The King of Harts
Owen James Hart
Owen didn't die due to a heart problem likely brought on by the excessive steroid abuse; he didn't overdose on the popular combination of alcohol and pain pills; he didn't die by any fault of his own. Owen James Hart died because he was a company man, a pawn in a ratings battle that had already been over for a long time.
—RD Reynolds, The Death of WCW
(May 7, 1965 – May 23, 1999) was a professional wrestler best known for his work in the World Wrestling Federation
, though he also wrestled for Stampede Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling
, and (for a brief period) World Championship Wrestling
. He held the Intercontinental
, and WWF World Tag Team Championships
, won two Slammy Awards (one of his trademark accomplishments), and won the 1994 King of the Ring tournament. He was also part of the storied Hart family
— one of WWE Hall of Famer Stu Hart's many children, he was the brother of WWE Hall of Famer Bret Hart
and the brother-in-law of both "The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith
and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart.
Owen's life came to an end on the 23rd of May 1999 at the WWF pay-per-view Over the Edge
. At the time, Owen was in his Blue Blazer gimmick — a pastiche of superhero-type wrestlers — and at Over the Edge
, his entrance would have involved him rappelling down from the rafters to a few feet above the ring, then falling on his face as he released himself from the harness. Unfortunately, the harness holding Owen malfunctioned; he fell down into the ring and hit his chest on the turnbuckle. Medical personnel declared him dead just minutes after they'd carried him out of the ring.Over the Edge continued after Owen's death
, with legendary WWF commentator Jim Ross
informing the viewers that Owen Hart had, indeed, died as a result of the fall; the news was not relayed to the crowd attending the event, though. WWE never released Over the Edge on home video in any format
, and it retired the event name after that show. (WWE made the show available as part of the WWE Network's on-demand content library, albeit in edited form, out of respect for the Hart family.) The next night, Raw is War
held a special tribute show that eventually picked up the nickname Raw is Owen
: the company tossed out angles and feuds for a single night so wrestlers could compete in matches to honor Owen, and WWF personalities also relayed stories about Owen in prerecorded interviews. (This show would lay the template for the two shows honoring Eddie Guerrero
following his death, and a similar show would be put on for Chris Benoit
on the day of his death, before the terms of his death became apparent.) A few months later, when WCW Monday Nitro
came to the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri (where Owen had died), Bret Hart — who had jumped ship to WCW from the WWF following the Montreal Screwjob
— wrestled in a tribute match for Owen against handpicked opponent Chris Benoit.
Owen's widow, Martha, and the rest of the Hart family sued the WWF over the accident; the company eventually settled the case for $18 million (which the Hart family distributed amongst its members). Due to footage of Owen being used in recent WWE DVDs (specifically, a 2010 DVD set centered around the Hart family), Martha filed another lawsuit against WWE.
WWE fans have never forgotten Owen: even a quick mention of his name can bring crowds to start a lengthy "Owen!" chant, and every year, fans clamor for WWE to fully recognize his legacy with either a DVD set, a WWE Hall of Fame induction, or both. WWE, to its credit, has mostly respected the wishes of Martha (who wants nothing to do with the company or pro wrestling as a whole): unlike the rampant exploitation of Eddie Guerrero's name and likeness or the Unpersoning
of Chris Benoit, WWE uses footage of Owen on WWE programming/DVDs in sparse amounts (mostly limited to Hart Family-centric DVDs or events he happened to wrestle on).
Owen Hart will always be remembered as a loving family man, a great all-around wrestler/performer, and one of the funniest people to ever work in the wrestling business.
"THESE ARE TWO-TIME SLAMMY-AWARD WINNING TROPES! THEY ARE WINNERS! WHOO!":
I tried to be a nice guy... I tried to play by the rules...
You turned your backs on me!
I snapped. I was a victim! Well, ENOUGH! IS ENOUGH!