Before Montreal: Excellent Facts About The Early Life And Wrestling Prime Of Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart

Bret Hart recently shocked fans, revealing he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Since that announcement, Bret has undergone successful surgery. With luck, the seven-time world champion is truly out of the woods.

Bret Hart has led a life full of triumph, heartbreak and contradictions. One of the last of the old-school workers and defenders of kayfabe, Bret inadvertently ended up exposing wrestling’s inner workings more than almost anybody. He was the principled voice of reason on TV, but often played the wild child behind the scenes. Ultimately, though, Bret was, above all else, a damn fine pro wrestler.

Bret Hart has led such a full life, I couldn’t possibly do all of it justice in a single article, so this one only covers up until the Montreal incident. Here’s a few facts you might not know about the early life and career of the man who truly was one of the best there ever will be…

Bret Hart grew up surrounded by wrestling bears, giants and fork-wielding maniacs.

Terrible Ted, the excellence of wrestling bear execution. 

Bret Sergeant Hart was born July 2, 1957 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Bret was, of course, the son of the legendary grappler Stu Hart, which meant the lil’ Hitman got an even more potent dose of pro wrestling craziness than your average second generation wrestler. Bret was the eighth of 12 kids, and his dad Stu wasn’t just a former wrestler, he was an old-school wrasslin’ promoter whose sprawling territory was big enough to attract all the major stars, but backwoods enough that they still dealt in lot of pretty sketchy carny sh*t.

The Hart Family lived in a sprawling 20+ room mansion overlooking Calgary, and during the summers, the Hart Family home was often home to Terrible Ted, an honest to goodness, real live wrestling bear. All the Hart kids tell fond stories of hanging out on the porch eating Creamsicles and having Ted lick whatever they dripped off their feet. Of course, numerous wrestlers would also mosey through the Hart’s kitchen, including the likes of André the Giant and the cutlery-wielding Abdullah the Butcher (who got his first big break in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling). Oh, and let’s not forget the basement was home to The Dungeon, where Bret’s dad would twist victims into screaming submission on a regular basis. So yeah, if you’ve ever wondered why most of the Hart kids ended up a little strange, well, wonder no longer.

His dream was to be a cartoonist or filmmaker instead of a wrestler.

Young Bret with that telltale “I’d rather be drawing dicks” expression. 

Much like his brother Owen, Bret had no designs on being a wrestler when he was young. Watching his dad struggle to keep Stampede Wrestling afloat made it all too clear that wrestling was a hard, thankless business.

Despite his serious on-air persona, Bret Hart’s first love was cartooning. By all accounts, he was pretty good, and became infamous for the unspeakably lewd cartoons he would leave on the backstage white boards. If you can’t imagine tight-ass Bret Hart spending his free time backstage working on X-rated masterpieces starring ’80s and ’90s WWF superstars, well, you’re not alone, but apparently he did just that, and everybody loved them. In a way, Bret’s cartoons became his own special brand of backstage politicking – he’d do elaborate drawings for guys like André and Vince McMahon and they’d love them so much they’d suddenly become Bret’s best pals.

Of course, cartooning is an even less dependable occupation than wrestling, so when Bret graduated high school, he planned to go to film school. Ultimately, as often happens, one thing led to another, and Bret fell into the family business without really meaning to, but he never gave up his cartooning pen, and to this day still describes his matches as “action movies.”

Bret was roommates with a young Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

When Bret first began competing for Stampede Wrestling in the late ’70s, the promotion was home to a revolving door of soon-to-be legends, like Dynamite Kid, the Junkyard Dog, and a lanky porn star-looking, second-generation wrestler named Jake Roberts. Surprisingly, Bret and Jake hit if off immediately and were soon renting a house together. That’s right, straight-laced Bret Hart used to be roomies with one of the most infamous hell-raisers in wrestling history. Of course, Bret wasn’t particularly angelic behind the scenes, but still, this feels like a prime sitcom setup. This week on Jake and the Hitman, Bret gets upset when Jake’s snake eats his Air Jordans. Whoooa-oh! It writes itself.

He was originally going to ride a horse to the ring as “Cowboy” Bret Hart.

Of course, Bret was willing to play a cowboy for that sweet Lonesome Dove money. 

By 1984, the WWF was storming and pillaging the wrestling landscape, so Stu Hart, wisely seeing the writing on the wall, agreed to sell Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon. Stu’s one major caveat was that Vince had to hire Bret, Jim Neidhart, Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith. And so, just like that, the extended Hart Family was primed to conquer the WWF.