Blair’s Hart Family Legacy: “The Rocket” Owen Hart

Owen Hart is a name synonymous with wrestling history. This record-setting started at an early age, as he was the very last of the Hart children to make the stomach-churning trip through Helen Hart’s well-travelled gut locker just before it imploded due to overuse, and collapsed in on itself. (This later became the inspiration for the climax of the movie “Independance Day”, where Will Smith had to fly his little pod out of the mothership just before it exploded.)

After this, the fetus factory that was Helen Hart went into retirement. The kids weren’t sure why they would no longer receive new brothers and sisters on a yearly basis, as they were too young to understand Stu’s repeated use of the phrase “hot dog down a hallway”. Nor could they understand what was meant by Stu telling Helen that he would just be using the back door from now on, but thanks to the sounds that came out of their room during said discussions, to this day, none of those children ever enter anywhere using a back door. Whether it be their houses, arenas, gyms… they will always find a front door, a side door, a heating vent, whatever is necessary to get into the building without using the back door. The Bulldog, being from outside the family, never understood this need to master alternate forms of entry and exit… hence his WCW trap door accident.

Naturally, Owen went into amateur wrestling in high school. This was so hard-wired into his DNA that he never considered the option to NOT do it. It was through this that he met his wife, Martha. Martha would state in her book that wrestling was not Owen’s first choice for a career. She says that Owen tried numerous times to find a profitable living outside of wrestling. If this is true, those attempts were obviously unsuccessful or not as lucrative. So Owen did what they all do eventually, go downstairs to the basement with a pair of boots to get the shit kicked out of you until your Dad gave you his approval to go get the shit kicked out of you professionally.

 

He debuted for Stampede Wrestling in 1986. He remained with them for the next couple of years while honing his skills. He won tag-team gold there with a no-name wrestler and was named the PWI Rookie of the Year in 1987. He also feuded with a more stable Dynamite Kid. In 1987, Hart branched out to Japan where he wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling on several tours. He had some amazing matches against Keiichi Yamada when he was under the Jushin Liger gimmick. Owen also defeated Hiroshi Hase for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Playing off this success, Owen entered the World Wrestling Federation in 1988. He debuted as the Blue… Angel? Now THAT’S irony. Anyway, this was alternative to being promoted as Bret’s younger brother. Owen was not overly pleased with his superhero Blue Angel gimmick, and the WWF, sensitive to it’s talent even back then, gave him an upgrade from Blue Angel… to Blue Blazer. The highlight of his first Blue Blazer run was his match against Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania 5.

Shortly after WrestleMania, Hart left the WWF to tour the world both with and without the Blue Blazer gimmick. He also returned to Stampede, until it shut down in December 1989. In 1991, he put his mask on the line in Mexico against El Canek, thus bidding farewell to the Blue Blazer gimmick, until… well, we’ll get to that.

Hart also had a short-lived stint in WCW, teaming with Ricky Morton. Hart had been engaged in contract discussions with WCW but the deal was never struck, as Owen was not willing to move himself and his entire family to WCW’s headquarters in Atlanta, which is only slightly more work than listening to Ricky Morton’s inane ramblings. So instead, he returned to the WWF.

 

By this point in the WWF, Bret had set out on a singles career. WWF, aware of Owen’s experience teaming with crazy people who don’t know how to save their money, decided they had the perfect angle for him – teaming with Jim Neidhart. They would form The New Foundation, an updated version of the Hart Foundation. The old Hart Foundation was good and all, but they lacked baggy pants and suspenders, so naturally the kids knew when they saw The New Foundation that they were in for a ride. Jim and Owen had feuds with The Beverly Brothers and The Orient Express, until Neidhart left the WWF.

Owen had a singles match against the stepladder-to-success at the time, Skinner, at WrestleMania 8, in which he was victorious. Owen, however, eaten up by Jim’s decision to leave the WWF and team with Junkyard Dog in WCW, decided he would show Jim “what’s up” by teaming up with Koko B. Ware. The duo formed High Energy. This did not last long, as even then Vince had a thing for throwing Harts to Samoan wolves, and the team was quickly and decisively bested by The Headshrinkers. The team was quietly dropped at the start of 1993.

In the middle of 1993, when Bret Hart’s feud with Jerry Lawler ignited, Owen stood by his brother’s side and fought against Lawler. Most of this took place in the USWA, where most of the WWF talent were considered heels. During this time, Owen won the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship from another stepladder-to-success, Papa Shango. Unbeknownst to everyone, it was at this point that Papa Shango placed a voodoo curse on Owen, a curse that would only rear it’s ugly head should Owen dare to step in the ring with Papa Shango again…

… but he never did.

 

Owen returned to the WWF in the fall of 1993, when the Hart / Lawler feud had reached it’s boiling point. The blowoff to this feud with Lawler was Bret bringing Owen and two of his other bros to face a team captained by… Shawn Michaels, because Jerry Lawler was busy dating children at the time, or something. During the match, Bobby Heenan gets in some of the best Hart jokes you’ve ever heard in your life. Anyway, Owen and Bret inadvertently crashed into each other, causing Owen to be eliminated from the team. Owen returned after the match, yelled at Bret and the rest of his family, and left. Helen cried. The following night, Owen adopted the pink and black tights, sunglasses and Sharpshooter finisher to send a message to his brother. The Bret / Owen feud had begun.

The two brothers faced off for the first time at WrestleMania X, where Owen cleanly pinned Bret in the only match capable of stealing the show from Earthquake and Adam Bomb. Later in the evening, Bret avoided the NUCLEAR BUTTDROP OF DOOM from Yokozuna to win the WWF Title while Owen stood by and watched in jealousy as Bret celebrated in the ring. Then, in an effort to show that he didn’t follow in Bret’s footsteps, he did exactly that by mirroring Bret’s King Of The Ring win from the year before. Owen won the tournament with the help of Jim Neidhart, who had returned to the WWF. This time however, the kids were shocked and hurt to find out that there would be NO racing suspenders to be had. This, of course, meant that they were heels. After the victory, Owen took the nickname “King of Harts.”

Owen and Bret had an epic cage match at SummerSlam 1994, which Bret won. They also had a lumberjack match which Owen initially won and was announced as the new WWF Champion. Then the match was overturned due to outside interference, because everyone knows the last thing that you want in a fucking LUMBERJACK MATCH is OUTSIDE INTERFERENCE. So, Bret won. At the Survivor Series, Owen struck the most damaging blow when, due to Helen’s alcoholism and prolapsed rectum medication, Owen was able to convince his old confused mother to throw in the towel on Bret’s behalf. The ploy cost Bret the world title to Bob Backlund, and Owen prevented Bret from regaining it again from Diesel a few months later as well. In the weeks after this, Bret and Owen clashed again with Bret soundly defeating his brother, thus putting an end to their feud for the time being.

Extremely adept at carrying fat tubs of goo by this point, Owen decided he could do so again, and teamed with Yokozuna. After the victory, Owen took Jim Cornette as his manager, as Cornette already managed Yokozuna. The team defended the title for 5 months until they lost them to Shawn Michaels and Diesel. Owen and Yoko regained the titles again, but lost them just as quickly. They teamed infrequently for a little while.

 

In 1995, Owen’s brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith turned heel and joined the Camp Cornette stable. In September 1996, Owen and Bulldog won tag-team gold after defeating the Smoking Gunns. They remained Tag Team Champions, but fought amongst each other over a whole lot of silly things. Then, as the two were about to have a match, in a shocking moment, the recently-turned-heel Bret Hart appeared at ringside and stopped the match. Bret appealed to both Owen and Bulldog, talking about the importance of family. They agreed to put their differences aside and join with Bret to form the new Hart Foundation, a terrorist stable that also included Neidhart and Hart family friend Brian Pillman.

After forming the Hart Foundation, Bulldog and Owen lost the tag straps to Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin. Owen quickly gained singles gold of his own as he pinned Rocky Maivia to win his first WWF Intercontinental title, at his WWF career’s ripe young age of 10. He began a feud with Austin, and at SummerSlam the feud took a nasty turn as a botched piledriver ended up injuring Austin’s neck. Owen lost his Intercontinental title to Austin and the weakest roll-up in history after the fact. Although it was an accident, the WWF decided to make it part of the storyline as Owen began wearing a t-shirt patterned after Austin’s that read “Owen 3:16 – I Just Broke Your Neck”.

Then Montreal happened, and we all know what that means. That’s right, Owen lost his Intercontinenal Title to Austin. There was another small incident that happened at the same event that is not worth mentioning, but Bret, Bulldog and Neidhart were all granted their release by WWF and went to WCW. There are conflicting reports over what happened with Owen – some (Bret, Martha, and others) state that McMahon wasn’t willing to release Owen from his contract. Some (Diana, Vince, and others) state that Owen wanted to remain in WWF. Nothing was ever said definitively about this, at least nothing that I can find. Wikipedia states that Vince wasn’t willing to let Owen out of his contract, so take that for whatever it’s worth.

At first, he feuded with DX for obvious reasons. Then shit got weird. Goldust dressed up as Triple H for some reason and the bowling-ball-sharp Commissioner Slaugher considered Goldust to be a legitimate replacement somehow. Then Owen decided to become a fake ultimate fighter and snapped Ken Shamrock’s ankle and started biting people. Then Owen joined a black militant gang. Then Owen was a redneck with Jeff Jarrett. Then the WWF wanted Owen to have an on-screen affair with Debra, but Owen was all “bitch, please.” Then Owen fake quit the WWF. Then he had an identity crisis and came back as the Blue Blazer but swore he wasn’t Owen. It’s almost as though they had no fucking idea what to do with him.

 

May 23, 1999. Owen Hart fell to his death in Kansas City at the Over the Edge PPV. Owen as the Blue Blazer was in the process of being lowered via harness and grapple line into the ring from the rafters of Kemper Arena for a booked Intercontinental Championship match against The Godfather. In keeping with the Blazer’s new “buffoonish superhero” character, he was to begin a dramatic entrance, being lowered to just above ring level, at which time he would act “entangled”, then release himself from the safety harness and fall flat on his face for comedic effect. This necessitated the use of a quick release mechanism. This really could not have gone much more sideways than it did.

Something went wrong with the stunt harness, apparently triggering the release mechanism early as he was being lowered. Hart fell 78 feet into the ring, landing chest-first on the top rope, approximately a foot from the nearest turnbuckle, throwing him into the ring. Following the fall, a dazed Hart managed to sit up in the ring, before losing consciousness. According to Bret Hart’s autobiography, Owen had initially planned to descend from the rafters with a midget wrestler scissored between his legs. Had this been the case, both men would likely have been killed. The idea was abandoned only hours before the event.

Jim Ross repeatedly told those watching live on pay-per-view that what had just transpired was not a wrestling angle or storyline and that Hart was hurt badly, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. Hart was transported to Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, where he was pronounced dead on arrival; some believe he died in the ring. The cause was later revealed to be internal bleeding from a severed aorta.

Later, Jim Ross announced the death of Hart to the home viewers during the pay-per-view, but not to the crowd in the arena. While the show did go on, it has never been released commercially by WWF Home Video, and to this date no footage of Hart’s fall has ever been officially released.

 

A special RAW was aired the following night, entitled “Raw Is Owen” in which superstars did shoot interviews, saying whatever they wanted about Owen. The show ended with Stone Cold doing his beer-routine, leaving one in the ring “For Owen”. Shawn Michaels, in his Heartbreak and Triumph autobiography, notes that “Owen is the only guy you could have a 2-hour show for, and no-one would say a bad word about him.” The next day, WWF taped next weeks episode of RAW. During that show, Jeff Jarrett defeated The Godfather to win the Intercontinental Championship, the title Hart was booked to win at Over the Edge for the third time. Jarrett screamed Hart’s name as the belt was handed to him.

Then Bret and some of the family sued the WWF. Several sources, including his own sister, say that Bret believed that Vince actually intentionally murdered Owen. He wrote a big tirade against the WWE in his newspaper column, in which Montreal was referenced numerous times and Owen’s name was mentioned once. In his DVD set Bret “Hit Man” Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be, Bret said that he wishes he had been with the WWF the night Owen’s accident happened, as he would have discouraged Owen from performing the stunt. WWE settled, and the Harts got 18 million. Martha used $2 million of the settlement to establish the Owen Hart Foundation while retaining the rest for herself. Martha wrote a book about Hart’s life in 2002 called Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart.

Since then, Martha has asked and legally demanded that the WWE not show any Owen Hart footage for any reason, ever. Bret was initially on board with this, until having recently sold out on everything he swore he would never sell out to. He has now taken a public stand against Martha and has said that Owen Hart footage should be made available for all his fans.

 

I’ll be in my trailer.

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