I was fast asleep yesterday morning when I heard the repeated vibrating buzz of my phone on the end table next to my bed. After three or four buzzes, I reached through the darkness of my bedroom and lifted the phone from its resting place and clicked it over. The screen was a mixture of text alerts from friends asking me “What happened to “The Anvil?” and a message from the WWE app that read: “Breaking: Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart passes away.
I was wide awake at that point looking for a news story or someone with more information. Quite honestly, I was thrown into a bit of a tailspin. Having lost my own father only a few short months ago, my mind quickly drifted to the emotions the Neidhart children must be experiencing and began comparing them to my own. Of all the wrestlers I loved growing up, Jim Neidhart was one of the few whom I was lucky enough to talk to on more than one occasion. In the game of “wrestling journalism”, our interactions are more limited than one would think. Most of the time, we get a quick interview and move on. There is little acclaim or notoriety, as many people seem to believe. We interview, report our findings and say “thank you for your time” as we move on to the next interview in the same way our subjects often do. In many cases, we are just a face among the many that just so happen to hold recorders and ask wrestler’s a few questions before we part.
Sometime in 2013, I had just lost another friend in the business; Matt Borne, who is better known to the masses as “Doink the Clown”. Matt and I had been working together on some commercials for an agency I owned at the time, and unfortunately, he passed away before our plans could come to fruition. In searching for someone to fill the role, I ended up with the number to Jim Neidhart’s manager and the rest was history. In the few interactions I was able to have with Jim, he was incredibly kind and a bit of a joker. The first conversation we had was a tad awkward as I grew up the ultimate Hart family fanboy, and could not hold in my excitement in telling Jim a story about how at 6 years old I was running a fever of 105 degrees and needed to go to the hospital but refused to go until I saw the Hart Foundation and the Rockers both wrestle on the program I was watching. Somewhere in there, I made a joke about being Nattie’s biggest fan and being “so in love with her” to which Jim was completely quiet and responded with a “What?” which made me think I was lucky enough that he didn’t hear what I said in my rambling. With that, I moved on. As we talked business, there was a point where I repeated something to make sure Jim understood and he said “I heard you. Loud and clear, I understood you as well as when you said you loved my daughter” which he followed up with a hearty laugh. With that joke, the ice was broken and all of my fanboy paranoia faded into two men having a conversation. Jim had been having some personal issues shortly after that, and couldn’t finish our project, but went out of his way to call me and let me know and even sent me some signed pictures completely unprompted. To have those few memories with one of my childhood idols is something I consider to be an amazing gift.
For those of you who never met the man, he was one with many incredible talents. He was a fierce competitor in track and field. He was a former NFL football player who played for both the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. He earned the nickname “The Anvil” courtesy of Stu Hart during his days in Stampede Wrestling as he became a staple in Stu Hart’s promotion following an “Anvil toss” competition, in which he easily won. Following his tenure in Canada, he worked for many notable promotions in the United States such as Georgia Championship Wrestling, Mid-South Wrestling and Championship Wrestling from Florida. He made his was way to the WWE sometime in January of 1985 when Stu Hart sold Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon. After a very short window of competing in singles competition, he and Bret “The Hitman” Hart were paired together as the Hart Foundation and had a legendary run through the early 1990’s as both heels and faces.
In 1991, he was paired with Owen Hart to form the “New Foundation” before his release in 1992. Following his WWE release, he competed in New Japan Pro Wrestling and on the independent circuit before returning to the WWE in 1994 where he teamed up with a heel Owen Hart as an antagonist for the Hart Brothers feud until he was let go again. In 1996, he was hired back and repackaged as “Who”, a terrible gimmick that faded into obscurity fairly quickly. In 1997, he went back to his “Anvil” gimmick and had his last run in the WWE where he competed alongside the rest of the Hart Family in the “Hart Foundation” gimmick where the Hart’s were heels in the United States and faces in their native Canada, which became one of the hottest feuds in the history of sports entertainment. He closed his storied career with a short run in WCW as well as many independent circuit appearances and even scored a victory over Jay Lethal in TNA before officially retiring. Neidhart’s storied career has paved the way for his daughter Natalya who has had a run as both Diva’s and Women’s champion during her time in the WWE. Neidhart and his wife Ellie have sporadically appeared on the WWE reality show “Total Divas” multiple times through the years through periods where he was struggling with addiction and periods where he was sober. It was incredibly good to see “The Anvil” doing so well in the later episodes where he is seen joking around with his family in a comedic light. He also had a very memorable episode of the “Talk is Jericho” podcast alongside his son in law Tyson Kidd, where he told a lot of stories and gave us all an in-depth look at his career. It is important to note that through the ups and downs, Jim Neidhart was always regarded as a caring individual by his friends and peers. Very recently, he has been brought up on the “Something to Wrestle With” podcast hosted by Bruce Prichard and Conrad Thompson where on more than one occasion they make note that “The Anvil” was brought back to WWE so many times due to Vince McMahon and Stu Hart having such a soft spot for him as a person.
It is always unfortunate when we are forced to say goodbye to our heroes. I fell in love with wrestling as a child because to me, it was a game that never ended. No matter what, I could turn on the TV and watch guys like Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart radiating personality before getting into the ring and putting on a show. In pro wrestling, there is no offseason and no waiting period for new material. Sometimes characters would leave, but in my childhood mind, I always knew they would come back. While I still feel that way about the sport itself, it has been years and years of mourning the legends of the past that I grew up adoring. This time we say a farewell to “The Anvil”; a brash bruiser in the ring and a devoted husband and father outside of it. He delighted audiences for years with his powerhouse style, his caring nature and his trademark red goatee and maniacal laugh. Let us all remember him well and keep his family in our thoughts during this time.
You will be missed, Anvil.
Rest in Peace and thank you from the bottom of my heart.