wrestling / Video Reviews

411 Video Review: The Life & Death Of Owen Hart

May 26, 2002 | Posted by Tim Moysey

Before we get started…

With the 3 year anniversary of Owen Hart’s death coming up (or already here, or gone, depending on how fast I can get this done), I thought I would pull out this tape. Basically, this was the show that A&E used for his biography in late 2000, but it is taped off of TVOntario (TVO), which is basically a PBS equivalent in the province of Ontario. Anyway, here it is.

The Life & Death of Owen Hart

The host of “The View From Here” (documentary show on TVO) tells us the background story on the life of Owen, including his reluctance to become a professional wrestler.

The film starts, as outdoor footage of Kemper Arena in Kansas City at sunset is shown, which is followed by an older shot (probably from footage shot for Wrestling With Shadows from 1997) of Owen oiling himself up prior to a match. After this, a shot of the catwalk in the rafters of Kemper Arena is shown.

CTV and CBC (Canadian television networks) news anchors are shown reporting the news of Owen’s death, as well as headlines from newspapers, which also tell of the news of his death.

As the narrator tells us that Owen was a “reluctant star”, more Wrestling With Shadows footage is shown of the In Your House: Canadian Stampede from Calgary PPV main event featuring members of the Hart Foundation in a 10-man tag team match (Today, 3 of the members of the Hart team are dead).

More Wrestling With Shadows footage is used, which shows Owen again getting ready backstage. The narrator tells us this time that Owen was a “normal man in a very strange world”. This segues into shots of Bret and Stu Hart, which is used to give us more background information on Owen and his profession. A shot of Vince getting his make-up done is shown to let us know who Owen works for. This is followed up by a lonely shot of Owen sitting on a table backstage by himself.

To bring us back to Kansas City, more shots from the catwalk are shown, this time giving us a better idea of what Owen would have seen from that vantage point on that fateful night. A shot of Owen in the ring, sitting on a turnbuckle is accompanied by the narrator telling us that, “Owen longed for a life outside the ring, (but) would never escape it.” This is followed by silence, and a still photo of Owen’s body lying in the ring after the fall, with the medics working on him. Following this, we see Owen’s wife Martha and their two children (Oje and Athena) at Owen’s grave-site.

A clip of Vince McMahon at a press conference is now shown, as he expresses his condolences to Owen’s family.

To get more background information on Owen’s life, we are taken to the Hart family house in Calgary. Owen, from the Summer of 1997, explains what it was like growing up as a Hart. Bad News Allen gives us an outsider’s point of view on what the family was like, saying that their house looked like the Munster’s house with all the car parts outside. More info on the family follows, as we are told who Stu and Helen started up the successful family business (that, of course, being Stampede Wrestling). Legendary Stampede announcer, the late Ed Whalen, recounts a joke about the number of kids Stu and Helen had, telling us that Helen would say, “Every time Stu hangs his pants on the end of the bed, I’m pregnant.” Well, that’s a lovely thought. Helen manages to nauseate me further, by saying that it’s cold in Calgary in the winter, and that they love children.

Alison Hart talks about what it was like when Owen was born, as everyone knew that he would be the last baby that their parents would have, so all of the other kids were in awe of him. Bret tells us that Owen was the girl’s “project”, as they would dress him up like a doll and such. After the narrator tells us about the feud between the girls and the boys in the family growing up, but how the boys knew better than to ever hit one of the girls, Keith Hart tells us how Owen, who lived in the girls’ room, was their tattletale, but when Owen finally moved into the boys’ room, all ties with the females of the house were severed.

Owen tells us the story of his childhood, and how his father was the one who would make his breakfast, take him to school, etc., as Helen was always busy working on the finances of Stampede in an upstairs office. The story of how Stu and Helen met and married is told. Helen says that they were completely incompatible, so of course they married. Honky Tonk Man and Harley Race talk about what kind of a guy Stu is, with Race saying that Stu was born about 30,000 years too late, and that he would have made a great caveman. Obligatory shot of the legendary Dungeon, as Stu is putting some guy into a painful looking submission manoeuvre, as Helen tells us how Stu and Owen were a lot alike. More footage of Canadian Stampede is shown, and Owen tells us how the family would come together and protect each other from bullies and stuff like that.

Owen’s nephew Matthew is mentioned, and Owen talks about him. For those not familiar with the story, it is explained how Matthew, a healthy young boy, becomes sick and dies within a very short period of time. Matthew’s death shook the family, according to the narrator.

Old Stampede footage is shown, as Mr. Narrator tells us how Owen’s career started. Owen joined the wrestling team while in high school, but he really didn’t like it all that much. However, his life changed because of amateur wrestling, as he met Martha at wrestling meet and they eventually married. Martha goes into detail about the chemistry the two of them had together, as she felt that it was love at first sight. She also talks about Owen’s toes, which apparently were very weird looking. Both Martha, as well as Julie Hart (Bret’s [ex-?] wife) talk about how Owen just wanted a normal life and to be a physical education teacher, so he went to university on a wrestling scholarship to get a teaching degree, but left after a few years because Stampede needed a “new Hart” to carry the company.

As Owen began to wrestle, we are shown footage of some of his Stampede matches. Martha talks about how she didn’t know that wrestling was fake, and when she first saw Owen wrestle, she thought that Bad News Allen was really hurting him, and she was ready to throw her shoe at him, since he was hurting Owen, in her eyes.

But Stampede could not hold on for ever, and early 1980s WWF footage is shown, mostly Hogan stuff, as well as Mean Gene talking to Andy Warhol (I guess to show the WWF’s appeal to celebrities, I don’t know). The narrator tells us how Owen decided to make the move down to the WWF and how he was less than pleased to be saddled with the Blue Blazer gimmick. The fact that he was a jobber down there, after being Stampede’s biggest star didn’t appeal to him, so he quit and returned to Calgary where he married Martha. Soon after they married, their first child Oje was born, and home video is shown of Owen playing with his son at a very young age.

Even though Owen was happy in Calgary, he still needed a job to support his family, and his attempt at becoming a fire fighter fell through, so he went back to the WWF. Even though he was no longer playing the Blue Blazer character, Owen was still stuck in a dead-end tag team (High Energy with Koko B. Ware) and when he was approached with the idea of feuding with Bret, he was all for it. However, Bret wasn’t too keen on it, since they were very close. Helen also hated the idea, but Bret eventually came around and their legendary feud, along with legendary matches (just watch WrestleMania X if you haven’t already, you’ll know what I mean) began. Bret tells us how him and Owen would never speak while in public, in order to keep their feud real for the fans, and how it was hard, since, as mentioned before, they were so close.

Owen’s reputation as a ribber gets some mention, as both Brian Knobbs and Mick Foley tell us how he was the king at ribbing the boys.

More home video of Owen, this time playing with a newborn Athena, as Foley talks about how much Owen loved his family. Foley mentions how some people live to wrestle, while Owen lived for his family. More home video of Owen, the family man, is shown.

Back to his wrestling career, as his stock in the WWF continued to rise, but Bret was always a bigger star, and more important for the company in the all important rating wars, which were just about to begin. Dave Meltzer talks about the rise of WCW, and the narrator tells us how Bret was offered a contract by WCW, but turned it down to sign a 20 year contract and remain loyal to the WWF. The next year of the WWF is glossed over, as the rise of Stone Cold is documented, as is the reformation of the Hart Foundation.

Perhaps Owen’s worst moment as an in-ring performer is covered next, as we are told the story of his SummerSlam ’97 match against Steve Austin, and the now infamous piledriver gone wrong, which resulted in Austin being temporarily paralysed. Owen tells us his feelings on the situation, which are basically just how bad he feels for nearly destroying Stone Cold’s livelihood, especially after they had had such a great match.

As November 1997 approaches, the Montreal screwjob is now brought up. Everyone knows this story by now: Bret was screwed, blah, blah, blah… Bret wanted Owen to leave, blah, blah, blah… Vince wouldn’t let Owen out of his contract, so he stayed.

Now that Bret has brought up being screwed, we now get his spiel on how raunchy wrestling had become by this point. This leads into the rumoured storyline of Owen developing a crush on Debra, splitting up his tag team with Jeff Jarrett. However, as we all know by now, Owen didn’t want to go along with that, because he didn’t want his children to see their father portraying a character like that, since he was such a family man in reality. This brought about the return of the Blue Blazer character.

This time, the Blue Blazer was meant to spoof older stars, such as Hulk Hogan (with his “Say your prayers, take your vitamins, and drink your mild” speech) and Sting (descending from the rafters).

Owen’s last days are now brought up, as Martha tells the story of the last time she saw him alive. He was in a hurry to leave, but he still had time to give her a goodbye kiss, and she remembered thinking that it was a very nice thing for him to do, considering he was in a such a rush to leave.

May 23, 1999: Owen arrives at Kemper Arena to practice his stunt, and we are shown even more footage from the catwalk in the arena.

Fast forward to the future, as Martha, at her press conference brings up how they feel that the riggings were inadequate for the stunt that was to be performed.

Another segment of Vince McMahon’s press conference immediately following Over The Edge is shown now, as he verbally berates a reporter because he “resents the tone” in which she asks her questions. What an asshole he is.

Back to Owen, the narrator tells us how after the event started, he made his way up to the rafters, finally ready to perform the stunt that would ultimately end his life. The narrator tells us that after Owen was swung out into position, the quick release device was triggered, and Owen fell to his death.

Eye witness accounts of the tragedy follows, as people who were in the arena explain what they saw that night.

Mick Foley gets teary eyed remembering what happened on that night, and this is followed by a shot of blood on the canvas.

Martha tells us next of the phone call she received from the doctor that night, telling her that her husband had died. Bret also tells us about his feelings on the situation, which is followed by Martha telling us how hard it was to phone Helen and tell her that her son had died. Helen then tells us her feelings on what happened, which are followed by Stu’s feelings.

As footage of Owen’s funeral is shown, Honky Tonk Man wonders how far is too far, how much money can a company make before it’s too much? Martha then tells us her reasoning on inviting Vince McMahon to the funeral, when most people would rather not have the person they feel is responsible for ending their spouse’s life at an event like that. Martha says it was to show him how much pain he had causes her and Owen’s family.

The final shot of the film is of Martha, sitting alone on the porch of her and Owen’s dream house, which was finished just shortly after Owen’s death, as Martha gives us her final say on her feelings, on what has happened after Owen died.

Final Thoughts: Well, the thought was there, but it was just too damn short. I, personally, would have rather heard more about his life growing up than the 5 minutes that it was given. Also, did they REALLY have to mention Montreal? I mean, 99% of the people watching this would have known what happened, and they could just have easily said something along the lines of “In late 1997, Bret left the WWF on controversial terms, and Owen was left to fend for himself.” In something that was meant to celebrate the life of his dead brother, Bret should have requested that that not be mentioned. In all other respects, though, this is a very well done, and sometimes emotional film, and offers nice insight on the life of Owen Hart.


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Tim Moysey

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