The Tragic Death Of Owen Hart

The timeline of events below are taken from the archives of and Wrestling-Online Newsletter. All information was accurate at time of the date stamps below.

Timeline of story: 05/23/1999 to 10/01/2003.

Sunday, May 23, 1999

҂ 18,000 witnesses in the Kemper Arena and what exactly happened is still not known and we may never know. The WWF’s ‘super hero’ is now looking down on all of us, checking if we’re ‘saying our prayers, eating our vitamins, and drinking our milk’. “This is not a wrestling angle, this was not planned, this is real life,” claimed Jim Ross from the announce table. Owen Hart fell to his death from the rafters of the Kemper Arena right before his match at the Over The Edge pay-per-view. Hart was scheduled to repel down for a spectacular entrance however something terribly wrong occurred which led Owen to fall from the secure rope from an estimated height of 70 feet. TV viewers did not see the accident as a promo video was being aired at the time. Owen Hart, 33, is survived by his wife Martha, and his 2 small kids. He also left behind brothers and sisters, his parents, and a lot of close friends, who were his family while on the road with the Federation.

҂ While Owen Hart was on the way to the hospital, the rest of the WWF crew continued on with the pay-per-view. Emotions were running high backstage as well as in the ring. During a backstage interview, Debra couldn’t hold her tears and Jeff Jarrett picked up where she left, however he was unable to finish the interview himself. During The Rock / HHH match, The Rock was taunting his opponent, he grabbed the mic and said, “Owen, the Rock loves you.” The two announcers Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross tried their best to continue on as if nothing happened, but obviously you could hear the difference in their lack of enthusiasm on the microphone. Even ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin didn’t look so stone cold at all in the main event.

҂ A very emotional Vince McMahon gave a press conference right after the pay-per-view ended but only made a statement and refrained from answering any questions from those in attendance. McMahon said that it was not known if the cable that was holding Owen just gave away or Owen released himself accidentally. McMahon said that hopefully more answers will be given during the RAW Is WAR show from St Louis. “We in the World Wrestling Federation are saddened by the tragic accident that occurred here tonight. We send our condolences and sympathy to Owen Hart’s family; his wife, Martha; and their two very young children. We don’t have any answer as to why this happened….There is an ongoing investigation”, said the WWF owner.

Monday, May 24, 1999

҂ Staff from the Kansas City Star newspaper were covering the event at the arena when the incident happened and acted quickly to get reaction from the fans who where at the show. “We thought it was a doll at first,” said 15-year-old Robert McCome. “We thought they were just playing with us. We were really shocked when we found out that it was no joke.” Shawn Gaitan, 24, who brought his 7-year-old nephew to the event, said: “I think it’s really messed up that they kept on with the show. They could at least told us what was going on. We worry just like the other people worry.” Gaitan said he saw Owen flying through the air; his head hit a turnbuckle and snapped back.

҂ Paramedics who rushed to ringside to help Owen after the fall gave the former Intercontinental champion CPR, hoping that it would somehow save his life. “We gave him CPR in the ring. He was a trauma code,” said Michelle Hindorff, a paramedic and one of the first responders in the ring. The efforts by everyone in the ring however were not enough to save Owen’s life who dropped from an estimated 70 feet up. Owen suffered a severe head trauma from hitting his head on the turnbuckle, and suffered a broken neck from the impact, which is most likely the cause of his death.

҂ Several news outlets across the nation picked up the story of Owen Hart’s death at the Over The Edge pay-per-view. Kris Alvarenga, from Los Angeles, CA., said that the news was all over their TV channels. “Channel 4, our NBC station, showed three pictures of Owen; picture one was of the ring, and about 7 paramedics inside. You can see Owen’s head, his eyes closed, and what appeared to be a bloody nose, as he was strapped to the board, Jerry Lawler has his back to the camera, and one paramedic seemed to be working on top of Owen”. He continued, “Picture two was of Owen being removed out of the ring. You cannot see his head, however you can see his torso. This was the most saddest of the three photos for me personally because you clearly saw his left arm and it was hanging limp as the board was sliding under the bottom rope…and picture three was a shot of two referees, one bending down attending to something, the other ref with his arms on top of his head in disbelief.”

҂ The death of the youngest son of the Hart family was a major blow to parents Stu and Helen. “I can’t believe my Owen is gone,” said Helen Hart while talking to the Calgary Sun. “I used to have nightmares about one of my sons getting crippled from wrestling, but not this. I can’t believe it. He was my little baby, so clever and fun,” she continued. “He was the light of our lives.” Stu Hart also had some comments to do. “He was a great son,” said his dad. “I have eight boys and they’re all great, but Owen was just a wonderful fellow. Anything he wanted, he went out and got. To me, he had to be the favorite among all his brothers and sisters. They all loved him dearly. As a wrestler, he loved to work hard to please the promoters and the crowds. He took pride in showing his reliability in making wrestling a career.” He added, “He spent his time in the WWF being quite serious about his career.” Commenting on the stunt he had to perform yesterday, he said “I know they’ve done it before, but Owen was a pretty careful athlete. He doesn’t take unnecessary risks or chances,” said Stu. “You know all my kids wrestled, but it was something Owen loved from the start,” said Stu. “I remember seeing him as a teen put on unequaled bouts beating men who weighed over 200 lbs. He wanted to follow the footsteps of me and his brothers. He wanted to be the best he could. I know he achieved what he wanted. But even more than what he did in the ring, you knew what Owen was about by the fact he had no real enemies. He was everyone’s friend and a good family man. I couldn’t be more proud of a son.”

҂ CNN.COM as well as CNN Television covered the tragedy that happened yesterday in Kansas City where Owen Hart fell to his death in front of 18,000 fans at the Kemper Arena during the Over The Edge pay-per-view. WWF President Vince McMahon – eyes filling with tears – told CNN that Owen’s untimely death “had provoked grief among the team.” It is still unclear what happened as some say that the cable snapped while others said it appeared Hart was somehow disconnected from it. Owen’s head snapped backward when he hit a turnbuckle and was given CPR inside the ring. The wrestler was pronounced dead at a hospital.

҂ WCW wrestler ‘Lionheart’ Chris Jericho – a friend of the Harts – has posted an official statement on his website regarding the death of Owen. “I’m not going to get into the details of this accident as I really don’t care to know them, all I know is that a friend is gone. Never mind the fact that Owen was a great guy. Never mind the fact that Owen was one of the greatest wrestlers the world has ever seen. Never mind the fact that he was one of the reasons I wanted to become a wrestler. Never mind that I went to the Hart Bros Pro Wrestling camp, in hopes of meeting and training with him. All that matters is that Owen Hart is gone, never to entertain or make us smile again. This was a terrible senseless accident and it puts everything into perspective. Contract disputes, minor injuries, lack of a push, don’t mean squat when you compare them to a family who will never see their father again. God bless you Owen Hart. I know I will always respect and never forget you.”

҂ Current WCW Champion Kevin Nash also had some words about Sunday’s tragedy. “My deepest condolences to Owen’s wife Martha, his children and the entire Hart family. I know, if you talk to every wrestler in the business, no one would have anything but praise for the type of person Owen was. Owen was a friend. I spent almost 4 years with Owen in the WWF. No matter how long the road trips were, it seems as though, right when everyone was about to crack, Owen would pull a rib or some type of practical joke. And then we’d all regain our sanity. Wrestling aside, Owen probably was one of the best human beings I have ever met. I know his family meant everything to him. I can only imagine the grief they are going through right now.”

Tuesday, May 25, 1999

҂ RAW Is WAR was transformed in a tribute to the late Owen Hart yesterday as wrestlers and officials wore black bands which read either “Owen Hart” or “OH” throughout the show. A 10 bell salute kicked off the show with the whole roster on top of the RAW ramp. Wrestlers were told that they don’t need to wrestle if they don’t feel like it. Taped segments from various WWE Superstars and officials highlighted the show as each of them spoke candidly about Owen Hart. The show finished with Stone Cold Steve Austin popping a beer as Owen’s tribute image displayed on the Titan Tron in the background.

҂ Despite wrestling for the competition, World Championship Wrestling held a tribute to Owen Hart both on their WCW.COM website and as well on Monday Nitro. “We are shocked and saddened by this terrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bret Hart and the entire Hart family,” read the statement on WCW.COM. During Nitro, a 3 ring bell salute was done before the show started, and some wrestlers even put a black armband to show respect.

҂ Bret Hart, his mother Helen and Owen’s wife Martha were all on the morning edition of the Today Show on NBC this morning. While Bret did most of the talking, his mom and Martha spent the whole time pretty much crying. Bret said that Owen hated the Blue Blazer gimmick and feels that the stunt they did on the PPV was a way to “get their ratings up.” Owen’s wife Martha revealed how Owen told her that he didn’t want to do the stunt and she didn’t want him to be in that position either.

҂ A private family service will be held at McInnis & Holloway’s “Park Memorial Chapel” on Monday, May 31st at 11:00AM. Everyone is welcome to gather around the Funeral Home to pay tribute to Owen Hart, but services inside the Chapel are private.

Wednesday, May 26, 1999

҂ RAW Is WAR had monster ratings for the Owen Hart tribute show on Monday. The first hour did a 7.2 while the second did a 7.1 for a composite rating of 7.15. Nitro’s first hour got a 4.4, the second hour a 3.6 and the third hour a 3.4 for a composite of 3.5.

҂ The family of Owen Hart decided that any donation in the memory of him should be sent to the Alberta Children’s Hospital. The Calgary Sun is reporting that tons of people called for more information. “I’ve gotten calls from Petersburg, Florida and Quebec,” said Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation administrator Gail Slater. “This could go on for weeks and months, even.” An announcement on the WWE website as well as on RAW encouraged fans to send their donations to the city’s hospital. The Hart-hospital relationship dates back to 1996 when Matthew Annis, the 13-year-old grandson of legend Stu Hart, succumbed to the so-called flesh eating disease. Owen’s wife, Martha said, “Owen was always supportive of the children’s hospital – it’s something we can never afford to lose.”

҂ Owen’s former tag team partner and brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith the British Bulldog said that he will make a comeback to the squared circle in memory of Owen. The Bulldog revealed that recently he was asked by Owen to get back to the ring and revive their tag team. “He wanted me to go back, so I’ll try my hardest to fulfil his wish,” said Smith, who is still recovering from a serious injury suffered during a bungled trap door stunt in a WCW ring last September. “He was like a brother to me – we stayed in the same rooms, we drove, flew and ate together,” he told the Calgary Sun. “I was tagged-teamed with Owen longer than anyone within the federation.”

Thursday, May 27, 1999

҂ New reports are suggesting that Owen’s fall from the top of the Kemper Arena might have been caused by his feathered costume catching on his release cord, authorities said. Police spokesman Floyd Mitchell said that at this point in time it is believed that his quick release was activated either by being tangled in his costume or by Owen pulling it by mistake. His harness was attached to the rope with a metal ring. He had a release mechanism similar to a parachute release. Hart was supposed to pull on it when he was just above the mat and drop into the ring.

҂ Results from the autopsy on Owen Hart indicate that a chest trauma was the cause of death. Owen fell from 70 feet above head first and landed on his chest on one of the turnbuckles and then bounced inside the ring. Although he didn’t die on impact, he passed away while he was en-route to a local hospital.

Monday, May 31, 1999

҂ Thousands of fans and many wrestlers from WWF and WCW said their final goodbyes to Owen Hart this morning in Calgary. Three huge buses with signs “Owen You Will Always Be In Our Hearts” carried former wrestling partners of Hart. Nine police officers on motorcycles escorted the Hart family who arrived in several cars. Hollywood Hogan arrived in a white limousine. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and his wife Colleen were invited to the funeral. Also invited was country music singer Colin Raye. The pallbearers were the brothers of Owen, Keith, Ross, Wayne, Bruce, Smith and Bret. Although there were thousands of fans for the ceremony, the open-casket service was invitation-only because the chapel seats 300 people only. Not a lot WCW superstars attended, due to no permission from the federation. Vince McMahon paid all the flight tickets to his employees to fly to Canada for the funeral.

҂ Former heavyweight champion Hollywood Hogan this morning attended the Owen Hart funeral along with several other wrestlers in Calgary. “Hopefully something good will happen, wrestling’s gotten way too over the top”, commented Hogan. “Ted Turner won’t let us do all the crotch grabbing stuff”, he continued. In regards to Vince McMahon, he said “I hope he learns a lesson from this horrible accident, he has a good heart – I hope he follows his heart.”

Tuesday, June 1, 1999

҂ Yesterday morning tons of wrestling fans, along with wrestling superstars joined the Hart family and friends in saluting Owen Hart for the last time, in Calgary Canada. People like Hollywood Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, Chris Benoit, The Undertaker etc all were present for the ceremony. Rick Bell of the Calgary Sun newspaper tried to have a small interview with WWF owner Vince McMahon. “Don’t say I have no comment. Don’t tell the people I said that because I didn’t. I have a lot to say and I will say it. I promise you that. But this is not the time to do it. Not now. Not today. I’m not here for that. Give me a few days. Give me to the end of the week. Then we’ll talk,” he said.

҂ “I’m a very forgiving person and I’m not bitter or angry, but there will be a day of reckoning. This is my final promise to Owen, and I won’t let him down.” Those are the exact words Martha Hart said yesterday morning during the funeral of her late husband Owen. Many people are blaming Vince McMahon for what happened to the Canadian wrestler, but no one can blame anyone before all the facts are in. “Whoever is responsible for what happened to Owen will be held accountable,” brother Bret said. Both Bret and Martha appeared on Larry King Live yesterday for a 7 minute segment. She again said that the day of reckoning will come. The legendary host asked if she can further explain what she means, but Martha said that authorities wouldn’t let her, and has no comment about her quote. It’s very interesting to say that the coordinator for last Sunday’s stunt with Owen Hart, is the same coordinator that helps Sting whenever he comes down for the rafters.

Wednesday, June 2, 1999

҂ Last Monday on RAW, the WWF showed footage of the Owen Hart funeral, and according to Martha Hart, they showed it against her wishes. Martha talked to WWF owner Vince McMahon directly several times, and asked him repeatedly not to show any footage from the funeral. “I feel exploited and violated by it, I was completely repulsed by it,” said Hart to the Calgary Sun yesterday. “I said it because I dislike their show and (airing funeral footage) is self-serving,” continued Martha. “Not only did they disrespect me, they didn’t care. Now there’s nothing I can do.” Martha continued to say to the Calgary Sun that there was a big heart with “Owen Hart” written on it, and it had the WWF logo on the side. Martha said she was disgusted and told them to get rid of it. “The WWF should be totally denounced for what they did,” she said. “Owen was not a tacky, sleazy wrestler and I didn’t want the footage aired on a WWF show.” She clearly stated “It’s like war.” She added that Vince McMahon didn’t pay for Owen Hart’s funeral, but she did.

Saturday, June 5, 1999

҂ Vince McMahon replied to Marta Hart’s comments that were published on the Calgary Sun. The statement reads, “For the record, giving Martha Hart the benefit of the doubt in her time of grieving, I spoke to Martha after the death of Owen on approximately five occasions. At no time during any conversations did she ask me not to show footage from Owen’s funeral. However, in fairness to Martha, she did indicate to Carl DeMarco (President of Titan Promotions Canada, and, longtime Hart family friend) at one time, that she would prefer that the World Wrestling Federation not show the funeral footage. However, in a subsequent conversation, DeMarco explained to Martha that since she invited all other media to the funeral services and even to the burial, it would only be appropriate that the WWF show footage of Owen’s funeral so that Owen’s fans could say goodbye. Giving Martha Hart the benefit of the doubt, she may have forgotten that she changed her mind and addressed the situation with DeMarco and not me. I don’t know why Mrs. Hart would publicly raise the issue of who paid for Owen’s funeral. It was the WWF’s expressed intention to Rob Wintonick of the McInnis and Holloway Funeral Home to pay for all funeral expenses. However, unbeknown to us, Mrs. Hart directed the funeral home that she would pay certain expenses. Incidentally, the WWF also paid for items such as: Limousine services, transportation of the body, flowers, service folders, video screen, public address system, buses, signage for buses, arm bands, catering, housekeeping, lawn cleanup, ladies and men’s clothing, sunglasses, hairdressing, obituaries, a Canadian flag. The WWF also paid US $152,200 for transportation expenses for WWF talent and personnel. Also, your article stated that Mrs. Hart instructed our flowers to be removed from the funeral home. Enclosed please find a rendering from our creative department to the local florist. In the funeral home, our flowers were indeed present. However, the WWF logo had been removed and Owen’s initials, OH, stood in its place. I can only assume this was at Mrs. Hart’s request. It is unfortunate that Mrs. Hart feels violated in any way, although her grief, which we share, is understandable. Out of respect for Owen and the wonderful human being that he was, I do not want to engage Martha Hart’s allegations in a public forum. I simply am writing so that you will have the facts. – Vince McMahon, Chairman, World Wrestling Federation”

Saturday, June 12, 1999

҂ We were expecting this to happen any moment. The Hart Family will launch a multi million dollar lawsuit against WWF owner Vince McMahon and his company next week. 4 lawyers are representing the Harts, including Pamela Fischer of Pipella and Co. “There will be a worldwide press conference on Tuesday in Kansas City,” she explained. Contacted by the Toronto Sun staff, Vince McMahon said, “I don’t know anything about it, I’m not going to engage Martha, it’s such a sensitive subject.” In the meantime criminal investigations are still going on, and could bring a charge of involuntary manslaughter under Missouri law. Maj. Gregory Mills of the Kansas City Police Department said, “I have some concerns that the material was the right stuff to use to lower a (large) man.” Of course, to press charges, investigators must provide enough evidence to prosecutors, and all evidence must point to one person. “We also need to find out who decided to use that equipment and why,” continued Mills. According to a crime lab in Kansas City, Owen Hart fell at a speed of 80km/h, hitting the turnbuckle.

Monday, November 8, 1999

҂ After months of fights, the Owen Hart case between the World Wrestling Federation and the Hart family is finally settled, and the motion was confirmed yesterday by a Missouri judge. Calgary Sun reporter Eric Francis reports that as soon everything was confirmed, Martha Hart took her two children to the same arena where Owen Hart died in May of 1999. “I wanted them to see where their father died because over the years I didn’t want them to look back and have any questions unanswered,” said Martha with tears in her eyes.

Monday, May 28, 2001

҂ Rumors have been spreading around that the Canadian legend Stu Hart will be appearing on RAW Is WAR tonight which is live from Calgary, Alberta Canada. The once strong relationship between the Harts and the WWF went to pieces when Owen Hart died in the ring on May of 99 live on pay-per-view. Now that the settlement lawsuit has been cleared, it’s hoped that the relationship between the two will once again be successful. Several sources are reporting that WWF will be honoring Hart tonight on the broadcast if everything goes fine between the two parties.

҂ The rumored appearance of Stu Hart on WWF TV tonight on RAW Is WAR has bothered a Hart family member, Martha, the wife of the late Owen Hart. “If anyone from the Hart family were to go to the show it would be disrespectful and disgusting,” said Martha in the Calgary Sun which was re-printed online at SLAM! Wrestling. Smith Hart said he would be at ringside, while father Stu who in the article said he still hasn’t been invited said, “I haven’t been officially invited yet, if he wants me to be introduced…I’d say, ‘please, Vince, if you get a chance, just for old times’ sake, give me a plug.'” Also in the article, Martha said that she talked to Bret to see if he will be a part of it too, and Bret said he would never have anything to do with the WWF again.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

҂ WWE, Inc., was given a green light to sue Lewmar Inc., – makers of the trigger-latch shackle used in Owen Hart’s stunt – after a Missouri judge ruled that the Harts and attorneys Robb & Robb engaged in fraud during the trial. Martha Hart dismissed Lewmar Inc., and others from the lawsuit after she wanted that only WWE pay the price for what happened to her husband during the then-WWF pay-per-view in 1999. The Judge said that there is enough evidence that shows the Robb & Robb attorney firm and their client – in this case the Hart family – “‘engaged in fraud, collusion and/or tortuous conduct’ in connection with a settlement that was reached with one of the defendants.” A trial is set for September pitting WWE vs Lewmar Inc., and WWE can ask for part or the full amount of the settlement which was $18 million. Lewmar has nearly $50 million in liability insurance coverage but one of Hart’s attorneys said that even if they had $1 billion in insurance, Martha didn’t want a nickel from them, she wanted only money from WWE as she felt they were the only people responsible.

Monday, September 8, 2003

҂ The Business Journal newspaper in Kansas City is running a story about the WWE lawsuit against Lewmar Inc., the British-based company makers of the trigger-latch shackle that was the cause of Owen Hart’s death in May of 1999. Even though WWE settled with the Hart family outside court for a total of $18 million, the case got a twist and the judge gave the green light for WWE to sue Lewmar, who were cleared from any wrongdoing by Martha Hart. WWE are looking for the same sum of $18 million from Lewmar. Case is expected to last up till five weeks.

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

҂ The Kansas City Star has an article online regarding the WWE lawsuit against Lewmar Inc., whose trial started yesterday. Sixteen jurors with four alternates will be deciding if Lewmar should be held responsible for the death of Owen Hart. Local attorney Craig O’Dear from Bryan Cave LLP is representing World Wrestling Entertainment in this case. “The evidence will show that it was defectively designed and defectively manufactured,” he said in the opening statements.

Wednesday, October 1, 2003

҂ The final chapter in the death of Owen Hart was closed yesterday as World Wrestling Entertainment and Lewmar, Inc., – makers of the harness and equipment which was used on Owen Hart in 1999 – reached a deal and settled out of court. The judge placed a gag order on both parties to keep them from talking about the settlement in public. Jurors interviewed outside the courthouse said that they called for Lewmar to pay WWE $9 million, half of what WWE paid to the Hart family to settle their case. After the case was over, jurors got their checks from the judge and met with the lawyers of both parties before posing for some pictures. One of the jurors was later seen getting an autograph from Linda McMahon, who was present during the whole trial as WWE’s corporate representative.

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