Mike Johnson is on vacation this week. Below is his 2004 review of The Life and Death of Owen Hart by Owen's widow Martha Hart.
Just days before Martha Hart and her husband, WWF wrestler Owen Hart were scheduled to move into the dream home they designed and had built with their two young children, she found herself without the love she had known since before graduation and flung into a world of lawsuits, sadness, and the sad reality that the one person she ever loved was never coming home, and at the end of the day, the only thing that mattered was the money involved.
While there is no doubt that Owen's passing after falling from the rafters of the Kemper Arena was the worst day in the history of wrestling, the loss that many fans and Owen's friends felt, none of that measured to the horrific loss felt by Martha. Never a wrestling fan to begin with, Martha now had to navigate the waters of a legal system foreign to her, the knowledge that in her eyes, Owen's employer caused his death, and the grueling challenge of starting her life over.
Once her lawsuits against the WWF and other entities were settled, Hart took to paper to tell her side and she (along with co-author Eric Francis) does a magnificent job of getting across the true horror and sadness of the situation, to the point where there were numerous moments I needed to put the book down out of sheer sadness and anger over the situation.
The book was not created as a means to celebrate the life of Owen Hart. There many passages in Mick Foley's books and the lesser known Bret Hart book that does that. Hopefully Owen's life as a performer will properly be memorialized one day. That day does not come with the release of Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart. This looks at life from the point of view of Martha Hart who recounts her side of a story she never wishes to play a role in, her life and history with Owen from the first time she saw him during a High School athletic meet, being in the wrestling atmosphere at shows when she was not a wrestling fan, the oddness of dealing with the carnival-esque Hart family, her own upbringing and life a wrestling wife and mother who's husband was on the road....and never came home.
This was a book about a father and husband lost, what he meant to those who lost him, and the efforts of his widow to bring those she felt responsible to the light, despite problems from those she feels should have been united by his death, Owen's family. Of course, the reality of it was that a family raised under the spotlight of the wrestling business did exactly what would be expected of such brethren, doing what they could to get themselves over.
The chapter regarding Owen's death is one that makes one feel almost as if they have stepped into a different book altogether immediately. Moving flawlessly from a single person account from Martha's eyes to a minute by minute accounting of Owen's last day, and eventually last moments, the chapter is hard to swallow as you know the end result and there is no changing what is going to happen. That horrible feeling is magnified when you think of the fact that this poor woman lived through the reality of the words you are reading.
Martha Hart writes, "My Owen was gone" and you are flung back into the hellish reality this poor woman was forced to live with.
There are several moments where the book becomes truly surreal and frightening, even for the pro wrestling industry, which only further exposes the true horror and sadness Martha Hart went through. First and most shocking was the disclosure that Owen was not the only performer scheduled to be lowered from the top of the Kemper Arena at Over the Edge, as Max Mini, the Mexican performer was scheduled to become The Blue Blazer's sidekick was going to come down as well. According to Martha, Owen purposely was late for a run of the drop, causing them to delay it until the next night on Raw. Hart's lateness saved Mini's life.
Equally frightening considering the seriousness of Hart's condition after the fall was the fact that the ambulance at the building was not going to travel Hart to the hospital, but instead was going to wait for a second ambulance. This was because the ambulance was booked to be at the building as part of the show and instead would be have to stay stationed. According to the book a number of WWF performers, including The Rock, nearly rioted at the idea including one demanding the ambulance be moved now. Not wanting to deal with the idea of these wrestlers enraged, the call was made to move Owen right then and there. The fact there was ever any doubt at all as to waiting just boggles the mind.
Hart goes into detail with many of the topics regarding the aftermath of Owen's death: her conversation with Vince McMahon where she believes McMahon knew Owen had passed on but didn't tell her, how McMahon didn't contact her again for a long time after the death out of what he claimed was "respect", the lawsuit against the WWF, how poorly planned and executed their hiring of the stunt coordinator was according to her research, the equipment used that was never meant for usage with human beings, and why she included Owen's parents despite knowing it would cause her problems later on, those problems surfacing, the settlement and why she eventually settled, her sadness on how it all amounted to money in the end, Diana Hart's book and why she forced it to be recalled legally, her current feelings on the Hart family and more.
If I could change one thing in the book it woulf be the chapter where Martha discusses Steve Austin's infamous neck injury suffered when Owen dropped him too low for a tombstone piledriver at Summerslam '97 in New Jersey, Martha surmises that the injury was pre-existing and was not caused by Hart's move. While I respect the fact that she is going to protect her late husband (and no one is going to deny the fact that as a performer Owen was without peer, especially before injuries caused him to change his style), Austin indeed suffered a bad injury that night at the hands of Owen. I was there that night. I've seen it on tape countless times. Owen did cause that injury. I can see how there will some who will point out this mistake and a few minor historical errors in the book as a way of eroding Martha Hart's credibility, but this isn't a book about who is right or wrong. This is a book about loss.
I highly recommend the book for those of you who loved Owen Hart as a worker, but to me, the strength of the book is the love story between the two and the love that Martha Hart used to move forward as she tried to overcome the loss of her husband and a legal case against the company she deemed responsible.
Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart can be ordered in the PWInsider Superstore.
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com.