The second season finale of Vice’s Dark Side of the Ring documentary series premieres tonight (May 19). It’s entitled “The Final Days of Owen Hart,” and will cover both the life of the second generation wrestler, and the aftermath of his infamous death at 1999’s WWF Over The Edge PPV.
It was at that show in Kansas City that Hart fell to his death from a line suspended 80 feet above the ring in Kemper Arena. The stunt was part of Owen’s Blue Blazer comedy superhero gimmick. He was to descend from the rafters for his Intercontinental title match against The Godfather, get snagged on the line, then fall a short distance for a laugh. Instead, tragedy struck. After a brief delay where medics treated Hart and transported him to the hospital where he died due to internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma, Vince McMahon decided the show must go on - a decision which is still the subject of controversy to this day, almost 21 years later.
Hart left behind his wife Martha and their two children. Martha sued WWE for wrongful death in Missouri, kicking off a years-long legal battle that eventually ended with an 18 million dollar settlement. Martha has vowed to never let WWE profit off his legacy, which has resulted in a follow-up lawsuit and gaps in the company’s version of wrestling history. The aftermath of Hart’s death has also caused friction between his widow and members of his family - including his older brother, Hall of Famer Bret.
Dark Side of the Ring will be the highest profile project about Owen that Martha has participated in. She’s done a lot of publicity for tonight’s episode, telling her side of the story to outlets ranging from Chris Jericho’s podcast to mainstream sports and entertainment sites like CBS and The Wrap.
The level of attention her statements are getting has also drawn responses from WWE and Bret, as all sides are still attempting to both argue for their versions of events and achieve closure in their own way.
The exchange with WWE chief legal counsel Jerry McDevitt came via Brent Brookhouse’s piece for CBS Sports.
Hart: “First of all, the stunt itself was so negligent. They hired hackers they knew would do anything they wanted when they knew that proper riggers they had hired in the past had told them, ‘We won’t do this kind of stunt, it’s not safe.’ Everything about that stunt was done wrong. The entire set-up was wrong. The equipment was wrong — the harness, for example, was meant for dragging people behind a car. It was a stunt harness, but it wasn’t meant to suspend someone 80 feet above the ground.
“What was happening to Owen when he was sitting in that harness is, his circulation was getting cut off and he couldn’t breathe. Then, the snap shackle that they used, that snap shackle is not meant for rigging humans. It’s meant for the sole use of rigging sailboats. It’s a sailboat clip that, by design, is meant to open on load. By the very design of the stunt, it was meant to fail, because the weight of Owen on that clip actually made it more likely it would open spontaneously.
Proper riggers have a few things they would never do. First, they would never do a stunt without redundancy. That didn’t happen; there was no redundancy. Second, they never, ever, let the talent have any control into the stunt. These guys were telling Owen, ‘This cord taped here, don’t pull it until you get to the ground.’ That would never happen; proper riggers don’t rig things this way. The other thing is, WWE is a billion-dollar company. Owen never questioned his safety. He thought for sure they were hiring people that knew what they were doing. He was putting his life in their hands, and they didn’t care. They didn’t have any regard for Owen’s life whatsoever. They went outside of qualified riggers that had good experience.
McDevitt: “The reality is, we’ve never told our side of the story of what happened — at least not outside of court. We told it in court, but when she talks about the way the lawsuit unfolded over the years, it really isn’t accurate what she’s saying. What she did whenever this happened is, she hired a lawyer in Kansas City who we caught essentially trying to fix the judicial selection process to get a judge that was more to their liking. We caught them and went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Missouri Supreme Court said, ‘No, no, no. We’re not going to let that happen.’ They essentially appointed an independent judge to come in from outside of Kansas City to oversee the proceedings. We were basically trying to find out what happened that night. Martha was not even remotely interested in finding out what happened that night; she just wanted to used it as a vehicle to beat up a business that she didn’t like that her husband was in, the wrestling business.”
Martha says she’s moved on from “the most bitter of her feelings”, but the account of the aftermath she offered Brookhouse reveals some still exist.
Hart: “When Owen died, they scooped him out like a piece of garbage and they paraded wrestlers out to wrestle in a ring that had Owen’s blood, where the boards were broken from Owen’s fall and where the guys could feel the dip in the ring from where he fell. Just that disrespect and lack of respect for a human life that had just been lost. The fact that they didn’t stop the show is just appalling. Vince McMahon was a poor leader, and he failed because that talent was looking for leadership and he failed them.
“There’s always been this talk that, ‘Oh, we want to put Owen in the Hall of Fame. Their Hall of Fame? They don’t even have a Hallway of Fame. It doesn’t exist. There’s nothing. It’s a fake entity. There’s nothing real or tangible. It’s just an event they have to make money. They put it on TV and have a celebration, and it’s just so ridiculous. I would never even entertain it. It’s garbage.”
McDevitt counters some of her version of the events after Owen’s death, but doesn’t get into the decision to continue on with Over The Edge. This discussion does begin to involve the other Harts, which Bret becomes involved with via a different interview.
Hart: “Vince was manipulating Owen’s family, which resulted in some of the family members working against me. The Hart family overall didn’t support the lawsuit, but some worked against me. They stole my legal documents and were faxing them to the defense. It was like they had our whole playbook. They were just muddying the waters because they knew they didn’t have the case. They just muddied the waters and made everything a mess. There was just this nonstop disrespect.”
McDevitt: “Her and her lawyer, in reality, had tried to get the members of the Hart family, Owen’s brothers and sisters, to sign a document in which they would agree to support Martha and her case and they would not talk to WWE. In exchange for that, they were all promised a share of any verdict or settlement, which is highly illegal, completely improper and you can get in big trouble for that. What happened was some of the members of the Hart family were offended by this because they realized this was wrong. ... They knew this was wrong and they faxed me those documents, which I fell out of the chair when I read them. I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. This is completely illegal, you can’t do this stuff.’ All of that was then brought to the attention of the judge in Kansas City.
“She talked about how $18 million settlement, she didn’t really want to do that, she wanted justice. Again, that’s just not true. There was court-ordered mediation. We went to the mediation, and her lawyers were demanding $35 million and some admission of punitive damages. Vince told her right there, ‘Look, Martha, I feel so bad for what happened. I feel responsible because this happened on my watch. I want to take care of you and your family, I loved Owen.’ He was almost crying. We offered $17 million to take care of her. How many times does a CEO walk in a room and say he feels responsible? ‘I’m not going to argue, I just feel responsible for what happened.’ They turned it down; they wanted to go to court for their $35 million. Fine, we’ll go and litigate. The next day, I get a call from her Canadian lawyer, saying they didn’t want to do it because they knew what they were facing with the other things I talked about. They said, ‘If you could put a little more money in. If you can go to $18 million we’ll settle right now.’ That’s how the settlement went down.”
She discussed her relationship with Bret in more depth with The Wrap’s Tony Maglio, and Owen’s older brother responded to those comments.
Martha: “Unfortunately, I have no relationship with Bret.
“Bret was supportive throughout the lawsuit, but there were a few things that were a problem with Bret. First of all, when we were going through the lawsuit, he really was hoping that I would be able to help him get his wrestling footage. Because at the time, he had no relationship with WWE and he was hoping somehow — if we ever had a settlement — that we could work it in.”
“When that didn’t happen, he was very upset that he didn’t get his footage. It prompted him to befriend Vince again so he could have access to his footage. That was the first fracture in our relationship.”
Bret: “While I am not interested in engaging in any more media mudslinging between Martha and myself especially in light of a global pandemic, I will say that our fallout is multifaceted. To say that it only involved being able to access and use my WWE footage and photos for future projects would merely be an oversimplification and inaccurate. I will not comment any further on the matter.”
Dark Side of the Ring has given Martha Hart a voice in her husband’s, and her own, story. She’s using that to raise awareness of the charitable foundation she started in his name, and to give wrestling fans an opportunity to show their love of him and support The Owen Hart Foundation with merchandise being sold via Pro Wrestling Tees.
First Official Owen Hart T-Shirt in 20 Years - All Proceeds Go To The OHF!— The Owen Hart Foundation (@owen_foundation) May 19, 2020
To commemorate Vice Media's Dark Side of the Ring Episode 'Owen Hart's Final Days' the OHF has produced Owen Hart T-shirts with One Hour Tees. Includes a Authenticity Certificate. https://t.co/hcJOAvBgUt pic.twitter.com/sCSKnmo3jV
That’s all good. Unfortunately, if the lead-up to tonight’s episode is any indication, Dark Side of the Ring probably won’t bring closure to most of the issues which still linger around his tragic death.
Dark Side of the Ring: “The Final Days of Owen Hart” debuts tonight, Tues., May 19 on Vice TV at 10 p.m. Eastern.