Note: If you are a long time reader of this site you have probably read this column before on May 23rd. I originally wrote this column on May 23rd, 2002 and ever since then post it on the anniversary of Owen Hart’s death every year…Ryan Droste
May 23, 1999 is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. For me, it is one of those days where I will always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I found out the news that came to shock me that day. I remember it like it was yesterday in fact…
I remember the WWF Over the Edge pay-per-view event that night was not one I was overly excited about, so I chose not to purchase it. The week before, I had attended WCW Monday Nitro and forgot to tape Raw that night, so I missed the final Raw leading into the PPV. Instead of paying the money to see a PPV I wasn’t really psyched for, I figured that I would just read live results online or something like that to see what was going on.
I believe that same night was the night that one of the big 3 networks (I think it was NBC) aired “The Jesse Ventura Story.” So I watched Sunday Night Heat leading into the PPV, and then switched over to “The Jesse Ventura Story” and checked the internet for “Over the Edge” results on the commercial breaks. It was on one of these commercials breaks that I was checking up on PPV results where I first read a headline that was just the beginning of a very long night.
“Owen Hart severely injured” the headline read. I was shocked when I clicked the headline to read more, and found out that Owen apparently had been dropped from the ceiling of the arena. I hoped and prayed for the best, that hopefully Owen would be alright and that the injuries wouldn’t be too severe. The thought that he might actually die from this didn’t cross my mind. Not Owen. He’ll be alright. I remember running upstairs from my computer downstairs, and telling my dad who was watching TV upstairs that Owen had been severely injured. He thought at first that what I was telling him was just a wrestling angle, and that Owen would be fine. I explained to him that this was for real, that Owen had been accidentally dropped from the roof of the arena but I didn’t know how bad he was injured. My dad is a big wrestling fan as well, so we both hoped that Owen would be alright.
I went back downstairs to the computer to await further updates on Owen’s condition. I sat on the computer, half of me watching “The Jesse Ventura Story”, and the other half of me watching the computer screen refresh, hopeful of an update on Owen. It was less than an hour later when the sad news came about to me, and the severity of what happened that night swept me off my feet. I refreshed the website I was checking to find out that due to injuries suffered from that fatal fall, Owen Hart had passed away at the age of 34.
I was totally shocked. I never dreamed something like this would ever happen to Owen Hart, a man who was one of my favorite wrestlers. Just a short time after learning the sad news, my dad came downstairs to get a can of soda out of the refrigerator. He looked over at me, and with tears in my eyes, I told him that Owen had died. He couldn’t believe it. The first thing he said was “what?!” He was just as shocked as I had been. He came over to look at the computer to read the news for himself, just to be sure it was true. And how true it was.
I scoured the internet for new information on the situation. The one question everyone was asking was “How in the world did this happen?” I was looking all over to figure out the answer.
A couple hours later, I talked to a friend of mine online who was from Kansas City. His older brother had been at the event earlier that night, so I got an eye witness account of what happened at Kemper Arena. I believe my site was one of the first internet sites to post information given from someone who had been in attendance that night with details on the fatal fall, if not the first.
After staying up til the early morning hours searching for information on just how something like this could have happened, I pulled myself out of the computer chair and stumbled into my bedroom. I remember just staring at my WWF PPV Calendar poster on the wall, which had a picture of Owen Hart in the bottom left corner. I remember just staring at Owen on the poster, and how I couldn’t believe that this had happened. I remembered watching Sunday Night Heat where they were talking about his match tonight, and who would have ever thought then that something like this would happen? I remember lying in my bed and just continually staring at that poster on my wall with tears in my eyes. What a night it had been.
When I went to school the next day (I was in 9th grade at the time), I remember walking up to the school staring up at the clouds in the sky thinking that Owen must be up there now. I can still see the sky that morning as if it were yesterday morning. As I walked into school and sat down in the cafeteria where everyone hung out before classes started, I remember hearing one of my best friends say something that caused me to almost punch him out then and there. He was a friend that wasn’t really a wrestling fan, and he would always try to give me a hard time about being a wrestling fan. The first thing that he said to me that morning was “Hey Ryan, did you hear about that wrestler guy getting killed?…pretty funny.” I was shocked that anyone would say something like that. I just replied “No, it’s not funny at all man…” with kind of a sad look on my face still I’m sure. I was mad that he had said this, but also emotionally drained from the long night, so I just kind of sat there after that without saying much. He could tell that I was serious about this, and just kept quiet and didn’t say anything else about it after that.
I remember then in my first hour class, 9th grade US History, another one of my good friends (also not a wrestling fan) coming over to my desk and saying he heard the news that morning. He said that he heard the name “Hart” and immediately thought of me because he knew I liked a wrestler with that name and that I had a website dedicated to him. I told him the Hart he was thinking of was Bret Hart, but this was his younger brother Owen and I was a fan of his as well. My friend just told me he was sorry and walked back over to his desk as class started.
The Raw show dedicated to Owen that night was very emotional. My dad had left early that morning to go out of town, so he wasn’t able to watch it with me so I taped it for him (a tape I still have and will never tape over). I remember just watching all of the wrestlers tell their personal stories of Owen, and I couldn’t help but cry along with them. At the end of the show, when Steve Austin did his tribute to Owen with Owen’s picture on the titantron, I remember tears coming down my cheeks. This is supposed to be professional wrestling and everything is supposed to be staged, but what had happened over the past 24 hours was all too real. After seeing all of the wrestlers wearing the “OWEN” black armbands on Raw, I remember taking a black pen, and writing “OWEN” across the back of my white Nike shoe. He was a wrestler I was never going to forget.
I hadn’t always been an Owen Hart fan. When I was younger, and he was feuding with his old brother, and my favorite wrestler, Bret, I wasn’t all too fond of him. Owen played the heel character so well, I used to get upset about some of the things he would say about Bret. This was, of course, before I got old enough to learn about how the business really operates.
Then, sometime around 1997, I began to learn more about the way wrestling really works. Also around this time, Owen had reunited with his big brother Bret and brother-in-law Davey to form the new Hart Foundation group. I began to look at Owen in a different light. Not as the cowardly heel, because I knew more about the business now and how it worked, but I began to look at him as a great wrestler and a great interview. I was beginning to study matches more now, and I really started to realize just how good “The Rocket” really was.
I remember laughing hysterical at an interview Owen did about his upcoming match with Steve Austin at SummerSlam ’97. The stipulation of the match was supposed to be that the loser had to kiss the winner’s rear end. Well, during the interview, Owen pulled out a package of “Blistex” lip balm and told Austin that he better bring some of this with him to SummerSlam, because he was going to need it when he had to kiss his ass!
I then watched Owen survive in the WWF on his own as the “Lone Hart” when the rest of his family went to WCW after Montreal. I watched him join the Nation of Domination. I watched him all the way to the end when he was teaming up with Jeff Jarrett as “Canadian Country” while at the same secretly portraying his old gimmick as the Blue Blazer. I hoped someday the WWF would finally realize what kind of talent they had in Owen Hart and give him the title that he so richly deserved after all these years, the WWF Title. I knew that Owen could go down as not only one of the best Intercontinental Champions of all time, but also as one of the best WWF Champions the company had ever had. Who knows, maybe it would have happened. But sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Owen Hart passed away that warm spring evening back in 1999, but even now, 9 years later to the day, his memory lives on. I don’t believe that he will soon be forgotten. I’d like to close this column with a quote from an article I wrote back on the night of May 23, 1999…
“Goodbye Owen “The Rocket” Hart. May the Rocket that you are carry you high to the heavens above where you will be forever Immortal.”
Any comments on this article are welcome to be sent to Droste@wrestleview.com. I’d love to hear from you.