In the final episode of the Dark Side of the Ring series, we hit a subject that is close to the hearts and souls of anybody who has ever watched wrestling – the sad, untimely passing of Owen Hart.
As most will know, Hart died during a then-WWF pay per view as he was meant to be rappelling into the ring on a secure cable. However, there was a mishap and he fell over 80 feet to the canvas below.
This episode speaks to his family and his colleagues and looks into how this shocking event happened.
Let’s take a look and see what we learned during Dark Side of the Ring: The Final Days of Owen Hart.
A Family Man
Owen Hart was a prodigy. The youngest of 12 born into the legendary Hart family and he took to the craft like very few others ever could. A pioneer, Owen was high flying and pulling off the highest level of technical manoeuvres from very early on in his career.
However, while brother Bret planned to spend his entire life dedicated to the industry, Owen saw it as a means to an end to provide himself and his family with a great life. Once his children were born, Owen’s desire to leave the business behind grew exponentially as the schedule was so demanding.
He would spend ten days on the road, before being back for three, but always put his family first.
Owen didn’t dream of living a superstar life, even though he was one. He wanted to spend quality time with his wife and children, rather than entertaining his adoring fans.
Owen’s Attitude Era
Let’s be honest, the Attitude Era was not built to accommodate somebody like Owen Hart. Owen was a faithful family man and had no interest in being involved in a storyline where he was supposedly having an affair.
He was pitched a number of ideas, but as a man of morals, declined them. While Owen had a great personality, he was not brash like so many of the stars we came to love during the late 90s.
This created a problem for him and with frustration building at his character direction, he finally accepted bringing back his old persona, The Blue Blazer.
As JR said – Why would you put a man with Owen Hart’s talents under a mask?
It’s embarrassing to know that the company had zero idea of what to do with a man of Owen Hart’s quality.
The Day Of The Incident
In a weird twist of fate, Owen departed for Kansas City and took his son Oje with him for the ride – something he never normally did. At the airport, he told him to take care of his mum and sister for him.
Colleagues said that Owen didn’t seem himself on the day of the show. Owen was always regarded as a prankster and a friendly guy, but something about him seemed off.
Maybe he was nervous about the stunt, maybe he was growing tired of being away from his family, we can never know.
Owen was asked to do a practice run, but said it was fine as he had done it before. It was at this time that he was told it was a different device to the one he had previously worked with.
The device was a quick release clip to stop Owen getting caught up in the harness as much. It was specifically meant to be used to hold up a sail, not a 240lb man rappelling from 80 feet.
He was told that on the descent, he couldn’t pull a lever on his shoulder as that would release him, but was assured it was safe.
Evidently, this was not true.
The Show Must Go On
The accident put everybody into a state of shock. Nobody could believe their eyes or ears, for obvious reasons, when it happened. JR said it was the worst thing he’s experienced in his entire life.
Nobody backstage knew what was going on until Owen was wheeled to the back. Then it really sunk in how serious this was.
Soon after, JR was told by Kevin Dunn to give an update to the audience. JR was left confused and said he had no updates. Dunn told him that Owen had died, and was “back live in 10, 9, 8…”
When watching the clip of him unveiling the shocking news, you could see he had no time to process it himself and just blurted it out. He had absolutely no time to prepare, largely because Dunn hadn’t played his part in telling him the news quicker.
Vince McMahon gave the call that the show should go on. Whether you believe it should have or not, it did. Both Martha and Bret firmly believe Owen would have not wanted it to, but others have stated in various interviews they think he would have.
In hindsight, it was a poor decision. It hindered a potential police investigation that could have happened immediately after, but with five more matches that had occurred after the accident, and plenty of time passed, it was impossible.
Obviously, Martha was mortified at what had been allowed to happen by inexperienced riggers and the company itself, and filed a lawsuit soon after Owen’s funeral.
The real despicable thing about this ordeal is how Vince McMahon conducted himself. First he tried to move the lawsuit from Missouri to Connecticut, where no punitive damages could be awarded.
Then he sued Martha for a breach of Owen’s contract, as WWE are apparently only allowed to be sued in Connecticut over contract issues, even though that wasn’t what this was.
So Martha had to fight two legal battles at the same time, in Connecticut and Missouri.
To do that is a real low move from the WWE mastermind.
He then, reportedly, worked on turning the Hart family against Martha, and the Hart family allegedly lapped it up, believing that Vince would be good to them if they favoured him. Some members of the family apparently stole legal documents and passed them to Vince, so the defence was prepared for what Martha would throw at them.
After a year-long legal battle, Martha and the children were awarded $18m in a settlement, although Martha claims that’s not what she wanted. She says she wanted justice and accountability.
Rightfully so, Martha and the children say they would never allow WWE to profit off Owen’s name by putting him into the Hall of Fame.
In this episode, you could see how visibly shaken people were to recount the events of May 23rd, 1999.
Jim Cornette shed tears, D-Lo Brown could barely talk about it, Jimmy Korderas was the only person in the ring as it happened, and JR saw it all with his own eyes, alongside Jerry Lawler.
It’s clear the impact that Owen left on his colleagues, his friends and his family was huge, and something that can never be replaced.
Martha now runs the Owen Hart Foundation, while son Oje is a lawyer and daughter Athena has just graduated with a degree in journalism.
This is Owen’s legacy, and it is one that will carry on forever.
The author of this article can be found on Twitter @DRL_1990. Thanks so much for reading!