to pattern moves they did off of him. For as great as Bret was, I’ve always felt Owen was just a little better because of his aerial abilities. Owen may not have been as good of a talker on the mic as Bret was, but he certainly was no slouch. Something I’ve always said about Owen is that at one point or another during his career, whether it was turning on Bret & the family, aligning  himself with Jim Cornette & Yokozuna, joining the Nation of Domination, or tagging with Jeff Jarrett and reviving the Blue Blazer gimmick, railing against the filth of the Attitude Era, trying to be a beacon of decency in a world filled with porn stars, pimps & degenerates…that he was one of the greatest heels in the business. He always was working on another way to get the fans to dislike him.

There have been countless factions over the course of time in professional wrestling, and everyone has their favorites. For me, it’s always been the Hart Foundation of Bret, Owen, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart & Brian Pillman. I’d take those guys any day over the 4 Horsemen, D-Generation X or the New World Order. While all of those other factions all had their own sense of camaraderie among the members, the Hart Foundation was a family. Bret & Owen were obviously brothers, Davey Boy & Jim married sisters of Bret & Owen, and Brian while not related by blood or marriage, considered Bret & Owen family that he would do anything for. Sadly, most of that group is gone now, leaving only Bret to carry it’s legacy. 

Brian Pillman was the first of the group to leave us when he died of a heart attack on October 5, 1997. That was really the first wrestling death that I can remember affecting me. During much of his tenure in WCW, he was Flyin’ Brian Pillman, a midcard talent known for putting on decent matches who also had the distinction of being a part of the first match in WCW Monday Nitro history when he took on and defeated Jushin “Thunder” Liger. He was also a member of the 4 Horsemen when he developed his “Loose Cannon” persona which really did wonders for his standing in the business. He took that character to ECW and eventually to WWF, where he started feuding with Steve Austin among others. Like many others since, he was taken from us far too early. He was 35.

After Owen, Davey Boy Smith, otherwise known as the British Bulldog & the husband of Bret & Owen’s sister Diana, was the next to leave us when he died of a heart attack on May 18, 2002. By 2002, some of the wrestler deaths were starting to mount up. Davey Boy was another athletically gifted, incredibly strong competitor. After starting out as a tag team wrestler with his cousin, the Dynamite Kid, Tom Billington, he began seeing main event time in both WCW and the WWF. Following the Montreal Screwjob, Smith left the WWF for WCW with Bret, and following a bump on a hidden trapdoor in the center of the ring to be used later on in the show by the Ultimate Warrior, his career was almost cut short when he was nearly paralyzed and spent the following six months in the hospital — where he reportedly would receive notice of his termination from WCW via FedEx. He did eventually recover and made a return to the WWF, where he continued to work following Owen’s tragic accident. Once again, someone taken from us far too soon. He was 39.

Finally, the most recent Hart Foundation member to leave us is Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. Jim was the husband of Bret & Owen’s sister, Elizabeth (or Ellie) and the father of current WWE superstar, Natalya. Jim was the brawn behind the original Hart Foundation tag team with Bret. Jim’s balls-to-the-wall persona, coupled with the finesse of Bret’s submission & mat-based wrestling made them one of the top tag teams of the late 80s & early 90s. Jim also tagged with Owen during his tenure with the WWF to form the New Foundation while also teaming with Owen later on during his feud against Bret & the rest of the Hart Family. He died on August 13, 2018 at the age of 63 while suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The Hart Foundation members also seemingly never had a bad match with each other. Dating all the way back to their countless matches in both Stampede Wrestling and the WWF later on, the Hart Foundation (Bret & Jim) vs. the British Bulldogs (Davey Boy & Dynamite Kid) always tore down the house. Bret also main evented Summer Slam 1992 in a singles match against Davey Boy and put on a wrestling clinic for the Intercontinental Championship that night in Davey’s home country at London’s Wembley Stadium the UK. Owen and Davey would face off in the finals of the tournament to determine the first WWF European Champion as a main event to a Monday Night Raw in another excellent match in Germany in 1997. Any of these matches are well worth the effort of seeking out on the WWE Network, you won’t be disappointed!

For most of his career, Owen was more of a midcard talent, but showed he could excel when given the chance at the main event level when he faced his brother Bret in the opening match of WrestleMania X and then again for the WWF Championship inside a steel cage at that year’s Summer Slam in 1994. Following defeat in the cage, he set his sights on the WWF Tag Team Titles, which he won with Yokozuna as a partner, citing his reasoning as Yokozuna was the one who defeated Bret for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania IX (a feat he could not accomplish), so he figured him to be the best partner he could find. Later on, he would hold numerous titles during his WWF run, holding the Tag Titles a total of 4 times…twice with Yokozuna, once with the British Bulldog and once with Jeff Jarrett. He also held the Intercontinental Championship twice and the European Championship once. He defeated Razor Ramon to become the 1994 King of the Ring, thus changing his moniker from “The Rocket” to “The King of Harts”. And finally, he was also a 3-time Slammy Award winner — something he celebrated unlike anyone else prior or since. He would walk around carrying his Slammy Awards while proclaiming himself to be the “Slammy Award Winning” Owen Hart.

Owen was also well known for his sense of humor, notably playing pranks on other wrestlers, family members and even Vince McMahon. Many of his pranks can be learned about by watching various interviews from over the years. From his prank calls on his father Stu, to instructing someone to store the pigs needed for a “Hog Pen” match later in the night in Vince McMahon’s office, Owen was quite the trickster! Bret even dedicated a good segment of his Hall of Fame induction speech to share such Owen stories. At one time, he had even reached into his tights during a match to use a foreign object, then when questioned by the referee about said item, he revealed it to be a crumpled up napkin. Phone pranks were a specialty of Owen’s…where he would offer a free pizza from a local pizzeria, offer toppings, then after spending a significant amount of time on the phone with them, tell his victim that the toppings were extra and that they would have to pay for them. He also got other wrestlers so riled up thinking that the hotel front desk guy was challenging them to a fight, then go down to the front desk to have the front desk person tell them it was another wrestler on the phone…not Owen, naturally. Another time, when wrestling against the tag team of the Allied Powers (the British Bulldog & Lex Luger), he would help Davey Boy to lift him so as to make it appear he was lifting him with ease, while “sandbagging it” and not helping Lex to lift him, thus letting on to the live crowd that Davey was the much stronger member of the team. A number of his pranks are pretty well documented on the Owen: Hart of Gold DVD set released by WWE a few years ago. A lot of guys have said that while all the time on the road was tough, Owen’s good-natured pranks helped to make the time away from their loved ones fun and bearable.

I often look back at Owen’s career and wonder what might have happened had he left the WWF along with Bret, Davey Boy & Jim following the Montreal Screwjob. Chances are, he would still be here with us today…probably retired, making spot appearances for the company just as Bret has. Instead, he’s gone and his legacy within the WWE has been largely brushed under the mat due to his widow, Martha’s hatred towards the company. Understandably, she doesn’t want the company to benefit financially in any way from her late husband’s legacy. Numerous lawsuits have been filed over the years between the two parties and from what I understand, Owen’s kids, Oje & Athena don’t even really know their cousins as Martha has cut them off from the rest of the Hart family. It’s so sad what a once-great family known as wrestling royalty has become. I’d like to think that Owen wouldn’t have wanted any of the ensuing nastiness to happen within the family, but from what I understand, it sounded as though it was a powder keg just waiting to explode at some point fueled by a lot of jealousy among the siblings.

I know this has been a long one, I tried to be as thorough as possible and not leave anything out, but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. Owen was a special one, I hope I did his legacy justice here …hell, a number of people have been named after him including Kevin Steen’s son & his own WWE character along with one of my own kids! Thanks for reading.

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