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  May 25, 1999

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Family skeptical about failed stunt

 CALGARY (CP) -- Owen Hart likely unhooked a harness by accident, causing the pro wrestler to free fall to his death, police said Tuesday.
 But family members remained skeptical about whether the truth around the failed stunt is coming out.
 "It would be very convenient and Owen can't defend himself," Stu Hart said.
 "I would say it would be 50-50 if they would be completely honest. They could be quite deceptive."
 The World Wrestling Federation star plunged nine storeys, head-first, to his death Sunday. He was to be lowered from a catwalk into a ring in front of 18,000 spectators in an arena in Kansas City, Mo.
 Police believe the wrestler's body harness was properly attached to a cable suspended from the ceiling. The harness had a quick-release device so that Hart could free himself from a cable, which was not severed.
 "He was hooked up and ready to go," said Sgt. Patrick Witcher of the Kansas City police.
 "Somehow or another -- whether his hand hit it, whether something on his cape, whether he hit something else and it hit the release lever -- but somehow or another, it popped that loose."
 The family isn't criticizing the police investigation. Stu Hart suggested there's big pressure on the multimillion-dollar World Wrestling Federation to look squeaky clean.
 Federation officials refused to talk about the tragic fall but WWF owner Vince McMahon told Hart the wrestling star's harness was not hooked up when he hit the mat.
 "If they can establish Owen unhooked himself at least everybody is scot-free. Then nobody can point a finger at Vince or the officials for not doing a perfect job," Hart said.
 Owen Hart, 34, was the youngest son born into Calgary's Hart wrestling dynasty. Stu trained all of his eight sons to wrestle in the family basement, known as The Dungeon. Seven went pro. Three of Stu's four daughters married wrestlers.
 In 1948, Stu started what eventually became Stampede Wrestling, attracting rough crowds packed into ice rinks across Western Canada.
 He sometimes took his road show to Alberta's oil fields, where spectators paid $1 to watch wrestlers go at it in a ring plunked in a pit.
 "We had a pretty innocent show," said Ed Whalen, Stampede Wrestling's television announcer for almost 30 years.
 Some bouts drew 12,000 fans until 1988 when, according to Whalen, the WWF lured the Stampede wrestling stars for big bucks.
 Helen Hart didn't like to watch her sons in the ring.
 "I never had much use for wrestling; it was a sham," she said. "Too much of it is hokum and too little of it is actually wrestling."
 Rose Dyson, chairwoman of Canadians Concerned About Violence in Entertainment, also thinks the so-called sport has become outrageous.
 "It's becoming more and more laced with violence and bullying," Dyson said.
 "And it is symptomatic of the envelope being pushed in popular culture as people -- and those who entertain themselves with these genres for several decades now -- become more and more desensitized."
 Stu Hart likened today's wrestling to "a burlesque show."
 Whalen said he's horrified over the sport's suggestive sexual overtones.
 He recently watched a televised bout where a wrestler confronted a businessman: "I'm going to do your wife." The next shot showed the wrestler in bed, with the blankets below his midriff rising and a woman popping her head from the covers.
 "What do you suppose the message is for kids?" Whalen asked.
 Stu Hart, who still loves the sport, warned that wrestling had better change or it may be forced to shut down.
 Hart said a board of wrestlers and promoters should be established to ensure safety standards for wrestlers and spectators.
 The body of Owen Hart was to be flown back to Calgary on Tuesday.
 His funeral is set for Monday.

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