The Tragedy of Owen Hart's Unrealized Second Act

With the Dark Side of The Ring finale, the tragic accident that claimed Owen Hart's life robbed him of more than just a wrestling career.

The Tragedy of Owen Hart's Unrealized Second Act

Photo Credit: WWE

On May 23rd, 1999, I did what I always did when a Sunday night wrestling pay-per-view came on. I begged my parents to use their special cable box to watch. That night was then named WWF’s Over The Edge. If you’re a wrestling fan, these men and women personify something larger than life. Our suspension of disbelief becomes enabled when we start veraciously cheering for the hero to conquer the villain. On this particular night, it was Stone Cold Steve Austin somehow beating the odds against the Undertaker with Shane McMahon as the special guest referee.

I didn’t really know tragedy in wrestling at that point. Honestly, did any of us? I vaguely remembered WWF announcing the death of Brian Pillman in October of 1997. That was the extent of it. See, with wrestling, these men and women were our weekly superheroes. These characters left us on a cliffhanger, had us say their catchphrases, and in the ‘Attitude Era’s’ case, got us in trouble. You don’t think of death as a possibility. I mean, our favorite wrestlers can’t die, right? Younger me saw The Undertaker come back from the dead. Stone Cold Steve Austin was thrown in a lake with his ‘Smoking Skull’ belt and showed up the next week. Surely they will grow older as all of our heroes do - but they can’t die….right?

Remember VHS tapes? (I’m assuming half of you reading this are looking at that with a blank stare or an eye roll) One of the wrestling tapes that I played over and over again was Wrestlemania X. That night, Bret Hart had two matches - one against his then younger brother, Owen Hart, and the other against either Yokozuna or Lex Luger for the WWF Title. I played that tape until the film wore down. There was his famous Intercontinental title feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin where he wore the ‘Owen 3:16’ shirt. “The Blackheart.” Two time Slammy Award winner. The Nation of Domination stint. The 1994 King of the Ring win where he proclaimed himself “The King of Harts.” This guy was really good.

The season finale of Vice’s Dark Side of The Ring brought back some memories of that Sunday Night. I remember seeing the confusion after Owen Hart’s tragic accident occurred. I also remember Jim Ross announcing that Owen Hart had passed away and being puzzled that the show was still going. When you’re that young, the consequences of death does not hit you right away. Especially when it comes to the sport of wrestling.

There’s the old saying of ‘the show must go on.’ Perhaps, that shouldn’t have happened here. Martha Hart, widow of Owen Hart expressed her displeasure with that choice. Can you blame her? Owen Hart had given so much to the WWF. 250 days a year. 10-day stints at a time away from his family. He chose to stay after the Montreal Screwjob and his brother Bret left for WCW. Listen, I understand the initial shock. The chance of this type of tragedy happening at a wrestling event is slim. That’s why it’s important to take every precaution possible. Maybe Owen would have wanted to show to go on. With wrestling, there will always be another show and more money to be made. At that point, wrestling matches are inconsequential. These are people.

Given the circumstances shown in the episode with the harness and different crew - I can’t help but feel some anger to a corporation that decided to cut corners on a man that never did that to them. In WCW, we saw Sting decent from the rafters in a harness safely almost every other week to torment the NWO. In 1999, business was good for the WWF. Later in that year, the WWF/E would go public with $251 million revenue. Knowing of Owen’s uncharacteristic trepidation on that day, it makes things all the more eerie and frustrating.

I also remember Monday night after. Monday Night RAW was a somber tribute where wrestlers like Edge, Triple H, and Chyna, Bradshaw, and many others spoke about their memories of Owen. There were consistencies among many of the stories - he made everyone laugh, he was a prankster, he was a friend and made everybody’s life better. Jeff Jarrett, one of Owen’s closest friends said something that stuck with me upon rewatch:

“He did it with integrity. Integrity is few and far between in this business.”

I sit here typing this, I can’t help to think of the '“what ifs.” That’s what us wrestling fans do, right? We fantasy book. Owen Hart was only 34 years old when he passed away. We watch a product where wrestlers into their 50’s are still trying to provide ‘dream match’ scenarios. The ‘Attitude Era’ weighed towards the start of 2000, but the WWE had the likes of Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and Dean Malenko. Think of the matches that could have happened. Stone Cold Steve Austin had gone away for nine months due to neck surgery rehab. I would not be hard-pressed to think that Owen Hart could have been one of the top names during that era along with The Rock, Triple H, and The Undertaker. We look at someone like Chris Jericho who can go to places like New Japan and AEW to reinvent himself. What if, indeed. So young still.

Ahh, but that would be selfish. If the Dark Side of The Ring episode has shown us anything, it’s that Owen Hart was a family man first. Wrestling was only apart of the man, but the man embodied something bigger. As I think back to earlier in the year when Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna was tragically taken in a helicopter accident. Bryant. the ferocious competitor was just beginning to see the beauty of life after basketball. I also see the strength of both Vanessa Bryant and Martha Hart and their children - carrying on their legacies. Rightfully reminding us that there is more to the men than just being athletes.

For Martha, Oje, and Athena, they were the goal. I’m sure the championship belts felt great. Owen never got to see his second act. He will never get to see the ultimate prize he wanted the most. It was the life that he wanted.