On Monday, May 7, 2012, Owen Hart would have turned 47 years old.
I remember that sad, fateful evening of May 23, 1999 on PPV when the camera quickly transitioned to Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross and we were told that Owen had suffered a fall due to a faulty harness that was meant to lower him gracefully to the ring from the rafters.
I remember when it was reported that very same evening that Owen did not survive said fall, and yet the PPV would continue because “the show must go on.”
I remember staring blankly at the television screen as the PPV came to an end and realized just how surreal the entire moment truly was.
I remember making a crude drawing of a rocket with a halo heading toward the stars with the tagline, “RIP ‘The Rocket'”, and hanging it up on a school bulletin board the next day.
But mostly I remember how Owen spent his entire life entertaining his family, peers, and fans in the business of professional wrestling (both in and out of the ring).
Owen James Hart was born on May 7, 1965 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; the youngest member of the Hart family wrestling dynasty. Owen trained in the infamous Hart Dungeon and worked for father Stu Hart’s Stampede promotion as well as for New Japan between 1986 and 1988. His first stint in the then-WWF came in 1988 under the gimmick of the Blue Blazer, a masked superhero. This did not last long, so Hart took the gimmick with him and trained all over the world until he lost the mask in a match with luchador El Canek. Owen had a very brief stint in WCW in a series of try-out matches, but contract negotiations fell through and he returned to the WWF in mid-1992. It was here that he cemented himself as a great tag team wrestler: reforming the disbanded Hart Foundation with Jim Neidhart, working with Koko B. Ware under the short-lived team of High Energy (those were some GOD-AWFUL tights), as well as becoming Tag Team Champions with Yokozuna, Jeff Jarrett, and brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith.
Owen truly came into his own when he turned on brother Bret Hart at the 1994 Royal Rumble. During the previous year’s Survivor Series, Owen and his brothers would face HBK’s team and a snafu between Bret and Owen caused the younger Hart to be eliminated. After his brothers won the match, Owen returned to the ring in anger but things seemed to have been smoothed over shortly thereafter. It wasn’t until the brothers teamed up to face the Quebecers that things finally came to a head.
The brothers would face off at Wrestlemania X in what would be one of Owen’s finest matches.
Despite Owen’s victory that night, Bret would compete a second time and win the WWF Championship from Yokozuna. Owen decided to one-up Bret at every turn, eventually winning the 1994 King of the Ring and he would face his brother for the title in a Steel Cage match at Summerslam. This time, Owen was the one who lost.
After spending the better part of two years in the tag team ranks, Owen reconciled with Bret in 1997 in the midst of Bret’s return to heel status and formed a stronger version of the Hart Foundation along with Neidhart, Bulldog, and confidante Brian Pillman. Owen defeated blue chipper Rocky Maivia for the Intercontinental Championship and feuded with Stone Cold Steve Austin at the 1997 edition of Summerslam. It was here that Owen infamously broke Austin’s neck with a botched piledriver. The following night on Raw, this happened:
In November that same year, we were treated to the Montreal Screwjob. After Bret had a falling-out with Vince McMahon and left for WCW, Neidhart and Bulldog followed. Owen remained behind for a multitude of reasons. Allegedly, Vince would not release him from his contract. Others have claimed that he would have been used to the best of his abilities and Owen himself was leery of working for Turner. Regardless of the reason, Owen feuded with DX but the numbers game became a hindrance. In order to combat this, Owen decided the best course of action would be to join The Rock’s Nation of Domination.
Owen remained with the Nation until it dissolved in late 1998. He teamed with Jeff Jarrett and kayfabe quit the company after “injuring” Dan Severn. Hart shortly returned as the Blue Blazer, acting as though he were a different person. He was scheduled to face The Godfather in May of 1999 on the day of the accident. The night after he died, the company turned Monday Night Raw into an Owen Hart Tribute.
Owen was known as a great prankster. Here’s one funny story from X-Pac about Owen ribbing Bret during a match. Be warned; X-Pac has a mouth like a sailor.
Today, Owen’s widow Martha Hart has been fighting the WWE in court for the right to his name and likeness. This past week, the court system dropped nearly all of Martha’s charges against the company, but the issue is far from over. While I understand Martha’s position, I’d also like to think she understands that we all miss and love Owen and have the right to reminisce about him by watching his matches over and over again.
We can only wonder how things might have turned out had Owen survived. WWE Champion? I’d like to think so.
Feel free to leave any thoughts about Owen in the comments section below.
So long, Owen…and thanks for all the memories.
Tags: Bret Hart, Brian Pillman, British Bulldog, DX, Intercontinental Championship, jeff jarrett, Jim Neidhart, King of the Ring, Mike Gojira, Montreal Screwjob, Nation of Domination, new japan, Owen Hart, shawn michaels, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Stu Hart, Summerslam, survivor series, The Rock, WCW, WrestleMania X, WWE, WWE Tag Team Championship, WWF, X-Pac, Yokozuna