RIP Owen Hart
The date was May 23rd, 1999. The World Wrestling Federation was at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri for the Pay-per-view Over The Edge. The Main Event for the evening was the Undertaker, as one of the leaders of the Corporate Ministry, versus Stone Cold Steve Austin for the Rattlesnake’s WWF Championship. A little lower on the card was the Blue Blazer vs. the Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship. For those of you who don’t know, the Blazer was Owen Hart’s earliest gimmick in the company. It was a testament to his charisma that he managed to bring the spectacularly cartoonish character back during the Attitude Era.
As you can see from the picture, the character had obvious superhero influences. Naturally, ever the showman, Vince McMahon thought that the Blazer could use a little spectacle during his entrance. He decided on having the Blue Blazer descend from the rafters of the arena and into the ring. It’s a spot that had been done time and time again. Back when he first started wearing the black and white makeup, Sting was dropping from the rafters every week. It shouldn’t have been an issue to do it in Kansas City that night, but things don’t always go the way you plan.
Owen was set up in the rafters and waiting to make his superhero-like entrance, when the harness holding him up snapped; sending him plummeting more than 70 feet into the ring beneath him. If he had fallen just a few feet in another direction, Owen could have survived. Instead, on the way down, Owen landed chest first on one of the turnbuckles. I can’t even imagine what it was like backstage when this happened. Everything is going fine, business as usual, and then Owen falls into the ring. Suddenly it’s chaos. Nobody knows what to do.
Vince McMahon put the entire event on hold when this happened and met with his company’s Corporate officials. No, Undertaker wasn’t there. His Corporate influence ended with the Ministry, though I’m sure there are some who would call Vince evil for deciding to continue the show. There wasn’t really any other choice from a business angle. As horrible as it sounds, they had a sold out arena and millions of PPV buys to think about. Though, they probably could have announced Owen’s fate to the people in attendance – They didn’t tell them anything. First, Owen falls, and chaos ensues. 911 is called, ambulances show up to take him to a hospital, people are panicking. Then, all of a sudden, the Rock and Triple H are wrestling.
McMahon paid for his mistakes that night. The Hart family sued the WWF, claiming that poor planning for the dangerous stunt was what caused Owen’s death. They settled out of court and walked away with almost 20 million dollars. I know that money doesn’t replace a loved one, and all, but I’m sure it made the pain and suffering a little easier to handle.
What’s really unfortunate about this situation is that the rest of the Hart Family had already followed Bret Hart to World Championship Wrestling by this point, but Owen remained. I’m sure they tried their hardest to get the Rocket to go down to Georgia with them, or maybe Vince wouldn’t let him leave. Regardless, staying with the WWF was the better way to go. At the time, at least. Look at how terrible a time Bret had in WCW. He was a marquis name with crossover appeal. Owen Hart was beloved, but mostly by wrestling fans who appreciated his stunning natural ability. Eric Bischoff would’ve wasted Owen, same as he wasted Bret.
I know, I know, at least he’d still be alive. And though that’s a conversation of fate, I agree. But how happy would he have been? He would’ve seen his tremendous ability ignored in favor of men close to twice his age. Whereas, in the WWF, Owen was going to be given a push as “The Game”, a nickname originally meant for him. Triple H only picked it up after his tragic passing. Can you imagine the King of Hart’s becoming The Game? It would’ve been great. Owen had more than enough talent to make it work.
The passing of Owen Hart is the saddest accident in the history of the Professional Wrestling business. By all accounts, Owen was the sweetest, funniest man you could ever meet. I haven’t heard a bad thing said about him in all the research I’ve done. Fans loved him, too. To give you an idea of how much, I’ll share an anecdote. When I was younger, I went over my buddy Geoffrey’s house and saw a piece of regular notebook paper taped to the wall next to his bed.
When I got closer, I saw written on the paper were seven simple words, “the fact that Owen Hart died, sucks.”