Harts blame ratings
CALGARY (CP) -- The family of Canadian wrestling star Owen Hart is blaming his fatal fall during a pay-per-view show on the ratings war between the World Wrestling Federation and its rival World Championship Wrestling.
"Frankly, wrestling was getting so far out and my poor brother Owen was a sacrifice for the ratings, that's how I look at it," sister Ellie Hart said Monday.
"They kept on getting more and more far out with the gimmicks and angles. . . . We figured sooner or later somebody was going to end up with a tragedy because of the direction wrestling was taking with both WWF and WCW."
Owen Hart, who had wrestled professionally since 1986, plunged at least five storeys -- some reports said the fall was from 27 metres or nine storeys --
to his death as he was being lowered by cable into the ring from a ceiling catwalk in Kemper Arena in Kansas City.
Homicide detectives on Monday were inspecting the rigging that was to lower Hart and talking to the stagehands to determine what went wrong, police spokesman Floyd Mitchell said.
Mitchell said the cable did not break, and detectives believe something went wrong when Hart's harness was being hitched to the cable.
WWF president Vince McMahon said he believes Hart may have accidentally pulled a release mechanism.
Hart, 33, was performing in the guise of the Blue Blazer, a good guy comic book-like hero who urged fans to "say your prayers, take your vitamins and drink your milk."
Owen's brother Bret (The Hitman) Hart, a member of WCW, was to have wrestled current heavyweight champion Kevin Nash on Monday night on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but cancelled his appearance and flew home to Calgary to be with his family.
"I think we lost the best one ... He was a much better person than I am," said Bret Hart.
"I certainly don't know if I can carry on (wrestling). It'll be a while before I feel like putting the boots on again."
Owen Hart's descent from the rafters is similar to one performed by WCW wrestler Sting, who is lowered into the ring by a harness system.
"We're all united in our sadness and perhaps even in disgust," Smith Hart, the oldest of the 12 Hart siblings, told CBC's Newsworld. "If this had been pulled off, it would of looked spectacular but it was done by the opposite faction WCW often enough that I don't know what the point of it was.
"I think that in a ratings race my brother's life was inadvertently taken. We feel bad for how such a tragedy like this could have happened. I don't think it was necessary."
McMahon said WWF wrestlers will stop performing the aerial move that killed Hart, but said other stunts will continue.
"Stunts like this are performed at major sporting events on a routine basis in Hollywood," he said. "We compete with Hollywood for entertainment."
The World Wrestling Federation, widely criticized for continuing the show after Hart's fall 40 minutes into the event, paid tribute to Hart during its weekly show Raw is War on Monday night.
About 19,000 occasionally sombre fans attended the show in St. Louis. Tears streamed down the faces of wrestlers, fans, even referees, as 10 bells tolled for Hart while a videotape of his highlights appeared on a huge video screen. Many of the wrestlers wore black armbands with "OH" on them. The crowd chanted, "Owen, Owen."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Owen's family," McMahon said earlier in a statement. "We have to be strong for Owen; he was an extraordinary human being and consummate performer. The highest tribute that we can pay is to go on entertaining the fans he loved so much."
The WWF cancelled plans to replay the event -- which cost $29.95 in Canada -- on pay-per-view today and Thursday and called off live cards scheduled for Peoria, Ill.; Winnipeg; Hamilton; Montreal and Ottawa.
The WWF also removed Hart's bio from its roster of wrestlers on its web site.
Owen Hart's widow, Martha, said her husband had always made sure his actions in the ring would be safe.
"From both of us there was deep concern about safety definitely," she said. "Owen was not a reckless person, he was very careful. I really want to get to the bottom on exactly what happened."
Donnie Abreu, host of the Live Audio Wrestling show on Toronto radio station The Fan 590, said Hart's descent into the ring had been practised earlier in the day.
"It's a stunt that they've done dozens and dozens of times before," said Abreu. "It's one of those things that you think should be safe and he had tested it twice earlier in the afternoon. They had done a couple of dry runs just to make sure everything was working nicely and it was nice and smooth.
"Normally the problem with that stunt is getting unhooked because they take the precautions and hook you up so well when the guy gets into the ring they can't get the harness off and they look kind of silly doing that."
The crowd of 14,000 watched as paramedics worked on him for 15 minutes in the ring. Announcer Jim Ross haltingly told the estimated pay-per-view audience of 400,000 that the fall wasn't faked.
"This is not part of the entertainment tonight. This is as real as real can be here," he said.
An hour later, Ross told viewers Hart had died.
Still, at the time of the accident, many weren't sure it wasn't part of the entertainment.
The previous match, after all, had spilled into the stands, the stadium concourse and a washroom with such props as a chair, table, cookie sheet and fire extinguisher used.
Viewers at home did not see any of the accident, with cameras kept away from the ring. Paramedics gave Owen Hart CPR as he they rushed him from the ring to Truman Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.
There was a 15-minute delay but the event continued.
"It was the only thing that disturbed us," said Ellie Hart, 44. "We never did get any answers about that. When my dad spoke with Vince last night and he never really gave us any explanation.
"We just assumed they would stop the show if it was as serious as it was, when they didn't we all wondered why that didn't happen. I know my brother Owen, being the kind of person he was, would have wanted Vince to continue. That's the nature of wrestling but I think it was something that should've been stopped."
Some fans in attendance also thought the event should have been cancelled.
"It was disgusting," Kevin Brice of Blue Springs, Mo., told the Kansas City Star.
"For kids to see that, for this to be so-called family entertainment, for them to continue on as if nothing has happen, is just sad," added Brice, who left the show with his 12-year-old nephew and 10-year-old daughter.
"I think they should have stopped the show out of respect for Owen," said Richard Lisenbee of Kansas City. He left with his five-year-old son, Zane.
The Hart family is regarded as legendary among professional ranks. Hart's father, Stu Hart, represented Canada in the Olympics in the 1940s and has tutored many of today's top stars.
Owen Hart also has two brothers-in-law in the ring: Jim (The Anvil) Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith.