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  May 25, 1999

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Hart family blames death on ratings war

By BILL KAUFMANN -- Calgary Sun
  An obsession with ratings led to the fatal wrestling ring plunge of World Wrestling Federation star Owen Hart, grieving family members said yesterday.
 Older brother Smith Hart, struggling to come to terms with Owen's death, said his sibling "was sacrificed -- not intentionally, mind you -- to enhance the ratings competition with World Championship Wrestling. Both foundations have wrestlers flying from the sky."
 Older brother and ex-WWF wres-tling superstar Bret (Hitman) Hart, who cancelled an appearance on the Tonight Show to be with his family, said the tragedy has soured his family's outlook on pro wrestling.
 "This whole family's been driven by this profession," he said. "Now, (wrestling's) such a black spot -- I don't know as a family we'll ever find any fun in it."
 On Sunday night, Owen, 34, fell five storeys while being lowered onto the ring on a guide wire during a pay-per-view wrestling event in Kansas City.
 The harness carrying Owen released him and the wrestler stuck his head on a corner turnbuckle -- killing himself.
 Some reports said the fall was from as much as 27 metres, or nine storeys.
 The accident is under police investigation and an autopsy is scheduled, but WWF chairman Vince McMahon said Hart may have accidentally released a safety latch too soon. Police spokesman Floyd Mitchell said the cable didn't break and detectives believe something went wrong when Hart's harness was hitched to the cable.
 Owen's father Stu, a Calgary wrestling legend, said he believes McMahon feels terrible for the death of his son, but fault for the tragedy rests ultimately with him.
 "It's his show and somebody miscued. He's the captain of the ship and you blame the captain when the Titanic goes down," said Stu, 83.
 Fighting back tears, Bret refused to place the blame on McMahon, targeting instead the professional wrestling industry and its spectacle-hungry fans.
 "I'm sure Vince is devastated, but wrestling is (supposed to be) body slams and falls -- it's never meant sailing into the ring," said Bret, who left the WWF in 1997 over professional and personal disputes."The fans have become almost like wild dogs -- they seem to clamour for more and more."
 He said the Hart family was appalled at the decision to continue Sunday night's event despite the tragedy.
 "It seems pretty insensitive ... the wrestling business doesn't seem to have much honour or appreciation for the wrestlers," said Bret.
 McMahon issued a statement extending condolences to the Harts.
 "The highest tribute that we can pay is to go on entertaining the fans he loved so much," said McMahon.
 Brett Hull of the Dallas Stars -- who used to play for the Flames -- took to the ice for last night's playoff game against Colorado with the initials "O.H." on his skates.
 And Former Flame Theo Fleury, who now plays for Colorado, asked Hockey Night in Canada to pass his condolences last night.
 Owen's brother-in-law and one-time tag team partner, Davey Boy Smith, said it was out of character for Owen to place himself at risk of leaving behind his wife Martha and two children.
 He said Owen had practised the stunt several times prior to the fatal fall, which happened in front of 14,000 fans -- many of whom initially thought the plunge was part of the show.
 "Everything was fine, but something went wrong," said Smith, himself recovering from a back injury suffered during a WWF stunt last fall.
 Family members said Owen plan-ned to quit pro wrestling in about two years and he and his family were getting ready to move into a new home.
 Owen's mother, Helen, lashed out at the pro wrestling industry. "I'm angry at wrestling itself for relying more and more on shock and outrageous things," she said.
 A private funeral for Owen will be held May 31, at McInnis and Holloway's Park Memorial Chapel.The public is welcome to gather outside the chapel at 5808 Elbow Dr. S.W.

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