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It seems just like yesterday when Owen Hart came crashing down from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri on May 23, 1999. In an instant, the 34-year-old Canadian wrestler's life came to a tragic end, leaving behind a grieving family, colleagues, and millions of fans around the globe. And with the release of the amazing episode of the Vice series Dark Side Of The Ring about that fateful night 21 years after the WWF (now WWE) superstar's tragic passing, a lot of people are looking back on his life, career, and legacy.
A lot of what you see in these annual tributes to Owen Hart revolves around that tragic accident that caused him to fall 70+ feet from the rafters high above the ring, but there's so much more to the wrestler's story up to that point. So, as we look back on Owen Hart, let's look at some of the most fascinating facts about the late wrestler's career from his upbringing in wrestling royalty to the impact he had on his colleagues and everything in between. This is the story of Owen Hart.
Owen Hart Was Born Into Wrestling Royalty As A Member Of The Revered Hart Family
If you know anything about Owen Hart and his family you know that it was a given that he would one day rise in the ranks of the wrestling business. The son of the legendary Stu Hart and his wife Helen Owen was the youngest of 12 children, all of which had something to do with the wrestling business, as Jim Cornette explained in Dark Side Of The Ring:
Stu Hart had a dozen kids, and all the boys became wrestlers and all the girls grew up to marry wrestlers, so the extended Hart family was almost 20 people involved in the professional wrestling industry.
This included names like Owen's brothers, Bret "The Hitman" Hart, Smith Hart, and Bruce Hart, as well as extended family members like "The British Bulldog" Davey Smith, and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart. The number of wrestlers to come from that family is astounding, especially when you consider the success that most had throughout their careers.
Owen Hart Had A Feud With His Brother Bret That Culminated In A Five-Star Classic At SummerSlam ‘94
Owen Hart came up through his family's promotion, Stampede Wrestling in the early to mid-1980s, and even found some success in the World Wrestling Federation and internationally in promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling before rejoining the WWF in the early 1990s. A few years after his return, Owen entered a feud with his older brother Bret that included some of the greatest matches of "The New Generation" era of WWF.
The brothers wrestled for the first time at WrestleMania X in the famed Madison Square Garden and embarked upon a series of matches that eventually led to the five-star classic steel cage match for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam '94. If earning a rare five-star rating from Dave Meltzer wasn't good enough, Pro Wrestling Illustrated named Owen and Bret Hart with the 1994 Feud Of The Year for their series of matches.
Owen Hart Took The Rock In Under His Wing During The Future Star's Rookie Year
Before Dwayne Johnson became a leading man in Hollywood, hell, before he even became The Rock in the WWF, he was a lowly rookie by the name of Rocky Maivia, who received no love from the crowd. That all changed when he joined the Nation of Domination, a stable consisting of the company's strongest African American wrestlers and Owen Hart. But the partnership didn't stop in the ring, Johnson explained in a 2018 Instagram post showing him pulling down Owen's pants during a media outing, stating:
This was my rookie year and Owen and his brother Bret Hart really took me in and mentored me at a critical time when this rook needed it. We had a lot of fun. We worked extremely hard. I'll never forget it and I'll always be grateful to Owen & Bret. The Harts. Miss you Owen. Til we meet again…
During their time as stablemates, Owen Hart helped build up The Rock's confidence, which led to the Brahma Bull becoming one of the most highly decorated and electric wrestlers of all time.
Owen Hart Broke Stone Cold Steve Austin's Neck At SummerSlam '97 And Turned It Into A Great Angle
Near the end of the Intercontinental Championship match between Owen Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin at SummerSlam '97, a botched piledriver by Hart resulted in Austin sustaining a broken neck after falling directly on his head. Austin finished the match, but would be out for a few months to heal, during which time Owen debuted his iconic "Owen 3:16 / I Just Broke Your Neck" shirt and used the injury to taunt the Texas Rattlesnake, who was barred from action.
Not being able to get revenge (not until Survivor Series that year), Austin started the early goings of his feud with Vince McMahon, including stunning the WWF chairman and CEO on Monday Night Raw in September 1997. In the months following the broken neck and attack on Mr. McMahon, Austin would go on to win his second consecutive Royal Rumble before capturing the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 14. All because of a broken neck.
Owen Hart's Love Of Pranks Caught Him A Lot Of Heat With Harley Race
As much as Owen Hart was known for his ability in the ring, he's also remembered for just how far he would take pranks against other wrestlers while on the road. With everything from stuffing fish into the turnbuckles or making other wrestlers think they were getting arrested, Hart did it all. One time, however, Hart took it a step too far when he messed with Harley Race's famous chili when the late wrestler invited the roster over for a barbecue as he detailed in his book, King Of The Ring: The Harley Race Story:
One time, Owen Hart was helping himself to a bowl of chili when he saw that Mick Foley was on his way over for the same thing. So Owen quickly dumped some Insanity hot sauce in the ladle after filling his bowl. The only problem was that Mick stirred the chili before taking some. So he essentially spiked the entire batch with hot sauce. Everyone's mouths were on fire that night, and Owen had a good laugh at our expense.
But good old Harley Race wasn't going to let Owen Hart get by without payback, and that exactly what happened the next night:
But in this business, payback can be a bitch. I got Owen back the next night when the guys were wrestling in Topeka, Kansas. After his match, Owen walked out of the shower blissfully unaware of what I had prepared for him. I had a stun gun, and I pressed it right on his bare ass, giving him a good zap.
Owen Hart's Widow Turned His Legacy Into A Charitable Organization
Owen Hart's life came to a tragic end on May 23, 1999, in Kansas City, Missouri, upending the lives of his wife, Martha, and two young children. In the years following the death of her husband, Martha Hart has remained vocal in her condemnation of the way the WWF (now WWE) handled the botched stunt and the aftermath of the incident.
But Martha Hart turned her grief and anger into a positive in 2000 when she created the Owen Hart Foundation, a charitable organization that provides opportunities for those who lack the resources who need them the most. Over the past 20 years, the foundation has done everything from holding food drives after natural disasters, go on philanthropic trips to foreign countries, and most recently helping people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Those are just a few things to know about Owen Hart, the extremely talented and charismatic wrestler, devoted husband, father, and friend, and inspiration to those around him. As we look back on the tragedy of his death, we should look at the body of work and legacy he left behind.