Today is the birthday of Owen Hart. If he was still with us, he would have been 50.
On May 23, 1999 at the Over the Edge pay-per-view, Owen was set to descend from the rafters as part of his elaborate Blue Blazer entrance. Tragically, the release on his harness was somehow triggered during his descent, causing him to fall nearly 80 feet onto the ring ropes. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he would pass away from his injuries.
It sometimes seems like the way Owen’s life ended has completely eclipsed what came before. Because of this, the above paragraph will be the only time we discuss the specifics of Owen Hart’s death in this article. Instead, we’ll be focusing on Owen’s life and legacy. I won’t call it a celebration; Owen had his ups, downs and struggles just like everybody else, but it will be a look at a side of Owen Hart too often overlooked. Here are a few things you might not know about life of the Hart family’s high flyer…
1. Owen didn’t want to be a pro wrestler. In 1965, Owen would become the final addition to Stu and Helen Hart’s sprawling family. The youngest of 12 kids, Owen would grow up surrounded by his dad’s wrestling friends. His bedroom was located mere feet above the infamous Hart Dungeon, the barely renovated basement where countless wrestlers were stretched to their breaking points. You’d think having André the Giant as an occasional babysitter would instill a burning desire to become a pro wrestler, but it actually had the opposite effect on young Owen. Many of the wrestlers his dad hung around with, like the terrifying Abdullah the Butcher, freaked out poor Owen, and the constant screams of agony coming from the basement didn’t help matters. Little Owen wanted no part of the wrestling business, and his mind didn’t really change as he got older. He respected what his dad and brothers did, but he had no particular interest in pursuing it himself.
Baby Owen and his posse. Blue shirt in the back is Bret (I think).
Once Owen graduated high school, his plans were to become a teacher, and he worked odd jobs in the oil and gas industry. After temporarily quitting the WWF in 1989, Owen would make a serious run at becoming a firefighter and a border patrol guard.
Ultimately, Owen’s dreams of a normal civilian job kept running into a big, impossible to ignore hurdle; he was just better at wrestling than anything else. In many ways, he was just as good as his brother Bret, despite never putting in the obsessive effort he did. In the mid-80s, Owen’s dad and brothers convinced Owen to try wrestling for the family’s Stampede Wrestling promotion for the summer, just until he went away to college. Owen would never sign up for classes and would, somewhat reluctantly, make his living as a pro wrestler for most of the rest of his life.
2. He turned down his first offer from WWF. Owen would quickly become the top draw in Stampede Wrestling. Before long, Vince McMahon decided he might just want to add Owen to his collection of former Stampede stars like Bret, Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid. In the spring of 1988, Owen had a weekend tryout, and WWF officials were impressed, immediately offering him a job. Much to everybody’s surprise, Owen turned down the offer. He and his fiance Martha had a wedding pending, and he still felt an obligation to help out his dad’s promotion, which was on its last legs at the time. Besides, the idea of following dutifully in his big brother’s footsteps was something that always rubbed Owen the wrong way.
Too busy wearing fur jackets and sunglasses inside to bother with that wrestling nonsense.
Owen and WWF wouldn’t stay apart for long. though. Mere months later, the company would approach Owen again, promising him a surefire character if he signed.
3. The Blue Blazer was Bret’s idea. That surefire character turned out to be The Blue Blazer. Never trust the WWF, folks.
Now, who do you suppose came up with this blue, feathery smudge on Owen’s career? Totally a McMahon idea, right? I mean, the guy’s still forcing Neville to wear a cape in 2015. Well, believe it or not, Owen’s straight-laced brother Bret was actually to blame for the gimmick.
In the ’80s, Owen was doing a lot of high-flying stuff that was still relatively uncommon on the American scene, so Bret thought it would be a good idea for Owen to come in as a masked, Mexican/Japanese style wrestler like Tiger Mask. Granted, the Tiger Mask gimmick is a tad goofy in it’s own right, but it’s also completely amazing. Something was lost in translation, and instead of Tiger Mask, poor Owen ended up as this:
Was this the best shot they could get?
Basically, never pitch an idea to Vince that could be interpreted in a ridiculous way. That’s the route he’s always going to take.
4. Owen quit WWF after suffering a horrifying testicle injury. Steel yourself for some sympathy pains, boys. In early 1989, Owen (as The Blue Blazer) didn’t get high enough on a leapfrog, and his opponent Greg Valentine collided head-first with Owen’s crotch region, crushing one of his testicles. While this moment was no doubt some prime America’s Funniest Home Videos comedy, Owen didn’t find the results overly hilarious. According to Owen’s wife Martha, his battered ball expanded to the size of an orange, and he was barely able to get around or pee by himself for weeks.
A pain Owen knew all-too-well.
There was a silver lining to Owen’s horrific nutsack trauma, though. He and his wife got to spend a lot of time together throughout the ordeal, and Owen, who wanted kids, again started to question whether he wanted to continue doing a job where heads crashing into your nuts was a nightly risk. Enough was enough, and it was time for a change; shortly after the testicle incident, Owen would surprise the WWF again by abruptly quitting the company.
5. He came very close to signing a contract with WCW in the early ’90s. After quitting the WWF, Owen made further attempts to land a civilian job, but by necessity mostly stuck to wrestling, kicking around both New Japan Pro Wrestling and Mexico (where he tried to get the Blue Blazer monkey off his back by losing a mask vs. mask match to the legendary El Canek).
Interestingly, Owen was the one Hart family member to stick with the WWF throughout the late ’90s turmoil, but actually had a short, forgotten stint with WCW in 1991. After working for WCW for a few weeks, Owen was offered a full-time contract. He came very close to accepting, and his wife even applied for Green Cards, but he decided in the end that he didn’t want to move to WCW’s home base of Atlanta. A lot of things might have been different if Owen hadn’t been so adverse to moving.
6. Owen’s brother Bruce was supposed to be one to feud with Bret. In late 1993, McMahon hatched the idea that Bret needed to feud with one of his siblings. Owen was back with the company by this time, but Vince didn’t think he could play a bad guy. Instead, Vince envisioned Bruce in the antagonist role, and Owen as the sacrificial lamb. Basically, Bruce would show up and challenge Bret to a match, and Bret would decline. The more impulsive Owen would accept the match instead, and Bruce would treat him to a brotherly beat down so severe that Bret would be forced to step in.
There were two problems with this plan. Bruce was getting up in years at this point, and Bret flatly refused to wrestle any family members other than Owen. Eventually, Vince relented through gritted teeth, and one of the most memorable wrestling feuds was born.
“Yeah, uh, sorry about that Blue Blazer thing, little brother.”
7. The botched piledriver on Steve Austin led directly to the Austin-McMahon rivalry. While Owen was generally known as a very safe, “night off” kind of worker, he does have one big, glaring black mark on his record. During a Kiss My Ass match with Steve Austin at SummerSlam ’97, Owen went for a Tombstone piledriver. Instead of dropping to his knees, he dropped to his butt like you would for a regular piledriver. Austin’s head was legitimately driven into the mat, leaving him with a severe stinger and spinal bruising.
It was a horrifying moment, but it also led directly to the most lucrative feud of Austin’s career. Austin was already heating up, so the WWF didn’t want to take him off TV, but he couldn’t wrestle. In order to cover Austin’s injury, the WWF scrambled to produce elaborate non-wrestling segments to keep him on TV. While these kind of segments are commonplace now, there was a new thing born out of necessity in 1997.
On the Sept. 22, 1997 edition of Raw, Austin interrupted and attacked Owen as he was giving a speech. Security got involved, and it looked like things would break down into a melee when McMahon, still primarily a commentator, ran into the ring to berate Austin about the fact that he wasn’t cleared to compete. Austin listened carefully to Vince’s concerns, then gave him the first of many, many Stunners to come. The moment was just supposed to be a one-off thing, but the audience responded to it so strongly, the seed for a full feud between Austin and Vince was planted. If Owen hadn’t dropped Austin on his head, “Stone Cold” would have still been a big star, and the Mr. McMahon character may have eventually emerged, but the idea to pit them against each other may have never happened, or perhaps come along too late to matter.
8. Owen was an infamous practical joker. Owen never really got to express his more lighthearted side on TV, but according to almost everyone who knew him, he was one of the funniest guys backstage, and a ribbing bastard when he wanted to be.
Owen kept mostly kept the fun and games harmless, largely avoiding the bag pooping school of ribbing enjoyed by your Randy Ortons and Shawn Michaels. Lex Luger was a favorite target because, well, of course he was. Owen once arranged to have Luger pulled over by a pair of cops who happened to be fans. The officers played it straight, but as they were walking away from the car, Owen yelled an insult at them, then pointed the finger at Luger. Much to Luger’s shock, the cops actually “fell” for this, and gave Luger (who was probably legitimately hiding a drug store in his car) the nth degree until Owen finally called them off. His family members definitely weren’t safe, either. Before a match with Bret, Owen hid sardines in one of the turnbuckles. Later in the match. he retrieved them and force fed them to his brother as he held him in a camel clutch. Hey, don’t feel too bad for Bret; he was the older brother, so he almost certainly did even worse things to Owen.
Not all of Owen’s pranks were brilliant. He once dumped a 2-liter of cola down the back of Micheal Cole’s pants as he was nervously preparing for one of his first interviews. Wait, I take it back. That was brilliant.
Owen with his coveted “Mr. Funnypants” trophy.
9. Triple H’s “The Game” gimmick was originally intended for Owen. Here’s a fascinating “What if?” scenario. According to Triple H, “The Game” nickname and persona that helped him rocket from Degeneration-X second banana to legit main-eventer was originally earmarked for Owen Hart.
By the late ’90s, Owen was back playing an ironic, Attitude-era version of The Blue Blazer, something he wasn’t thrilled about. Owen wasn’t terribly thrilled about the late ’90s antics in general, and he was planning to quit again, so Vince cooked up a pretty decent little gimmick to convince him to stay. According to Triple H, he took on the mantle of The Game as a tribute to Owen, but come on. This is Triple H we’re talking about here. I’m pretty sure he just knew a good thing when he saw it.
Another one of Triple H’s “tributes” to Owen.
10. The Hart Foundation lives on. Owen Hart may be gone, but he continues to have a legacy in a way many wrestlers who pass away before their time don’t. After Owen’s death, his wife started The Owen Hart Foundation, a charity that holds regular celebrity-backed fundraisers (everyone from Jerry Seinfeld to Ringo Starr have worked with the foundation). The money raised by the foundation has helped fund hospitals and women’s shelters, provided scholarships and purchased more than 100 houses for low-income families. Owen always wanted to leave mark outside the wrestling ring, and he has.
Hope you enjoyed this stroll through the life of Owen Hart. Know any interesting facts I didn’t mention? What are some of your favorite moments from Owen’s career? Let’s kick the leg out of this comment’s section’s leg.
via Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart, Bleacher Report, Slam! Wrestling, Manolith & What Culture