Sometimes it’s amazing what you remember from your past. At other times, it isn’t. Monday morning, 24th May 1999, I woke up, like I did after every WWF Pay-Per-View at the time, very early, around 5.30 am and ran downstairs where a VHS tape had finished recording (yes I get it, I’m old). For all WWE Pay-Per-Views at the time, I’d have to put a VHS tape in and press record when I went to bed around 11 pm and hoped that it recorded the whole show. I’d only find out the next morning if it did. My mum woke up at around the same time and we had a weird but really lovely hour of bonding watching the first hour of WWF shows before she had to get ready for work.
I rewound the tape and fast forwarded until I got to the familiar WWF ‘Attitude’ opening graphics, and they were followed up by a video package highlighting the main feud that had been building between WWF Champion ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and the Undertaker. From memory, I believe Vince and Shane would both be the referees in this match. The show started with a tag team match between D-Lo Brown and Mark Henry facing off against X-Pac and Kane, and this was followed by a fun Hardcore title match between Al Snow and Bob Holly.
What was supposed to happen next was the Godfather going one-on-one with the Blue Blazer. I informed my mum that in the weeks previous to this, that Owen Hart was being accused of being the Blue Blazer, and that I believed he was. We all know what happened next. Seeing JR on screen talking candidly about what had happened, I didn’t quite know how I was feeling. I was a 14-year-old kid, but I can tell you with 100% accuracy that I knew that what was happening at that moment was not part of the story. Ironically, what was happening on my television had already happened hours earlier, but this was before information on the internet was so widely available. My mum thought that this was a storyline at first. She didn’t really understand the concept of being taken out of the ‘moment’ in any facet. Until Jim Ross had the unfortunate responsibility of telling the viewers of the show that Owen had died.
At that point in my young life, I had had very few dealings with death. My ability to process it was very much delayed. Also because the show continued. Whether people believe that or not is another question for another time, but I instantly began reminiscing over Hart’s impact on me as a wrestling fan. By no means am I going to write this and say Owen was the reason I tuned in every week. He wasn’t. But, he invoked an emotional response from me. Every single time. I thought he was a dick when he beat up Jason Sensation after what I considered a spot on impression. I laughed uncontrollably when he told his brother Bret that he ‘kicked his leg out of his leg’. I appreciate that was a botch, but it was funny as hell and it stayed in my memory.
In the UK, during this time, we had to wait until Friday nights to watch RAW. It was always on from 9-11pm. I watched that week, and it’s the tribute show that I’ll never forget. I watched a touching video montage, followed by short matches that were interwoven around candid interviews from the wrestlers and personalities that knew him best. The hardest to watch for me was Jeff Jarrett, who clearly spoke from a close friend’s perspective, and whilst I wasn’t a huge fan of his and Owen’s tag team, I admired his candour at that moment. As the show was coming to an end, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler spoke on commentary about Owen. This was the point that I began to well up. I can still hear JR’s voice now as vividly as I did then, saying “I hope that one day I can be as good a man as him so that I can see him again someday”. Steve Austin then came out to toast Owen as the show ended, and I felt an overwhelming sadness. Not for the character on TV. Owen’s character piqued at a time where I wasn’t watching much wrestling and, when it was, I drawn to other characters on the show. I felt sadness for him, for his immediate family, his brother, his co-workers, and all those whose lives he touched, including mine.
Owen Hart may not have been the biggest character on WWE television, but it is quite clear, 20 years later, that he had the biggest heart. After learning all the things that I have over the years about Owen, about how great of a ribber he was with those in the locker room, how he loved his family more than anything and his love for the business, we will never see another like him. He was forged in the Hart Dungeon as the youngest of twelve kids, he had a huge WrestleMania match against his brother Bret, he accomplished numerous accolades during his career, including two Intercontinental title reigns, four tag team title reigns, and more importantly, a three-time Slammy award winner.
The substance of our lives are not based upon how much money we earn or how successful we are, it is based upon the lives that we touch and the positive influence we have on those around us. Owen Hart may not go down as the greatest of all time from a wrestling or character perspective, but his immeasurable influence on his peers, his fans, and the love he had for his family will make it so his spirit will never be forgotten. It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since that horrific day, but Owen will live on through the wrestling community and those who truly knew him. He’ll always be the BlackHart, he’ll always be the sole survivor, and he may even be a nugget, but he’s our nugget. Continue to rest in power Owen.
All photos and videos courtesy of WWE.com