There are few people in wrestling that have become unconditional golden calves. You name a personality from the vast world of wrestling, and chances are you can think of a witticism, however overplayed, relating to that person’s Achilles heel. Paul Heyman? Con man. Tammy Sytch? Personal wreck. Hulk Hogan? Bald. Vince Russo? Terrible booker. Triple H? Doesn’t job. Goldberg? Didn’t sell. The Rock? Greedy part-timer. John Cena? Bland and corny. Although many of these knee-jerk assessments are subjective, you and a friend could easily play such a word association game well into the night.
[adinserter name=”366 left”]The only joke that one can come up with for the late Owen Hart is of the morbid variety, pertaining to the man’s gruesome 1999 death. While calling Cena corny or Helmsley selfish won’t draw too much resistance, making fun of Owen, whether it’s concerning his ceiling fall or not, tends to draw a forcible response.
The only person in wrestling I know of to be on record as disliking Owen Hart is Konnan. Given that Konnan’s known to be a candid speaker without an urge to sugarcoat, it’s not terribly surprising that ‘K-Dawg’ would have an issue with Hart, even if it does date back a quarter century to Stampede Wrestling.
In death, Hart had become an unquestioned deity in the mind of wrestling fans. Probably in part to the shocking reality that the man all but died before thousands of fans in Kansas City is this status indelible; it’s certainly easier to make even a good-natured crack about a dead wrestler that died ‘off camera’.
Hart’s death actually defines him, and for many fans seems to be among the first things that comes to mind when you think of him. When I think of Big Bossman, I probably think of the cage match with Hogan, or his ridiculous act of stealing the coffin of Big Show’s father before suddenly realizing, oh yeah, he’s dead. And Bossman’s somebody I like. Dying of a heart attack in your home, of course, is different than dropping like a sandbag before a packed crowd in Kemper Arena.
Funny thing is, before Hart died, many of the same people who worked in tandem to construct the man’s legacy altar had forgotten him. Hart was buried in the midcard, working in a go-nowhere team with Jeff Jarrett when he wasn’t hamming it up as The Blue Blazer in feuds with Steve Blackman and The Godfather. Everyone was so distracted by the shock and awe of Attitude Era excess that Hart had been swept under the rug with most other WWE tradition. If you think the nostalgia masturbation is excessive now, you’d love 1999; the diametric opposite.
It no longer mattered that Hart was but five years removed from his legendary encounters with brother Bret, he himself wasting away on the arid dunes of WCW. The breakneck train of blood, swears, breasts, absurdity, and rebellion had no room for “The King of Harts”.
Chances are, had Hart landed safely that night at Over the Edge, or refused the stunt altogether, he would have faded into retirement with his loving family and remained there. When else does Hart come back, to help out buddy Jarrett in 2002 with TNA? A one shot deal with New Japan in some eight-man tag? Against Jericho for a spell in 2009 when Y2J was playing spiteful iconoclast (possibly after Hart’s inducted into the Hall of Fame)?
If Owen Hart lives, he’d be fondly remembered, but not as much as he ended up being in death.
Then again, who knows? Maybe CHIKARA brings in Hart for a weekend for its Trios tournament, and the overgrown children (I mean this solely as a compliment) that go cuckoo for yesterday would watch as he and nephews Teddy and Harry worked as Team Hart Dungeon. Maybe he and Waltman and Tatanka come together as a WWF New Generation reunion. Perhaps a re-emergence with the cult indies starts a wave of genuine, if semi-ironic, Owen Hart fanboyism, cashed in on with Barber Shop Window tees that say “TWO TIME SLAMMY AWARD WINNER” or “I JUST KICKED YOUR LEG OUT OF YOUR LEG”.
Owen Hart working in CHIKARA might mean he slips on the Blue Blazer mask as one of those loving in-jokes that everyone gets, and there’d be nothing ghoulish about it.
Thinking about these possibilities, you realize just how much the wrestling business has changed in the 15 years since Hart’s death. Hart would go from still-young afterthought to probably-revered elder spokesman at age 49 today. Through the Legend’s Deal, we’d get the Owen Hart DVD, one that scorned wife Martha wouldn’t have the power to put a legal kibosh on. Don’t forget the appearances at the Old School Raws, either. You just know he’d pass off one of his Slammys to Natalya for her to brain an opponent with.
For as much as Owen clenched his teeth through “The Ho Train” and Satanic Undertaker rituals and mindless hardcore matches and crotch chops, he’d fit in today with the PG product, as much as we may abhor it at points. If Hart were alive, shame the era wouldn’t have kicked in until after he would most certainly have retired to ‘civilian life’. That’s a medium Hart could’ve certainly made art in.
The bevy of what-if’s take a backseat to the reality that Owen Hart was the subject of wrestling’s most unforgettable death, next to that of fellow Dungeon grad Chris Benoit. Difference is, it’s far easier to slap the angel’s wings on Hart, and the circumstances of death didn’t detract from the man’s life any.
[adinserter name=”366 right”]I’ll never forget Jim Ross’ chilling words, plainly spoken, with a bewilderment that underscored his own disbelief in saying them. That to me is the biggest part of why Hart’s image and legacy are coated with teflon: it’s the first time we as wrestling viewers had the curtain pulled back so sharply, and were shown something too real for our viewing eyes.
That solace we can all take in the loss of Owen Hart is that his absence has made everyone realize just how incredible a man and performer he truly was.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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