Owen Hart, otherwise known by his wrestling name “the Blue Blazer”, seemed destined to be a wrestling legend from the very start. Born the youngest of 12 children to an iconic Canadian wrestling family headed by Stu and Helen Hart, Owen loved the sport every bit as much as his family. Although he possessed an interest in other career paths, after attending the University of Calgary on a wrestling scholarship Owen Hart started a professional career in wrestling in 1986. His star rose quickly in the wrestling world both in and out of the WWF. His occasional teaming up with his larger-than-life wrestling brother Bret Hart (Hitman Hart), and other times personal feuds with Bret Hart even made him more of a public interest. Tragically however, at the age of only 34, Owen Hart died as a result of a tragic accident that took place while performing a pre-bout stunt in Kansas City. The Owen Hart accident and Owen Hart death shocked his fans and grabbed the interest and attention even of the non-wrestling world. To this day the name Owen Hart name stands out to many who never even saw him wrestle due to the story of his life and the tragedy of his death. Owen Hart’s death, and life, is simply one that is not easily forgotten.
Owen Hart was known for two things in particular in the wresting community; his love of daring and his love of humor. He kept his friends and colleagues laughing and at times his fans as well and he was never one to shy away from a challenging stunt. He wasn’t just show however, he was skill and a true champion, winning numerous wrestling titles across the board. Sadly however, his talents for daring and comedy ended up playing a role in his death.
Owen Hart’s death took place on the evening of May 23rd, 1999 after a fall at the Kemper Arena (pictured on the left) in Kansas City, Missouri. The accident occurred while setting up a television pay-per-view event. Fortunately the live event wasn’t yet airing when the Owen Hart accident occurred. Instead pre-recorded interviews were being shown. However, a large crowd of people in attendance at the arena did see the accident take place although not everyone realized the full extent of what had happened until later on. The stunt involved Owen Hart being lowered from the ceiling rafters by a cable and harness into the wrestling ring. While being lowered he planned to pretend to get tangled up once he was near the floor, and then release himself from the harness and, from a short distance, fall flat on his face. A made-to-order stunt for Owen Hart as it provided both a daring act and a hilarious result. For some reason however, Owen was released from the harness far too early and fell from somewhere between 50 and 70 feet to the floor causing severe blunt force trauma which ended his life soon afterwards at a nearby hospital.
Exactly what caused Owen Hart’s fall from the harness prematurely ended up being hotly contested. The stunt required an improvised quick-release harness which was the center of the controversy. Some claimed that the harness simply malfunctioned. Others speculated that Hart accidently triggered the quick-release harness while dealing with his cape and his act of being entangled in the wires. What was rather undeniable however was the fact that the harness Hart used simply wasn’t meant for the weight of a full grown male but was designed to move and secure smaller objects. Some degree of mystery may always remain as to exactly what caused the harness to release when it did.
The issue of the accident in the Owen Hart death also ended up having legal ramifications. Mere weeks after the tragic event Owen Hart’s family filed a lawsuit against the WWF. They maintained that the stunt was too dangerous and was not well planned. A settlement was reached in 2002 and the Hart family received 18 million dollars. The manufacture of the harness Owen used was dismissed from the lawsuit and the blame was placed solely on the WWF.
There were other controversies about the Owen Hart death as well. For example, the fans at the event in Kansas City were not told that Owen had died and the remainder of the event went on as planned, as though nothing had happened. Other controversies were also to come, such as the use and rights to Owen Hart’s name in association with the WWF.
Owen Hart was survived by his wife, Martha, and two children ages 7 and 4. The night of the stunt he was to wrestle for the Intercontinental title against “The Godfather”. His body was transported to Calgary, Alberta where he was buried at Queens Park Cemetery.