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Remembering my brother: Bruce Hart reflects back on the life of his brother Owen on his 35th birthday.

By Bruce Hart: Stampede Wrestling.

      This week marked what would have been my brother Owen's 35th birthday. It's been almost a year since his tragic death from an ill-fated entrance stunt in Kansas City and not a day goes by that I don't think of him. If I may, I'd like to reflect back on the life of an exceptional human being.

     I can still recall quite clearly the day Owen was born, back in May of 1965. I was competing in our school track meet and some kids came running up to me and told me that they'd just heard on the radio that my mom had given birth to her twelfth child, a boy named Owen James. It sounds funny, but I wasn't even aware she was pregnant. We were naturally all excited at the news and when my mother brought Owen home a few days later, we all took to doting on the baby of the family.

     Because Owen was such a great kid, we all like to think we may have had something to do with the way he turned out, myself included. When he was growing up, my dad was quite preoccupied with not only the time consuming responsibilities of running the wrestling promotion and also overseeing a few other businesses, not to mention having to raise his other eleven kids. As a consequence, Owen took to hanging out with me a lot and I became sort of like a combination big brother, surrogate father to him.

     When he was eight, I was breaking into the wrestling business and many a time he would ask if he could tag along on road trips with me. Though he was just a kid, he was always very intuitive and perceptive and we shared many perspectives and great times on the road. He developed a real passion and fascination for the wrestling business and got a first hand glimpse of what the business was really like, from every aspect.

     He got to meet many unique and unforgettable characters, such as Terry and Dory Funk, Harley Race, Andre the Giant, Archie Gouldie, Abdullah the Butcher, King Curtis, Tor Kamata, Sky Low Low, the Bushwhackers, John Foley and the Junkyard Dog, all of whom made lasting impressions on him.

     Many of those guys, I might add, were notorious practical jokers, as were my brothers Dean and Smith and myself, and we were always up to some form of mischief. Owen often partook in ribs himself, even as a kid and got a liberal education in the fine art of "ribbing", as it's called within the wrestling business. Later on, as you probably know, he would became one of the most renowned and accomplished practical jokers in the business.

     Nearly every wrestler that ever came in contact with him, has a story or ten about how Owen caught them off guard with one of his patented prank phone calls, or misguided directives from the office, or room service pounding on your hotel room door at 4 am, or whatever. I'm generally pretty hard to rib, having been a pretty adroit ribber myself, but he completely caught me off guard a few times. He could drive you nuts, but it was always harmless and usually took the edge of what was often a stressful or demoralizing environment and, ultimately, you usually found yourself laughing afterwards.

     By the time Owen was in his early teens, I had become booker for my dad's Stampede Wrestling promotion and, as ever, he always tagged along on road trips and whatnot. I was always bouncing ideas and bizarre angles off him and seeking his perspectives on who should work with whom and whatnot. He was a great sounding board and had an amazing understanding of the business for one so young - one of the things that would make him such a superlative worker later on.

     We had a hell of a crew back then - including: the Dynamite Kid (in his prime), Davey Boy Smith (also in his prime), David Shultz, Duke Myers, Kerry Brown, J. R. Foley, Jim Neidhart, Leo Burk, Bad News Allen, Sandy Scott, Danny Davis, Archie Gouldie, Cedrick Hathaway, Ron Starr, the Cuban Assassin, Mr. Hito, Jerry Morrow and some incredible Japanese and Mexican performers, and Owen would take every opportunity to hang around and learn all he could from them.

     By his mid-teens, he already developed had a better repertoire of moves, counter moves, high spots and aerial maneuvers than most of the top guys in the business and would amaze everyone with his stuff. He used to perform these matches, like a puppet show, with this stuffed monkey and our feisty Siamese cat, Heathcliffe, that had everyone laughing their heads off. He was so tuned in and perceptive, I never had a doubt that he would someday be an awesome worker.

     Things took an unexpected turn in 1984 though, when my father entered into an ill-fated merger with the WWE and closed down the Stampede Wrestling promotion. Owen, among others, was decimated with that turn of events, because he figured that pretty well marked the end of his wrestling aspirations, especially since the WWE was a superheavyweight only promotion back in those days.

     The deal with the WWE however proved to be abortive and my dad decided to re-open Stampede again around the end of 1985. It was an exceedingly tough period, because we had lost almost all of our top guys to the WWE, including Bret, Davey Boy, Dynamite, Shultz, Neidhart and others. As well, it was tough to get the fans back because they were all preoccupied with the WWE, which was then at the very height of Hulkamania, and didn't give a damn about most of our relatively unheralded talent. Stu didn't have much money and many in the family, including my mother, felt there was no way we could succeed, which made for a pretty stressful time.

     Our talent base was pretty sparse, a few long in the tooth veterans with their own agendas, such as Dan Kroffat, several sedentary and anally retentive big slugs and muscleheads, such as Tom Magee, Outhouse Jack, Bill Kazmaier, Steve di Salvo, Rudy Diamond and Dave Barbie and a core of undersized but willing rookies including: Chris Benoit, Benny Bassarab, Phil Lafon, Keichi Yamada (now known as Jushin Liger) and Keio Kawada.

     My dad initially favored letting the vets and big guys take center stage, but by the spring of '86 business was going from bad to worse and my mother wanted Stu to throw in the towel. I spoke to him about maybe pushing the younger, untried guys and he reluctantly agreed that we didn't have much to lose. To that end, Owen, who had been attending the University of Calgary on a wrestling scholarship and was just finishing up his junior year, offered to wrestle for us, at least until his senior year started in September. Though essentially unproven and not that big at the time, I knew he was a dynamite talent who would have an immediate impact and welcomed him with open arms. Within a matter of months, business was booming in Stampede, with Owen as our cornerstone and he was garnering rave reviews everywhere he went. I remember highly regarded guru, Dave Meltzer, of the "Wrestling Observer", raving about him and touting him "the best rookie he had ever seen".

     He may well have been, I can't recall having seen him in a bad match ever. He'd go out against guys of all different backgrounds and styles, including Mike Shaw, Shinya Hashimoto, Bad News Allen, Carl Moffat, Barry Orton, Gama Singh, Jerry Morrow and Hase and have these incredible matches against each and every one of them. For my money, Owen, in the late 80's and the Dynamite Kid, in the early 80's, were probably the two most gifted and compelling workers I ever had the pleasure of watching, and I've seen damn near every great and near great star over the past thirty years.

      He was also one of the easiest guys I ever had to work with, he was always ready, willing and able, a total team player with no delusions of grandeur or self-serving agendas. Never did I have any problems with him, he always set a great example for the others to follow, never bitched about the finishes, whether he was going over or not, or how much time you wanted, or anything else. He was a total and consummate professional, in and out of the ring, the type every successful promotion needs.

      Eventually his reputation spread and when the WWE made him an offer he couldn't refuse in 1989, he chose to head to the big time. We certainly couldn't fault him for his decision, it was a lot more money than we could afford to pay him at the time. Even so, his loyalty and integrity were such that he was quite reluctant to turn his back on us and, unlike others who had left our promotion, he always stayed in touch and did what he could to help our promotion.

      Although he had flashes of sustained brilliance and garnered some excellent reviews with the WWE, I honestly never felt he was ever allowed to approach his true potential down there, which is too damned bad. He was hampered, to a degree, by a couple of pretty bad injuries, which slowed him down and curtailed his ability to do aerial and acrobatic moves as he once had done so brilliantly.

      In addition, I suspect his disdain for all the political machinations, the rampant ass-kissing, stooging, backstabbing and behind the scenes crap was one of the main reasons he never ever got the really strong push he should have. He loved the wrestling end of the business but disdained all the insidious dressing room bull**** which had become so pervasive within the business. Time and time again, it used to bother me that guys with nowhere near his talent were getting the big push while he played second fiddle. No offense to my exalted and more acclaimed brother Bret, but I always thought Owen was more talented, more versatile and more dynamic in every aspect of the game, but never got the same push, which is too bad. I know a lot of others feel the same way, too.

      Because he never did really enjoy the sustained acclaim he really deserved, some unenlightened observers and superficial marks might not rate him that highly or truly appreciate or realize what an incredible talent he really was. Within the ranks of the wrestlers themselves though, that wasn't the case, he was tremendously respected, as a terrific worker and a solid team guy who could work with just about anybody, any style, any place and have an awesome match. As well, he was loved by his peers, something which was reflected by the turnout at his funeral and the sentiments conveyed.

      Unlike so many other a**holes in this business, Owen never developed a big ego or let whatever success he did attain go to his head. Throughout his all too short life, he remained a modest, self-effacing and unaffected guy, never too self-absorbed or important to sign an autograph, appear at a hospital or to brighten up someone's life with a smile or a compliment. He and I remained close all through our lives, he was the best man at my wedding and I was at his. He was one of the nicest and most honest and sincere persons I've ever known, a wonderful brother, father, son and friend to all of us. He represented the best qualities of both of my parents and was a simply wonderful human being. I have the utmost respect for his poor wife Martha and their two children at the strength and dignity they've shown in the face of such a monumental loss.

      Many a time, since the tragedy, I've found myself momentarily forgetting, perhaps wishfully, and I'll say to myself, "I'll have to give Owen a call", or tell my wife, "I'm looking forward to seeing Owen and family at Christmas." and, suddenly, the harsh reality, that he's no longer with us, hits me again, like a ton of bricks. I stop and ponder the enormous void that's been left and what a horrible and senseless tragedy it's been for everyone.

      I miss you and love you, Owen, you enriched and brightened all of our lives with your goodness, your compassion, your brilliance, your infectious personality and your incomparable sense of humor. Rest easy, my friend and brother. God bless.

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