Tragedy In The Hart-Land
#PWHS #Article #Tragedy #HartFamily
Every wrestling fan has dealt with tragedy. Its part of the dark side of the business we love. Since 1985 over 126 wrestlers have died before the age of 65. It's a tough business, the strain and stresses of which can lead to bad choices, drug and alcohol abuse, accidents, and debilitating physical ailments. All of these helped contribute to such a large list of wrestlers who have died young.
As I've mentioned before, I am fascinated by Stu and Helen Hart, their family, their extended family, and anything to do with the Hart family. Because of my love for all things Hart, I've shed many a tear. The Hart family has known more than their share of tragedy, and their pain and loss was shared by the world-including this kid from Long Island.
Stu and Helen had a large family. 12 children, 36 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren to be exact. A large family statistically increases the odds of loss. The first time the Harts were devastated by tragedy was 1990. Dean Hart was the fifth child of Stu and Helen. His family describes him as the best looking of all the Hart children, and full of life; things were never boring when Dean was around. I remember watching Survivor Series 1990 and Roddy Piper, who was providing color commentary mentioned Dean had passed the day before, and that Bret was dedicating his match to Dean. Dean had suffered from Bright's Disease since the late 1980s. He died of kidney disease on November 21, 1990 at the Hart family mansion. His older brother Smith found his body in the upstairs bathroom. I was a small child at the time, but the Hart Foundation was my favorite tag team and that night I said a prayer for Dean.
Tragedy would next strike a young member of the Hart family, Matthew Annis, son of Georgia Hart and B.J. Annis. On July 16, 1996, 13 year old Matthew succumbed to a group A streptococcus bacteria, which had turned into a flesh eating disease. Matthew fought for his life for 12 days at the Children's Hospital in Calgary. A one point he was named the sickest child in Canada. According to Davey Boy Smith, "He was a remarkable kid. He loved wrestling and was going to go on in the family tradition." I was around Matthew's age when he passed and I remember my mom clipping the story out of the paper for me to read. When she handed it to me she was crying because she had just read it. I felt so bad for him and his family; I wrote a letter and sent it to the address the article provided.
A little over a year later the Hart family would lose an honorary member. Brian Pillman was involved in the match that made me go from being a fan to falling in love with pro wrestling. He was trained by Stu, Bruce, and Ross Hart. Pillman cut his teeth in Stampede Wrestling before going to WCW where he had a successful run. In 1996 he was the hottest free agent in wrestling. In June of 1996 he signed the first guaranteed contract in WWF history. I was excited because one of my favorite wrestlers was now going wrestle for my favorite promotion. What made Pillman's arrival even better was shortly after joining, he was aligned with Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, and Jim Neidhart to form an updated Hart Foundation. For me, this was my favorite time in wrestling. My happiness wouldn't last long.
On October 5, 1997, Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room. While Pillman was abusing drugs and alcohol trying to combat the lasting pain of a horrific car accident he was in shortly before signing with the WWF, his actual cause of death was an undetected heart condition, arteriosclerotic heart disease, the same condition that had also led to the death of his father. The next night on Monday Night Raw, Vince McMahon interviewed his widow Melanie. I was heartbroken when I heard Pillman had died and cried throughout the whole episode of Raw. Pillman had been through so much hardship in his life, and despite that, he was so full of life. For him to die the way he did was shocking, and to me, a great injustice.
Shortly after Pillman died the infamous "Montreal Screw Job" occurred. Bret Hart left the WWF in the most acrimonious and negative manner imaginable. This made an already sad period for the Hart family even darker. Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart (both brothers-in-law to the Hart family) would leave the WWF with Bret. This left Owen as the sole member of the Hart family employed by the WWF. The tragic events calmed for awhile. Bret was toiling in WCW, and Owen in the WWF.
In May of 1999, an unthinkable tragedy would tear the Hart family apart. During the Over The Edge Pay-Per-View, Owen performing under his Blue Blazer gimmick, was to descend from the rafters attached to a harness. While adjusting his cape, Owen unintentionally triggered an early release latch on his harness and fell 78 feet landing chest first on the top rope throwing him backwards into the ring. He was rushed to the hospital where several attempts were made to revive him. His injuries were too severe and Owen was pronounced dead.
Owen Hart is to this day my favorite wrestler. I had the pleasure of meeting him and taking pictures with him. My family and I were watching this Pay-Per-View waiting for Owen's match when the camera suddenly panned to the audience. Jim Ross was saying Owen had fallen and was being taken to the hospital. Ross said, "This is not part of the entertainment tonight. This is as real as real can be here." My stomach churned and I felt sick. Then after a few minutes the event continued. I thought if they are continuing with the matches Owen is going to be okay. After awhile the cameras were put on Jim Ross and he delivered words that will forever be seared into my memory:
"Ladies and gentlemen, earlier tonight here in Kansas City, tragedy befell the World Wrestling Federation and all of us. Owen Hart was set to make an entrance from the ceiling, and he fell from the ceiling. I have the unfortunate responsibility to let everyone know that Owen Hart has died. Owen Hart has tragically died from that accident here tonight."
I was crushed. My heart was ripped from my chest and I started screaming and crying. My whole family was in tears. Owen was all that was good about pro wrestling. He was loved by all his co-workers. At a time when morals took a backseat in the business, Owen stuck by his. He was a family man, who saved as much as he could so he could retire faster, and be with his family.
The next night, Monday Night Raw was renamed Raw is Owen. I watched the episode crying the whole time. Fans and wrestlers grieved together. A month after Owen's death, his widow Martha (along with Stu and Helen), sued the WWF. Owen's death and the following lawsuit tore apart the family I cared deeply for. Factions were formed and siblings took sides. Long standing resentments, old wounds and long-buried family feuds came to the view of the public. For the first time, the Hart family was seen as something less than the ideal family in wrestling. For over a year and a half the family was embroiled in a civil war. On November 2, 2000 the Harts and the WWF settled. However, the damage that was done within the family still lingers to this day. Before the family had a chance to get itself together and work towards healing its wounds, another succession of tragedies would strike.
Helen Hart would pass away in November of 2001. She first entered the hospital in September of 2001, feeling groggy and experiencing trouble speaking. She went in and out of a coma in the weeks that followed. The last few years of her life were filled with tragedy and family infighting, which put her through tremendous stress, but ultimately it was complications from diabetes that took the life of the Hart family matriarch. When it comes to describing Helen, Harley Race said it best, "Helen is as fine a lady I have ever met. I started coming here in the 70's for at least 10 Stampede weeks. She did everything possible to make sure my stay here was comfortable. She treated me every bit as nice as a son. There are not enough words to describe her kindness. She was a princess among pirates."
Around this time Diana Hart released her book, "Under the Mat" which painted the family and certain family members in a negative light, creating further friction amongst siblings. Six months after the loss of Helen, in May of 2002, Diana's husband Davey Boy Smith aka The British Bulldog died at the age of 39, after suffering a heart attack. Smith had a well known history with steroids, drug, and alcohol abuse, all which undoubtedly contributed to his early death. I will always remember Davey Boy as a fan favorite who had a great look and a good personality. His greatest matches are a big part of my childhood and it's a shame he isn't around to see what a gifted wrestler his son Harry has become.
In June of 2002, after falling of his bike, Bret Hart suffered a stroke. He suffered paralysis on his left side, requiring months of physical therapy. While he wasn't actively wrestling, the stroke put an end to any chances of a future comeback. Bret made a full recovery, but occasionally experiences emotional imbalances common to stroke survivors.
Stu Hart, the family patriarch would suffer a stroke and pass away on October 16, 2003. He was never the same after the death of his beloved "Tigerbelle" Helen. Stu was a vital figure in the development of pro wrestling, and he leaves behind a rich legacy as a promoter and trainer.
In 2007, Chris Benoit, a Hart family protégé and honorary member of the clan would commit a horrible series of acts-the effects of which still are felt today. Over a three-day period, beginning June 22, 2007, Benoit killed his wife and son before hanging himself. His wife was bound before she was killed, and Benoit's son was drugged and likely unconscious before Benoit strangled him. Benoit then proceeded to hang himself using a weight machine. Upon hearing the news of what Benoit did I began to cry. I felt for his wife, but I mostly felt for his little boy Daniel. Those that were fans of Benoit knew that this innocent child idolized his father. I can't even now find the words to continue talking about this horror.
The Hart family endured what seemed like an endless stream of tragedies. As a fan of theirs, I've suffered right along with them. Over the last few years the siblings have started to coexist peacefully. A new generation of Hart family members are involved in the business and seeing them succeed is now the Hart's main objective. As the years go by this fan looks forward to many more memories. To me, the Harts will always be the best there is, best there was, and the best there ever will be.
Other Articles By John
Unique content strictly for the Professional Wrestling Historical Society.
Tragedy In The Hart-Land.
Author: John-Paul Volino.
Published: November 17, 2014.
Editor: Jimmy Wheeler.
Tragedy In The Hart-Land.
Author: John-Paul Volino.
Published: November 17, 2014.
Editor: Jimmy Wheeler.