Owen James Hart (May 7, 1965 – May 23, 1999) was a Canadian professional and amateur wrestler who worked for several promotions including Stampede Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), World Championship Wrestling (WCW), and most notably, the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). A member of the Hart wrestling family, Hart was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada the youngest of 12 children to Stampede Wrestling promoter and WWE Hall of Famer Stu Hart and Helen Hart.
Among other accolades, Hart was a one-time USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion, two-time WWF Intercontinental Champion, one-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, one-time WWF European Champion and four-time WWF World Tag Team Champion. He was also the winner of the 1994 WWF King of the Ring.
Cited by a number of peers as one of the WWF's most talented professional wrestlers, Hart died on May 23, 1999 when an equipment malfunction occurred during his entrance from the rafters of Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S., at the WWF's Over the Edge pay-per-view event.
Professional wrestling career
Early career (1986–1991)
Hart first gained wrestling experience in the amateur wrestling division at high school, through which he met his wife, Martha. Wrestling was not Hart's first choice for a career; as Martha explained in her book Broken Harts, Owen tried numerous times to find a profitable living outside of wrestling. As those attempts were unsuccessful, Hart was trained in his father's Hart Dungeon and made his professional debut in 1986 for his father's federation, Stampede Wrestling. He remained with Stampede for the next couple of years while honing his skills. During 1986, Hart teamed with Ben Bassarab and won the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championship. The success of the team and Hart's in ring skills earned him Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Rookie of the Year Award in 1987. After he and Bassarab lost the tag team title, he feuded with Johnny Smith and Dynamite Kid.
In 1987, Hart branched out to Japan where he wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) on several tours. In NJPW, he wrestled Keiichi Yamada both unmasked and later under the Jushin Liger gimmick. On May 27, Hart defeated Hiroshi Hase for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Hart's success in Japan and Stampede's working relationship with the World Wrestling Federation led to Hart signing with the company in the fall of 1988. He debuted at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in August 1988 under a mask called the Blue Angel. Instead of promoting Owen as Bret Hart’s younger brother, the WWF decided to create a masked "superhero" type gimmick for him known as The Blue Blazer. The Blazer was eliminated at Survivor Series, lost to Ted DiBiase on the March 11, 1989 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event, and was defeated by Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania V.
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, Hart lost the Blue Blazer mask in a mascara contra mascara match against Mexican wrestler El Canek, thus bidding farewell to the Blue Blazer gimmick. In 1991, Hart appeared on World Championship Wrestling shows, teaming with Ricky Morton.
World Wrestling Federation (1991-1999)
The New Foundation (1991–1992)
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 family to the company's headquarters in Atlanta. Instead, he signed with the WWF for a second time. In the WWF the popular Hart Foundation, composed of his brother Bret and real-life brother-in-law Jim Neidhart, had split up; Bret set out on a singles career while Neidhart was used sparingly. When Neidhart returned from a storyline injury, he joined Owen to form a team known as The New Foundation.
Owen and Neidhart first feuded with the Beverly Brothers. They then had their only pay-per-view match at the Royal Rumble in January 1992 where they beat The Orient Express. Neidhart left the WWF shortly afterward, and Hart set out on a very short run as a singles wrestler, including a match at WrestleMania VIII against Skinner. Shortly after WrestleMania, Hart was teamed up with Koko B. Ware to form the duo known as High Energy. They had only one pay-per-view match as a team, at the Survivor Series where they lost to The Headshrinkers. The team was quietly dropped at the start of 1993 with Hart starting a singles career.
Feud with Bret (1993–1995)
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 in the United States Wrestling Association where most of the WWF talent were considered the heels. Owen won the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship from Papa Shango. Owen's participation in the WWF vs. USWA feud was cut short when he suffered a knee injury in the summer of 1993 and was forced to take some time away from the ring.
Hart returned to the WWF ring in the fall of 1993, at a time when Bret's feud with Lawler was temporarily sidetracked. Bret, along with Owen and their brothers Bruce and Keith, were scheduled to face Lawler and his team at Survivor Series. However, Lawler was unable to make it to the show, and as a result could not appear on WWF television. Lawler was replaced with Shawn Michaels. During the match Owen and Bret inadvertently crashed into each other, causing Owen to be eliminated from the team. Owen showed up after the match and had a heated confrontation with Bret, while Keith, Bruce and Stu tried to calm things down. This confrontation resulted in Owen leaving the ring to boos while his brothers and father watched in dismay and mother Helen cried at ringside. The following night Owen adopted the pink and black tights, sunglasses and Sharpshooter finisher to send a message to his brother. Owen, angry with being in Bret's shadow, challenged his brother which Bret declined. Instead the brothers seemed to reunite by the holidays.
Bret tried to make amends with Owen, teaming with him on a regular basis. Bret even secured the two a shot at the WWF Tag Team Championship. They faced the Quebecers for the title at the Royal Rumble in January 1994. Initially everything was fine between the brothers, but when Bret hurt his knee (kayfabe) and was unable to tag Owen in for a long period of time, the younger Hart got frustrated. When the referee stopped the match due to Bret's damaged knee, Owen snapped; he kicked his brother in the knee and then walked off, berating Bret on the Titantron shortly after as Bret was being helped backstage. This started his run as a heel. After the act an infuriated Owen accused his brother of being selfish and holding him down. Owen admitted that it felt good to take out his brother. The two brothers faced off for the first time at WrestleMania X, where Owen cleanly pinned his older brother. Later in the evening, Bret won the WWF Title while Owen stood by and watched in jealousy as Bret celebrated in the ring. Owen won the King of the Ring Tournament with Jim Neidhart's help. After the victory, Owen took the nickname “The King of Harts."
Owen and Bret feuded throughout the summer of 1994, clashing many times both in singles and later in tag team matches (with Bret joined by the returning British Bulldog). Two matches stand out in this feud: first, their Steel Cage match at SummerSlam which Bret won. This match later recevied a 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer. The second was a lumberjack match on August 17 that Owen initially won and was announced as World champion; Bret won the match after it was ordered to continue due to interference. At the Survivor Series, Owen struck the most damaging blow against his brother as he conned his own mother Helen to throw in the towel for Bret. The ploy cost Bret the world title to Bob Backlund. Owen also prevented Bret from regaining the title at the Royal Rumble in 1995 when he interfered in the match between Bret and new champion Diesel. In the weeks after the Rumble, Bret and Owen clashed again with Bret soundly defeating his brother, thus putting an end to their feud for the time being.
Owen rebounded from the loss to Bret by winning the WWF Tag Team title from The Smoking Gunns at WrestleMania XI. Owen, who was joined by a "Mystery Partner", had challenged the Gunns to a title match; the partner turned out to be former world champion Yokozuna. After the victory Owen took Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji as his managers, who already managed Yokozuna. The team defended the title for 5 months until they lost them to Shawn Michaels and Diesel at In Your House 3. They would briefly hold the title a second time when the belts were handed back to them before the Smoking Gunns regained the title. Owen and Yokozuna would continue to team off and on until the end of the year.
Team with The British Bulldog (1996–1997)
In 1995, Owen's brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith turned heel and joined the Camp Cornette stable. During the summer of 1996 the two brothers in law started to team up more and more, sometimes alongside Vader who was also a member of Camp Cornette. Owen was also a color commentator for the 1996 King of the Ring (exhibiting clear partisan support for Vader and Smith) and during this time wore a cast on his right forearm for several months, feigning a nagging injury to subsequently use his cast as a weapon during his matches.
In September 1996, Bulldog and Hart earned a pay-per-view shot at the tag team title at In Your House 10. Owen and Bulldog left with the gold after defeating the Smoking Gunns. They also left with a new manager as Clarence Mason had conned Jim Cornette into signing over the contracts of the new champions. Signs of dissension, however, slowly started to show. One occasion where this was evident was at the Royal Rumble when Hart accidentally eliminated Bulldog. After the Rumble, Bulldog fired Mason, something which did not sit well with Hart. Another bone of contention between the two was the newly created WWF European Championship; both men had fought their way to the finals to crown the first champion with Bulldog coming out as the victor.
After retaining the tag team title against the Headbangers by disqualification on the March 24, 1997 edition of Monday Night Raw, the tension between the two bubbled over. An incensed Hart demanded a shot at Bulldog's European title the next week. The match was booked for March 31; on the night, the two went at it with such intensity that many thought the tag team champions had finally gone their separate ways. Then 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, an anti-American stable that also included Hart in-law Jim Neidhart and Hart family friend Brian Pillman.
The Hart Foundation (1997)
After forming the Hart Foundation, Owen quickly gained singles gold of his own as he pinned Rocky Maivia to win his first WWF Intercontinental title. This meant that the Hart Foundation held every WWF title except the World title, cementing their dominance over the federation. It was not all success for Owen, though, as he and the British Bulldog lost their tag team title to "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. The team also failed to regain them when Michaels got injured and was replaced by Dude Love. At SummerSlam the Owen/Austin feud took a nasty turn as a botched piledriver ended up injuring Austin's neck. Owen lost his Intercontinental title to Austin that night. Because of the neck injury, Austin was not allowed to compete and was stripped of the title. 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".
Hart fought his way to the finals of the tournament to crown the next Intercontinental champion and was set to face Faarooq at In Your House: Bad Blood. Owen beat Faarooq with Austin's help. Afterward, Austin explained that he wanted to beat Hart for the title when he returned and would not allow Faarooq or anyone else to beat him. His wish came true when Austin returned to action at Survivor Series in Montreal. At the event, Owen lost his title to Austin once again. Later that night, the Montreal Screwjob took place. Bret left the Federation after the event and both the British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart were granted quick releases from their contracts to jump to WCW. This left Owen as the only Hart family member remaining in the WWF, due to his contractual obligations. Unlike Smith and Neidhart, Vince McMahon did not grant Owen a release from his contract and Owen remained with the company. He was skeptical about returning to WCW anyway, as he was not confident that the organization would use him correctly. Bret has said that the biggest reason Owen did not make the move was because WCW president Eric Bischoff "didn't think Owen was worth it" and was unwilling to match his WWF contract.
The Nation of Domination (1998)
Hart was not seen or mentioned on WWF programming until he made a surprise appearance after Shawn Michaels retained his title following a disqualification loss to Ken Shamrock at In Your House: D-Generation X where he attacked Michaels. Now a fan favorite, but with a new edgy, antisocial attitude, Hart became known as "The Lone Hart" and also "The Black Hart". Owen had a feud with DX and won the European title from Triple H, although not directly. Goldust dressed up as Triple H in an attempt to swerve Hart, but Commissioner Slaughter considered him to be a legitimate replacement. Hart later suffered a kayfabe ankle injury during a match involving Triple H. When Hart joined the commentary at ringside, Triple H managed to draw Owen into an impromptu title match and regained the title in a controversial fashion.
Four weeks after WrestleMania, during a tag team match with Ken Shamrock against D'Lo Brown and Rocky Maivia (later known as The Rock), Hart turned on Shamrock, "snapping" his ankle and "biting his ear" in the process. After the attack on Shamrock, Hart joined the Nation of Domination, claiming that “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change". The Nation's first big feud after Hart joined was against DX. It was during this feud that D-Generation X parodied the Nation of Domination. The imitation was complete with Jason Sensation dressing up as Hart and coining the phrase “I am not a nugget"; this was in response to Shawn Michaels referring to Owen as a nugget of feces sticking to the side of a toilet bowl, and no matter how many times Shawn Michaels flushed, it kept sticking around and he was unable to get rid of it. "Nugget" became a derisive term that followed Hart for the rest of his career. Hart's participation in the DX feud was sidetracked when Shamrock returned from injuries dead set on getting revenge on Hart. The two split a pair of specialty matches on pay-per-view, but nothing was ever conclusively settled between them.
Teaming with Jeff Jarrett (1998–1999)
Hart remained with the Nation throughout the year until the stable slowly dissolved. After SummerSlam, he teamed with Jeff Jarrett. Hart and Jarrett had Jarrett's manager Debra in their corner. During this time a storyline was proposed that Hart was supposed to have an on-screen affair with Debra, something which Owen turned down.
After a match in which Hart "accidentally injured" Dan Severn, he seemingly quit the WWF. Playing off the legitimate injury Hart had inflicted on Austin the year before, the angle blurred the lines between reality and "storyline". Yet as soon as Hart "quit", the Blue Blazer appeared in the WWF claiming to in no way be Hart despite it being very obvious who was under the mask. Unlike the first run of the character, the Blazer was now an overbearing, self-righteous heel who treated the edgy Attitude Era WWF with disdain. Hart and Jarrett ended up making the storyline comical. To prove that Hart was not the Blazer, he showed up beside the Blue Blazer, who was a masked Jarrett. In a later attempt to prove that neither Hart or Jarrett was the Blazer, they both appeared next to a man in the Blue Blazer mask; however, it was obvious that a black man was under the mask (Hart's former tag team partner Koko B. Ware). On January 25, 1999, in the midst of the Blue Blazer angle Hart and Jarrett defeated Ken Shamrock and The Big Boss Man for the tag team title. They continued to team together until Hart's death in May during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event.
He met Martha Joan Patterson in 1982. They married on July 1, 1989, and they had two children. Oje Edward Hart was born on March 5, 1992 and Athena Christie Hart was born on September 23, 1995.
On May 23, 1999, Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. Hart 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. It was an elaboration on a Blue Blazer stunt done previously on the Sunday Night Heat before Survivor Series in 1998. Many suspected the harness was made for lowering small tools to carpenters, not for any human being. Hart fell 78 feet (24 m) into the ring, landing chest-first on the top rope, approximately a foot from the nearest turnbuckle, throwing him into the ring.
Hart had performed the stunt only a few times before and was worried about performing the stunt at Kemper due to the height involved. He only practiced this stunt one time before. Hart's wife Martha has suggested that, by moving around to get comfortable with both the harness and his cape on, Hart unintentionally triggered an early release. TV viewers at home did not see the incident or its aftermath—at the moment of the fall, a pre-taped vignette was being shown on the pay-per-view broadcast as well as on the monitors in the darkened arena. After, while Hart was being worked on by medical personnel inside the ring, the live event's broadcast showed only the audience. Meanwhile, WWF television announcer 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.
Controversy and lawsuit
The WWF management controversially chose to continue the event, 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. In the weeks that followed, much attention was focused on the harness Hart used that night, especially on the "quick release" trigger and safety latches. When someone is lowered from the rafters in a harness, there are backup latches that must be latched for safety purposes. These backups may take some time to unlatch, which would have made Hart's stunt difficult to perform smoothly. Therefore, it was apparently decided that it was more important not to have the safety backups, because it would be easier for Hart to unlatch himself.
Three weeks after the event, the Hart family sued the WWF over how dangerous and poorly planned the stunt was, and that the harness system was defective. After over a year and a half into the case, a settlement was reached on November 2, 2000, which saw the WWF give the Hart family $18 million. The manufacturer of the harness system was also a defendant against the Hart family, but they were dismissed from the case after the settlement was reached. Martha used millions of the settlement to establish the Owen Hart Foundation. Martha wrote a book about Hart's life in 2002 called Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart.
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.
Raw is Owen
Raw is Owen is the name given to a special live episode of WWF Raw is War that aired on May 24, 1999, the night after Hart's death. It was broadcast live from the Kiel Center in St. Louis. It featured shoot interviews from his fellow wrestlers. According to Raw Exposed (a special that aired before the first Raw airing on its return to USA Network on October 3, 2005), WWF management gave all wrestlers on the roster the option of working or not. Nevertheless, ten matches were booked with no angles.
The show began with all the wrestlers of the WWF (except the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels) standing on the entrance ramp; Vince, Linda, and Stephanie McMahon were at the front of the ramp. Howard Finkel called for a ten-bell salute. Hart's former Nation of Domination comrades were emotional, most notably Mark Henry, who read a poem that he wrote in memory of Hart. A tribute video narrated by Vince then played on the Titan Tron. Throughout the broadcast, personal thoughts on Hart in the form of shoot interviews with various WWF Superstars were played. Before the first commercial break, such thoughts were aired from Mick Foley and Bradshaw. Foley noted that Hart was his son's favorite wrestler and had proudly gotten a haircut like Owen's, although he also said his son did not quite understand that "nugget" was not a term of endearment. Bradshaw talked about how Hart spent less money on the road than most wrestlers because he wanted to retire early and spend time with his family. Owen's friend and Nation of Domination partner The Rock also made a short speech. The broadcast ended with Steve Austin coming out for a special salute to Hart by climbing the turnbuckle and performing his famous beer guzzling routine, and leaving one beer in the ring 'for Owen'.
The tribute show scored a Nielsen ratings score of 7.2, making it the highest rated show in Raw history. 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 the episode of Raw for May 31, 1999. During that show, Jeff Jarrett defeated The Godfather to win the WWF 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.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- "The Rocket"
- "The King of Harts"
- "The Black Hart"
- "The Two-Time Slammy Award Winner"
Championships and accomplishments
- Pro Wrestling Illustrated
- PWI Editor's Award (1999)
- PWI Feud of the Year (1994) vs. Bret Hart
- PWI Rookie of the Year (1987)
- PWI ranked him #10 of the 500 singles wrestlers in the PWI 500 in 1994
- PWI ranked him #84 of the 100 best tag teams of the PWI Years with Davey Boy Smith in 2003
- PWI ranked him #66 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003
- Stampede Wrestling
- World Wrestling Federation
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards
1Awarded to Shawn Michaels for collapsing but Hart accepted the award for himself.
2After he presented the Award, Hart never awarded it to any of the possible candidates and instead stole it for himself.