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  May 25, 1999

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Hart remembered

By AMANDA MORRALL -- Canadian Press

His brawn and birthright made Owen Hart a legend in the arena but relatives grieving the death of the youngest member of the renowned Canadian wrestling clan say he'll be best remembered as a devoted family man.

"He was an exceptional human being," Hart's oldest sister Ellie said Monday from the family's sprawling home in Calgary where relatives gathered to grieve.

"The only thing that mattered to him was his family," she said, breaking down in tears.

Hart, 34, died Sunday after falling four storeys in front of thousands of fans and a worldwide pay-per-view television audience at a World Wrestling Federation show in Kansas City, Mo.

The youngest son of wrestling patriarch Stu and brother of famed Bret (The Hitman) Hart plunged head-first into the ring when he became detached from a cable lowering him from the top of the stadium.

The husband and father of two young children was killed instantly.

"We're just numb," said Ellie. "We're still in a state of disbelief."

Martha, Hart's wife of almost a decade, said both she and her husband had concerns about the dangers involved in the increasingly dangerous stunts being adopted in professional wrestling.

"For both of us, there was deep concern about safety, definitely," she said tearfully.

"I really want to get to the bottom of what happened."

The couple, high school sweethearts, were approaching their 10th anniversary and were set to move into their dream home in the country next week, said Martha.

"We had a storybook life, it was so perfect," she said, her voice choked with emotion.

"We were like two puzzle pieces that fit together perfect."

The Harts were together 17 years and have two children, Oje, 7, and Athena, 3. They were also planning for a third child, said Martha.

Hart, who started his professional wrestling career in 1986 with the WWF, was a four-time tag-team champion, two-time intercontinental champion and a European champion.

In past interviews, Hart said he was pulled into the sport because of his family's strong ties to the wrestling world but didn't want to make a long-term career out of it.

Sister Ellie said Hart was planning to retire in two years at the end of his contract.

"He was going to spend the rest of his time with his children and his wife. He saved every dime he ever made in wrestling," for that day.

"He was one of the best amateur wrestlers in the the world and he loved it. But he was fed up with the direction the wrestling was taking in New York and was ready to retire."

The World Wrestling Federation has called for an inquiry into the accident and family members say they have many unanswered questions. They hope the tragedy will serve as a lesson to wrestling officials keen on hyping stunts to promote ticket sales.

"My poor brother Owen was a sacrifice for the (TV) ratings, that's how I look at it," said Ellie. "I believe it's a serious wake-up call."

Hart's death is the third tragedy the large Calgary family has endured in the last 10 years.

In 1990, Owen's older brother Dean, one of eight brothers, died from injuries after he was struck by a transit bus. In 1996, Owen's nephew, the son of one of his four sisters, died of flesh-eating disease.

"When they died we were kind of prepared for it," said Ellie.

"This just came totally out of the blue. My poor parents were put through hell . . . . Frankly, the reality of the whole thing hasn't sunk in yet."

Ed Whelan, a family friend and longtime wrestling promoter, had high praise for Hart.

"It's God's truth that this was a terrific young man," Whelan said. "He was totally devoted to his family. And you know, in an era like today, he didn't even swear, he was such a clean-living guy."

Hart's body is scheduled to be returned to Calgary today by private jet and family members say funeral services could be delayed to accommodate mourners from across the world.

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