Saturday, May 23, 2009

Owen Hart R.I.P.


I just realized that today marks the ten-year anniversary of Owen Hart's untimely death. Damn.

I found out about it the day after while watching the WWF's “Raw is War” show. While this was going on, I was getting tattooed in my friend's kitchen. When the blurb flashed across the TV screen, I gasped. Momentarily forgetting that Jason was in the middle of doing the shading on my tattoo, I jumped out of my chair and ran over to the TV to see what the hell was going on. Owen Hart...dead...? Of course Jason yelled at me because I'd nearly fucked up the tattoo royally, but this was more important at the moment.

I copied and pasted the following from Wikipedia:

Owen James Hart (May 7, 1965–May 23, 1999) was a Canadian professional wrestler who was widely known for his time in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). Hart was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada the youngest of 12 children to wrestling promoter Stu Hart and Helen Hart. He was the younger brother of professional wrestler Bret Hart. He was a two-time Intercontinental Champion, one-time European Champion, and four-time World Tag Team Champion in the WWF, as well as the winner of the 1994 WWF King of the Ring. He had a brief reign as USWA World Champion while under contract to the WWF, however this title was never defended on an international forum. Although he never captured the WWF Championship, Hart was a frequent challenger for the title and has been cited as one of the greatest in-ring workers in WWF history.

Hart died on May 23, 1999 when an equipment malfunction occurred during his entrance from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, U.S., at the WWF's Over the Edge pay-per-view event.

Career
Stampede Wrestling (1986–1987)
Hart entered wrestling by working for his father's Stampede Wrestling. Wrestling, however, was not his first choice for a career; as his widow Martha explained in her book Broken Harts, Owen tried numerous times to find a profitable living outside of wrestling. As those attempts were unsuccessful, he decided to give wrestling a chance and see where it took him. Hart was trained in his father's legendary Hart Dungeon and made his professional debut in 1986 for his father’s federation, Stampede Wrestling. He remained with Stampede for the next couple of years while honing his skills. During 1986, Hart teamed with Ben Bassarab and won the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championship. The success of the team and Hart's in ring skills earned him the prestigious Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year Award in 1987 (coming out ahead of Ray Traylor and Shane Douglas in the fan voting). After he & Bassarab lost the tag team titles, he feuded with the likes of Johnny Smith and Dynamite Kid.

New Japan Pro Wrestling (1988)
In 1988, Owen Hart branched out to Japan where he wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling on several tours. In NJPW, he wrestled Keiichi Yamada both unmasked and later under the legendary Jushin Liger gimmick. On May 27, Owen Hart defeated Hiroshi Hase for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Owen became the first westerner to hold that coveted title. He was also the first of only two Canadians to hold that title (the other being Chris Benoit). Despite holding the title just under a month, the fact that he held it at all was a testament to how much faith NJPW had in him and his ring skills.

World Wrestling Federation (1988–1989)
Owen’s success in Japan and Stampede’s working relationship with the World Wrestling Federation led to Owen Hart signing with the company in the fall of 1988. Owen debuted at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in August 1988 under a mask called the Blue Angel. Instead of promoting Owen as Bret Hart’s younger brother, the WWF decided to create a masked “superhero
type gimmick for Owen Hart known as The Blue Blazer. The Blazer caught the attention of fans with his unique look and exciting aerial maneuvers, but he didn’t achieve much success against uppercard talent, being eliminated at Survivor Series 1988, losing to Ted DiBiase on the March 11, 1989 edition of “Saturday Night's Main Event, and being defeated by Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania V.

Independent circuit (1989–1991)
Shortly after WrestleMania V, Owen left the WWF to tour the world both with and without the Blue Blazer gimmick. In 1991, Owen lost the Blue Blazer mask in a mascara contra mascara match against Mexican icon El Canek, thus bidding farewell to the Blue Blazer gimmick.

World Championship Wrestling (1991)
In 1991, Owen Hart appeared sporadically on World Championship Wrestling shows, teaming with Ricky Morton and without much fanfare and no mentions of his WWF connections.

World Wrestling Federation (1991–1993)
Owen had been engaged in contract discussions with WCW but the deal was never struck, as Owen was not willing to move himself and his family to the company's headquarters in Atlanta. Instead, Owen signed with the WWF for a second time. In the WWF the popular Hart Foundation, comprised of his brother Bret and real-life brother-in-law Jim Neidhart, had split up; Bret set out on a singles career while Neidhart was used sparingly. Jim Neidhart was “injured
(kayfabe) by Ric Flair and the Beverly Brothers and put out of action for a while. When Neidhart returned from his “injury” he joined Owen Hart to form a team known as The New Foundation, who became instantly recognizable for their bizarre attire—baggy pants and bright jackets.

Owen and Neidhart first feuded with the Beverly Brothers. They then had their only PPV match at the 1992 Royal Rumble where they beat The Orient Express. Jim Neidhart left the WWF shortly after the PPV, and Owen set out on a very short run as a singles wrestler, including a match at WrestleMania VIII against Skinner. Shortly after WrestleMania, Owen was teamed up with Koko B. Ware to form the duo known as High Energy. To show team unity, Koko also adopted the trademark brightly colored baggy pants and the two added checkermarked suspenders to make the look even more distinct. While the team was exciting and certainly “kid friendly
,” it was never pushed as a serious threat to the tag team titles. This was illustrated by the fact that they had only one PPV match as a team, at the 1992 Survivor Series where they lost to The Headshrinkers. The team was quietly dropped at the start of 1993 with Owen Hart starting a singles career, ditching the baggy pants look.

In the middle of 1993, when Bret Hart’s feud with Jerry Lawler ignited, Owen Hart stood by his brother’s side and fought against Jerry Lawler. The fight with Lawler did not take place on WWF television but mainly in the United States Wrestling Association where Bret, Owen, and most of the other WWF talent were considered the heels. Owen Hart won the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship from Papa Shango, but it was never acknowledged on WWF television. Owen’s participation in the WWF vs. USWA feud was cut short when he suffered a knee injury in the summer of 1993 and was forced to take some time away from the ring. At the time, rumors circulated that Owen was on the verge of leaving the WWF due to a lack of success. Whether the knee injury was just a way for the WWF to explain his absence or not isn’t quite clear.

Owen returned to the WWF ring in the fall of 1993, at a time when Bret’s feud with Jerry Lawler was temporarily sidetracked. Bret, along with Owen and their brothers Bruce Hart and Keith Hart, were scheduled to face Jerry Lawler and his team at Survivor Series. However, Jerry Lawler was unable to make it to the show, and as a result could not appear on WWF television. Lawler was replaced with Shawn Michaels. During the match Owen and Bret inadvertently crashed into each other, causing Owen to be eliminated from the team (the only Hart family member to be eliminated). Owen showed up after the match and had a heated confrontation with Bret, while Keith, Bruce and Stu tried to calm things down. This resulted in Owen leaving the ring to boos while his brothers and father watched in dismay and mother Helen cried at ringside. The following night Owen adopted the pink and black, sunglasses and sharpshooter finisher to send a message to his brother. Owen angry with being in Bret’s shadow challenged his brother which Bret declined. Instead the brothers seemed to reunite by the holidays.

1994–1995
Bret tried to make amends with Owen, teaming with him on a regular basis. Bret even secured the two a shot at the WWF Tag Team Championship. They faced the Quebecers for the titles at the 1994 Royal Rumble. Initially everything was fine between the brothers, but when Bret hurt his knee (kayfabe) and was unable to tag Owen in for a long period of time, the younger Hart got frustrated. When the referee stopped the match due to Bret’s damaged knee, Owen snapped; he kicked his brother in the knee and then walked off, starting his run as a heel. After the act an infuriated Owen accused his brother of being selfish and holding him down. Owen admitted that it felt good to take out his brother. Owen would solidify his heel turn by wearing Bret’s glasses down to the ring and rip them up in front of a young fan.

The two brothers faced off for the first time at WrestleMania X, where Owen Hart shocked the world by cleanly pinning his older brother. Later in the evening, Bret Hart won the WWF Title while Owen Hart stood by and watched in jealousy as Bret celebrated in the ring. Owen won the King of the Ring Tournament with Jim Neidhart’s help (turning Neidhart heel in the process). After the victory, Owen took the nickname “The King of Harts.”

Owen and Bret feuded throughout the summer of 1994, clashing many times both in singles and later in tag team matches (with Bret joined by the returning British Bulldog). Two matches stand out in this feud: first, their Steel Cage match at SummerSlam which Bret won after a hard fought match. This match would later get a 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer. The second was a lumberjack match on August 17 that Owen Hart initially won and was announced as World champion; Bret won the match after it was ordered to continue due to interference. At the Survivor Series, Owen struck the most damaging blow against his brother as he conned his own mother Helen Hart to throw in the towel for Bret. Owen was at his most manipulative and insincere as he pleaded with her to think of his brother's well-being. The ploy cost Bret the world title to Bob Backlund.

Owen also prevented Bret from regaining the title at the 1995 Royal Rumble when he interfered in the match between Bret and new champion Diesel. In the weeks after the Rumble, Bret and Owen clashed again with Bret soundly defeating his brother, thus putting an end to their feud for the time being.

Owen rebounded from the loss to Bret Hart by winning the WWF Tag Team titles from The Smoking Gunns at WrestleMania XI. Owen, who was joined by a “Mystery Partner,” had challenged the Gunns to a title match; the partner turned out to be former world champion Yokozuna. After the victory Owen Hart took Jim Cornette as his manager, who already managed Yokozuna. The team defended the titles for 5 months until they lost them to Shawn Michaels and Diesel at In Your House 3. They would briefly hold the titles a second time when the belts were handed back to them before the Smoking Gunns regained the titles. Owen Hart and Yokozuna would continue to team off and on until the end of the year.

1996–1997
In 1996, Owen had a running feud on WWF TV with interviewer Raymond Rougeau, which was done largely for the Montreal market to promote upcoming house shows there. During one such match, where Rougeau was a guest ring announcer for Owen's match, Hart attacked him after the match. This set up a boxing match between the two at the next show. It was Rougeau's cornerman at the next show, local boxing great George Chuvalo that knocked Hart out.

In 1995, Owen's brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith turned heel and joined Camp Cornette. During the summer of 1996 the two brothers in law started to team up more and more, sometimes alongside Vader who was also a member of Camp Cornette. Owen was also a color commentator for the 1996 King of the Ring PPV (exhibiting clear partisan support for Vader and Smith) and during this time wore a cast on his right forearm for several months, feigning a nagging injury to subsequently use his cast as a weapon during his matches (much as Bob Orton did in the mid 1980's).

In September 1996, Bulldog & Owen Hart finally earned a PPV shot at the tag team titles at In Your House 10. Owen and Bulldog left with the gold after defeating the Smoking Gunns. They also left with a new manager as Clarence Mason had conned Jim Cornette into signing over the contracts of the new champions. The duo reigned supreme over a relatively weak tag team division but everything was not well with the two. Signs of dissension slowly started to show.

One occasion where this was evident was at the 1997 Royal Rumble when Owen accidentally eliminated Bulldog and Owen generally tended to try to steal the spotlight. After the Rumble, Bulldog fired Clarence Mason, something which did not sit well with Owen Hart. Another bone of contention between the two was the newly created WWF European Championship; both men had fought their way to the finals to crown the first champion with Bulldog coming out as the victor after a long, hard fought match.

After retaining the tag team titles against the Headbangers by disqualification on the March 24, 1997 edition of “Monday Night Raw,” the tension between the two bubbled over. An incensed Owen Hart demanded a shot at Bulldog’s European title the next week. The match was booked for March 31; on the night, the two went at it with such intensity that many thought the tag team champions had finally gone their separate ways. Then in a shocking moment, the recently turned heel Bret Hart appeared at ringside and stopped the match. Bret appealed to both Owen and Bulldog, talking about the importance of family. Bret got through to both of them and they agreed to put their differences aside and join with Bret to form the new Hart Foundation, an anti-American stable that also included Hart in-law Jim Neidhart and Hart Family friend Brian Pillman.

After forming the Hart Foundation, Owen Hart quickly gained singles gold of his own as he pinned Rocky Maivia to win his first WWF Intercontinental title. This meant that the Hart Foundation held every WWF title except the World title, cementing their dominance over the federation. It was not all success for Owen, though, as he and the British Bulldog lost their tag team titles to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels. The team also failed to regain them when Michaels got injured and was replaced by Dude Love. At SummerSlam 1997 the Owen Hart/Steve Austin feud took a nasty turn as a botched piledriver ended up injuring Steve Austin’s neck. The injury was so bad that Austin’s neck never fully recovered and was part of the reason Austin was forced to retire in 2003. Owen also lost his Intercontinental title to Steve Austin that night. Because of the neck injury, Austin was not allowed to compete and was stripped of the title. Although it was an accident, the WWF decided to make it part of the storyline as Owen Hart began wearing a t-shirt patterned after Austin's that read “Owen 3:16/I Just Broke Your Neck.”

Owen Hart fought his way to the finals of the tournament to crown the next Intercontinental champion and was set to face Faarooq at In Your House: Bad Blood. Owen went on to beat Faarooq, surprisingly with Steve Austin’s help. Afterwards, Austin explained that he wanted to beat Owen Hart for the title when he returned and wouldn
t allow Faarooq or anyone else to beat him. His wish came true when Austin returned to action at Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal. On the undercard, Owen lost his title to Austin once again, and then he watched in shock as the infamous Montreal Screwjob took place.

1998–1999
Bret Hart left the Federation after the Montreal Screwjob and both the British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart were granted quick releases from their contracts to jump to WCW. This left Owen Hart as the only Hart family member remaining in the WWF, due to his contractual obligations. Unlike Smith and Neidhart, Vince McMahon did not grant Owen a release from his contract and Owen remained with the company. However, in a later interview, Bulldog claimed that Owen voluntarily stayed with the WWF as he didn't want to pay a huge sum of money to get out of his contract.

Owen was kept off the air for a while. He was not seen or mentioned on WWF programming until he made a surprise appearance after Shawn Michaels retained his title following a disqualification loss to Ken Shamrock at In Your House: D-Generation X where he attacked Michaels. Initially, Owen, by now a face and known as “the Black Hart” as he fought against Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley which was soon changed to “The Lone Hart” as a reflection of his “lone wolf” status. Owen had a very heated, very emotional feud with DX and won the European title from HHH, although not directly. Goldust dressed up as HHH in an attempt to swerve Owen, but Commissioner Slaughter considered him to be a legitimate replacement. Owen later suffered a kayfabe ankle injury during a match involving Triple H. When Hart joined the commentary at ringside, Triple H managed to draw Owen into an impromptu title match and regained the title in a controversial fashion. With time the Owen Hart/DX feud turned into Owen vs. HHH.

Four weeks after WrestleMania, during a tag team match with Ken Shamrock against D
Lo Brown and Rocky Maivia (later known as The Rock), Owen Hart turned on Shamrock, “snapping” his ankle and “biting his ear” in the process. After the attack on Shamrock, Owen joined the Nation of Domination, claiming that “Enough is enough and it’s time for a change.”

The Nation’s first big feud after Owen joined was against the freshly turned DX, a feud that was a natural for Owen. It was during this feud that one of D-Generation X’s most famous skits occurred as DX parodied the Nation of Domination. The imitation was complete with Jason Sensation dressing up as Owen Hart and coining the phrase “I am not a nugget;” this was in response to Shawn Michaels referring to Owen as a nugget of feces sticking to the side of a toilet bowl, and no matter how many times Shawn Michaels flushed, it kept sticking around and he was unable to get rid of it. “Nugget” became a derisive term that followed Owen for the rest of his career. Owen’s participation in the DX feud was sidetracked when Ken Shamrock returned from injuries dead set on getting revenge on Owen. The two split a pair of specialty matches on PPV, but nothing was ever conclusively settled between them.

Owen Hart remained with the Nation of Domination throughout the year until the stable slowly dissolved, leaving Owen without much direction in the WWF. Owen was seldom seen after SummerSlam 1998 until he teamed with Jeff Jarrett. Owen and Jeff were long time traveling companions and real life friends, a fact that was reflected in their teamwork as they gelled from day one. The two had Jeff’s manager Debra in their corner. During this time a storyline was proposed that Owen Hart was supposed to have an on-screen affair with Debra, something which Owen turned down, because he didn
t want to disrespect his wife and young children.

After a match in which Owen “accidentally injured” Dan Severn, Owen seemingly quit the WWF. Playing off the legit injury Owen had inflicted on Steve Austin about two years before, the angle blurred the lines between reality and “storyline" enough to make people notice. Yet as soon as Owen “quit”, the Blue Blazer appeared in the WWF claiming to in no way be Owen Hart despite it being very obvious who was under the mask. Unlike the first run of the character, the Blazer was now an overbearing, self-righteous heel who treated the edgy Attitude-era WWF with disdain. The gimmick was seen by many as punishment for Owen refusing the love-triangle storyline proposal, however in his brother Bret's autobiography, he claims Owen himself took on the role of the character in an attempt to distance himself from most of WWF’s raunchy storylines at the time. Owen and Jeff would end up making the storyline into such a comical fashion that it was turning both of them face in the process. To prove that Owen was not the Blazer, he showed up besides the Blue Blazer, figuring that’d put an end to it, until someone asked where Jeff Jarrett was (he was under the mask). In a later attempt to prove that neither Owen nor Jeff was the Blazer, they both appeared next to a man in the Blue Blazer mask; however, it was obvious that a black man was under the mask (Owen’s former partner Koko B. Ware wore the Blazer mask that night). On January 25, 1999, in the midst of the Blue Blazer angle Owen and Jeff defeated Ken Shamrock and The Big Boss Man for the tag team titles.

Death
On May 23, 1999, Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri during the Over the Edge pay-per-view event. Hart was in the process of being lowered via harness and rappel line into the ring from the rafters of Kemper Arena for a booked Intercontinental Championship match against The Godfather. In keeping with the Blazer's new “buffoonish superhero” character, he was to begin a dramatic entrance, being lowered to just above ring level, at which time he would act “entangled,” then release himself from the safety harness and fall flat on his face for comedic effect—this necessitated the use of a quick release mechanism. It was an elaboration on a Blue Blazer stunt done previously on the “Sunday Night Heat” before Survivor Series 1998. This time, something went wrong with the stunt harness, apparently triggering the release mechanism early as he was being lowered. Hart fell 78 feet (24 m) into the ring, landing chest-first on the top rope, approximately a foot from the nearest turnbuckle, throwing him into the ring. In Mick Foley's autobiography Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, he claims that following the fall, Hart attempted to sit up and did so before falling back.

Hart had performed the stunt only a few times before and was worried about performing the stunt at the Kemper Arena due to the height involved. Hart's wife Martha has suggested that, by moving around to get comfortable with both the harness and his cape on, Hart unintentionally triggered an early release. TV viewers at home did not see the incident or its aftermath—at the moment of the fall, a pre-taped vignette was being shown on the pay-per-view broadcast as well as on the monitors in the darkened arena. After, while Hart was being worked on by medical personnel inside the ring, the live event’s broadcast showed only the audience. Meanwhile, WWF television announcer Jim Ross repeatedly told those watching live on pay-per-view that what had just transpired was not a wrestling angle or storyline and that Hart was hurt badly, emphasizing the seriousness of the situation. Hart was transported to Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. The cause was later revealed to be internal bleeding from blunt chest trauma.

Controversy and lawsuit
The WWF management controversially chose to continue the event, though they were unaware of the severity of Hart’s injury at that time. Later, Jim Ross announced the death of Hart to the home viewers during the pay-per-view, but not to the crowd in the arena. While the show did go on, it has never been released commercially by WWF Home Video, and to this date no footage of Hart's fall has ever been officially released.

In the weeks that followed, much attention was focused on the harness Hart used that night, especially on the “quick release” trigger and safety latches. When someone is lowered from the rafters in a harness, there are backup latches that must be latched for safety purposes. These backups may take some time to unlatch, which would have made Hart’s stunt difficult to perform smoothly. Therefore, it was apparently decided that it was more important not to have the safety backups, because it would be easier for Hart to unlatch himself.

Hart left behind a widow, Martha, and two children, Oje Edward and Athena Christy. Three weeks after the event, the Hart family sued the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) over how dangerous and poorly planned the stunt was, and that the harness system was defective. After over a year and a half into the case, a settlement was reached on November 2, 2000, which saw the WWF give the Hart family $18 million that was distributed among the Hart family. The manufacturer of the harness system was also a defendant against the Hart family, but they were dismissed from the case after the settlement was reached. Martha used the funds to establish the Owen Hart Foundation. Martha wrote a book about Hart's life in 2002 called Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart.

In his DVD set Bret “Hit Man” Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be, Bret said that he wishes he had been with the WWF the night Owen's accident happened so he could have stepped in and prevented him from going through with the stunt.

Raw Is Owen
“Raw Is Owen” is the name given to a special live episode of “WWF Raw is War” that aired on May 24, 1999, the night after Hart’s death. It was broadcast live from the Kiel Center in St. Louis. It featured shoot interviews from his fellow wrestlers. According to “Raw Exposed” (a special that aired before the first “Raw” airing on its return to USA Network on October 3, 2005), WWF management gave all wrestlers on the roster the option of working or not. Nevertheless, ten matches were booked with no angles.

The show began with all the wrestlers of the WWF (except the Undertaker) standing on the entrance ramp; Vince McMahon, Linda McMahon, and Stephanie McMahon were at the front of the ramp. Howard Finkel called for a ten-bell salute. Hart’s former Nation of Domination comrades were emotional, most notably Mark Henry, who read a poem that he wrote in memory of Hart. A tribute video narrated by Vince then played on the TitanTron. Throughout the broadcast, personal thoughts on Hart in the form of shoot interviews with various WWF Superstars were played. Before the first commercial break, such thoughts were aired from Mick Foley and Bradshaw. Foley noted that Hart was his son’s favorite wrestler and had proudly gotten a haircut like Owen’s, although he also said his son didn’t quite understand that “nugget” was not a term of endearment. Bradshaw talked about how Hart spent less money on the road than most wrestlers because he wanted to retire early and spend time with his family. Owen’s friend and Nation Of Domination partner The Rock also made a short and memorable speech. The broadcast ended with Stone Cold Steve Austin coming out for a special salute to Hart by climbing the turnbuckle and performing his famous beer guzzling routine, and leaving one beer in the ring ‘for Owen.’

The tribute show scored a Nielsen Ratings score of 7.2, making it one of the highest rated shows in “Raw” history. Shawn Michaels, in his Heartbreak and Triumph autobiography, notes that “Owen is the only guy you could have a 2-hour show for, and no-one would say a bad word about him.” The next day, WWF taped the episode of “Raw” for May 31, 1999. During that show, Jeff Jarrett defeated The Godfather to win the WWF Intercontinental Championship, the title Hart was booked to win at Over the Edge for the third time. Jarrett screamed Hart’s name as the belt was handed to him.

Personal life
He met Martha Joan Patterson in 1982. They married on July 1, 1989, and they had two children. Oje Edward Hart was born on March 5, 1992 and Athena Christie Hart was born on September 23, 1995.

Legacy
With the exception of his banner year in 1994, full time main event status eluded Owen Hart throughout most of his career, and he spent his most formative years (1994-1998) as what is known as a “jobber to the stars,” often losing matches to rising stars at the upper mid-card level, which was consistent with the more classic style of wrestling heel that Hart portrayed throughout much of his career. Future champions Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Steve Austin would receive significant main event pushes after feuding with, and defeating Hart in singles competition. His series of matches with his brother Bret are regarded as being among the best of each man's respective careers.

The best known of Hart’s many, though similar in-ring personas was the “King of Harts” which Owen portrayed during his feud with brother Bret, and especially following his victory at the 1994 King of the Ring. As the King of Harts, Owen portrayed a jealous, sniveling younger brother and frequently accused Bret (kayfabe) of holding back his career, and showed a maniacal zeal for moving out of Bret’s shadow. As such, Owen would use deceptive tactics in his matches and fans took special delight when he lost, a fact often lost to fans in the years following his death. Owen also borrowed Ric Flair’s trademark “Woooo!” during this time and quite literally stole both of his Slammy Awards, which Hart would pretentiously carry to the ring, even going so far as to have the image of the awards and the word winner stitched onto the legs of his singlet. Hart’s zealous and often childish antics endeared him to many fans, though he was accordingly booed by most. Beginning with the formation of the new Hart Foundation however, the childish elements of Hart’s in-ring persona were gradually phased out in favor of a meaner, tougher and more driven character, known as the “Black Hart.” Today, Hart is known as one of the best, and last of the old school wrestling heels, as his characterization of the “bad guy” was rendered virtually obsolete following the rise of wrestling anti-heroes like The Rock and Triple H.

Despite Hart’s heel persona within the ring, he was known for being an extremely down-to-earth and friendly person outside the ring to his fellow wrestlers and fans. Many wrestlers who worked with Hart often cited the hilarious pranks he pulled on people on the road, including phony phone calls to hotel rooms and other hijinks. Others cited Hart’s devotion to his family, and his very frugal spending on the road to help save money.

As a tribute to his brother Owen, Bret Hart wrestled Hart Family friend Chris Benoit on the October 4, 1999 edition of “Nitro” at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, which was the site of Owen's death earlier in the year.

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