Owen Hart Death – Blunt force trauma from accidental fall

owen hart death

Owen Hart dies in the ring after a horrifying fall from the rafters. He was 34. photo: wwe.com

1965-1999 (age 34)

Owen James Hart was a professional wrestler who reached the pinnacle of success before suffering a tragic and public death in the ring. The Owen Hart death remains an infamous black mark on professional wrestling.

Owen was Canadian; born on May 7, 1965 in Calgary, Alberta. Hart came from a large family of twelve children. His family was a wrestling family. Hart’s father, Stu, was a Stampede Wrestling promoter and WWE Hall of Famer. His brother Bret also gained fame as a professional wrestler. Owen went on to have a storied career in wrestling that included being the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion, twice winning the WWF Intercontinental championship, becoming the victor in 1994’s King of the Ring, and four times winning the WWF World Tag Team Championship. The Owen Hart death cut his promising career short.

6 years before his death: Highlights from “The Rocket” Owen Hart taking on Jerry Lawler from a USWA match (Mid-South Coliseum, July 3, 1993)

Early Career (1986-1988)

In spite of being from a wrestling family (or perhaps because of it) Owen Hart was initially reluctant to make wrestling his career. He began wrestling while still in high school. Once out of school he trained at his father’s gym and worked for his father’s organization Stampede Wrestling. He also spent time wrestling in England for Max Crabstree’s Joint Promotions. Hart teamed with Ben Bassarab and won the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championship in 1986. That victory and his overall skill earned Owen Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1987. During that period Owen feuded with Johnny Smith and Dynamite Kid after losing the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championship to them.

Like many professional wrestlers, Hart also spent time in Japan. He went there in 1987 and wrestled for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW).

Early career: Owen Hart takes on a masked Chris Benoit (then known as “The Pegasus Kid”) in New Japan Pro Wrestling

First Stint with the WWF and the Independent Circuit (1988-1991)

Owen’s early victories while wrestling in Stampede and in Japan brought him to the attention of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF). He signed with the WWF in 1988. In order to avoid casting him simply as Bret Hart’s younger brother, the decision was made to provide Hart with a masked alter-ego for the ring. Because his wrestling style included a lot of flying-style maneuvers that persona was first called The Blue Angel before being renamed the Blue Blazer.

blue blazer owen hart

Owen during his original Blue Blazer run in the 80s. Bringing the gimmick back (as a spoof) in the late 90’s would prove to be a fatal decision by the WWF. The Blue Blazer’s (Owen Hart) botched entrance from the rafters led to his in-ring death at the Over the Edge pay per view. photo: wwe.com

The Blue Blazer made his first appearance in a PPV match at the ’88 Survivor Series. He was eliminated by Valentine but his team went on to victory. Hart’s initial stint with the WWF was most spent wresting in the midcard.

After leaving the WWF in 1989, Hart went on to wrestle on the independent circuit. He returned to Stampede but that closed in December of 1989. Hart lost his Blue Blazer mask and retired the character in a match against the Mexican wrestler El Canek. In 1991 Owen did a stint with World Championship Wrestling.

Return to the WWF: The New Foundation; We are Family (1991-1992)

Owen Hart returned to the WWF in 1991. He joined his brother Bret Hart and their brother-in-law Jim Neidhart, Bret and Jim had been a tag team called the Hart Foundation but they split up when Bret wanted to pursue a solo career. Owen and Jim teamed up to form a team called The New Foundation.

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When Jim left the WWF, Owen had a short run competing in singles. He was briefly paired with Koko B. Ware for the Survivor Series in 1992. In 1993 Owen helped Bret in his feud with Jerry Lawler.

bret and owen hart rivarlry

Owen steps out of the shadows of his brother, Bret “The Hit Man” Hart – pinning him for the victory at WrestleMania X. It would be the first of many rematches to come between the feuding brothers. photo: wwe.com

Sibling Rivalry (1993-1995)

In 1993 Owen began a long and well remembered feud with his brother Bret. They were placed on a team, along with their brothers Bruce and Keith, for the Survivor Series. In the middle of a match they collided and Owen was eliminated. After the match Owen returned to the ring and had an argument with Bret. Their brothers tried and failed to calm things down. Owen left the ring as the crowd booed him. The following night he attempted to challenge Bret in the ring. Bret refused to accept the challenge.

For a time the feud seemed to die down. The brothers teamed up for a shot at the WWF Tag Team titles. In January of 1994 the pair competed in the Royal Rumble. A bad knee was troubling Bret. He had a difficult time tagging Owen in. Owen became enraged when Bret’s knee caused the referee to stop the match. He kicked Bret’s injured knee and walked off. Afterwards he was seen by viewers yelling at Bret backstage.

Tension boils over: At the 1994 Royal Rumble, Owen Hart kicks out his brothers knee. After he gave this short promo.

By this point Owen was starting to be viewed as a heel. At WrestleMania X Owen pinned his brother. However, later in the main event, Bret was the one who went to win the WWF title; defeating Yokozuna. When Owen won the King of the Ring Tournament he adopted the nickname “The King of Harts.”

The brothers continued their feud in 1994. They faced off in the ring many times in both singles and tag team matches. The lumberjack match that they fought for the WWF Championship stands out among their matches. In the August 17, 1994 match, Owen initially won the championship. However, the match was started again due to interference and Bret was declared the winner and champion.

owen hart king of the ring

With the help of brother-in-law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, Owen wins the 1994 King of the Ring. After the victory, Owen would go on to refer to himself as “The King of Harts”. Sadly, he would be dead within 5 years. photo: wwe.com

Owen continued to be a heel. During the Survivor Series he tricked their mother into throwing in the towel for Bret. At the Royal Rumble in 1995 Owen interfered during Bret’s match with Diesel and prevented him from taking back the championship. When the brothers faced each other in the ring again Bret decisively beat Owen.

Later Career (1996-1999)

In the wake of his feud with his brother, Owen and Yokozuna won the WWF Tag Team titles at WrestleMania XI. He also changed managers. Jim Cornette and Mr. Fuji were Owen’s new managers. The unlikely duo of Yokozuna and Hart continued to pair up at various matches until the Owen Hart death.

owen hart yokozuna tag team

An unlikely duo: 500+ pound Sumo meets Canadian heel. In 1995, Owen and Yokozuna held the tag team championships for 175 consecutive days. Within 4 short years, an in-ring accident would claim the life of Owen. photo: wwe.com

Owen also frequently paired up with both his brother-in-law Davey Smith; who was known as the British Bulldog. Despite the pair winning the tag team titles at In Your House, they had a rocky relationship on screen. They began a feud of their own that became clear when Hart accidentally disqualified Bulldog at the Royal Rumble. When Bulldog won the new WWF European Championship the rift widened. By March of 1997, Hart challenged his partner for another shot at the European Championship. Bret Hart appeared in the ring and talked to them both about the importance of family. This would end their feud.

The Hart Foundation (1996-1997)

Both Owen and Bulldog teamed up with Bret, Jim Neidhart, and Brian Pillman to form the Hart Foundation. The Hart Foundation was a stable of anti-American heels. Owen then won the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Hart and Bulldog lost their tag team title on May 26, 1997. That resulted in a feud between Owen and Stone Cold Steve Austin. That feud carried over to a match on the July 14, 1997 episode of RAW. Hart and Bulldog and were defeated by Austin and Dude Love.

At SummerSlam, Owen messed up a pile driver and injured Austin’s neck. While Austin did help Hart beat Faarooq at In Your House: Bad Blood he did so only to defeat Owen and claim the Intercontinental Championship for himself. It was shortly after that Bret, Bulldog and Jim Neidhart all left the WWF and the Hart Foundation crumbled.

A year and a half prior to his death: The birth of “The Black Hart” (Raw, December 13, 1997)

The Black Hart (1997-1998)

In the wake of his family members leaving the WWF, Owen changed his image. He adopted the names “The Lone Hart” and “The Black Hart”. The Black Hart had a more aggressive, anti-social personality. Hart feuded with DX. On the December 29, 2997 episode of RAW he challenged Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship. Hart won by disqualification when Triple H interfered.

Owen went on to win the European title from Triple H. Triple H sought revenge. He challenged Hart to a match for the title. During the match Chyna hit Hart in the knee with a bat and tossed him back in the ring. This allowed Triple H to place him in an ankle lock and win the match. The Black Hart teamed up with the Rock to create The Nation of Domination. The Nation had a feud with DX. Shawn Michaels called Hart a nugget of feces that refused to be flushed. DX mocked Hart for that and the term “nugget” followed Hart for the rest of his career up until the Owen Hart death.

The Blue Blazer Returns (1998-1999)

After the Nation of Domination slowly dissolved Hart brought the Blue Blazer back. He teamed up with Jeff Jarrett. Then Owen made a show of quitting the WWF. As soon as he quit the Blue Blazer appeared. This Blue Blazer was an over the top heel. It was a comic angle. Hart denied being the Blue Blazer and Jeff Jarrett dressed up as the Blue Blazer so that Hart could stand next to him and deny being Blue Blazer. The pair won and then lost the Tag Team title in 1999. They remained a team until the Owen Hart death.

6 months before his death: Owen Hart as The Blue Blazer taking on Taka Michinoku on an episode of the short lived Shotgun Saturday Night (November 28, 1998)

Owen Hart Death

The Owen Hart death was one of the most shocking in professional wrestling history. It happened on May 23, 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri. Hart was taking part in the Over the Edge PPV, scheduled to face The Godfather for the Intercontinental Championship. At the time, he was wrestling under The Blue Blazer gimmick.

The plan called for the Blue Blazer to make a dramatic entrance to the ring from the rafters. He was expected to release himself from the safety harness when he was just above the ring. The Blazer would then get tangled in the harness and fall flat on his face, amusing the crowd. This move required the use of a quick release mechanism on the harness. Hart had performed a similar stunt before.

Following the night of Owen Hart’s death, the WWF pays tribute with a special edition of Raw (May 24, 1999)

Tragically, there was a problem with quick release mechanism. It opened too early and Owen fell to his death. Television viewers of the match did not see the fall. A pre-taped video was being shown on television and on the monitors that the crowd in the arena were watching so the majority of the audience did not see Owen fall.

owen hart fall

Owen Hart is tended to by medical professionals after an accidental fall from the rafters. photo: reddit.com

Commentators Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler told everyone watching that the stunt was not a scripted angle. Hart was brought to the Truman Medical Center where, after attempts to bring him back failed, he was pronounced dead. The cause of death was blunt force trauma and internal bleeding.

The Owen Hart death caused immediate controversy. The decision to continue the show after he was brought to the hospital was debated. Many of the wrestlers waiting to go on, including The Rock, were friends of Owen’s. They described the confusion that took place just after Hart fell. They also described their own shock and grief. The Rock stated that he wanted to go to his friend’s side in the ring but couldn’t. There was concern it would make the accident seem like part of an angle.

Hart’s widow firmly believes continuing the show was wrong and not what Owen would have wanted. The Owen Hart death continues to be discussed and the response to it debated to this day.

Owen Hart Grave

Owen Hart’s grave is located at the Queens Park Cemetery and Mausoleum in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The plot is located at Section I, Block 25, Plot 17.

owen hart grave

Owen Hart’s grave in Queens Park Cemetery and Mausoleum in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. photo: unknown

owen hart memorial bench

Owen Hart memorial bench at the Queens Park Cemetery and Mausoleum in Calgary. photo: Greg Chard

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