Promoters' greed puts wrestlers' lives at risk: Frankie Lane
By JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press
Cowboy Frankie Lane's rage over the death of Owen Hart is undoubtedly born of having himself been subjected to the type of excess that killed his one-time opponent.
Lane, now retired and running his family's 280-hectare (700-acre) farm near Alvinston, wrestled most of the Hart brothers at one time or another, including one appearance against Owen, who was killed Sunday in a stunt that went wrong.
"Wrestlers get treated like prostitutes and guys like Vince McMahon are the pimps," Lane fumed yesterday. "If McMahon wants to send his henchmen after me for what I'm saying, I'm not afraid to die."
Vince McMahon is head of the World Wrestling Federation, under whose banner the youngest member of the Hart wrestling clan performed.
It was during a performance on Sunday in Kansas City, Mo., as the 34-year-old wrestler was being lowered to the ring in a harness, that he plunged headlong more than five storeys to his death.
The pay-for-view card was typical of a world ruled by greed and power, charged Lane -- a world that can include treachery, abuse, broken promises and too many steroids.
A world, he says, that has pushed the envelope too far.
"There's no limit to what they'll do to promote their shows, nothing they won't attempt to boost falling ratings.
"I remember Owen as a kid, then later as a wrestler like all his brothers. He was a great kid, an agile athlete. Look at this," Lane said, scanning a newspaper photo. "A beautiful wife, two kids. It's heartbreaking."
Lane, who has had a number of brushes with the law and is hardly a shrinking violet, is not unlike all wrestlers who've been interviewed on the matter. The rugged faces and muscular bodies are softened by the teary eyes.
Then hardened by anger at what happened to Hart.
"Out of respect for the family, they should have cancelled the show and refunded everyone's money," Lane said. "(McMahon) has no respect for wrestlers and he has no respect for himself. He's a dog."
Lane, who occasionally performed as the Red Shadow, added Cowboy to his ring name when he was asked to replace a wrestler known as the Oklahoma Kid in Australia.
"He was six-feet-six, 290 pounds and he wanted to get bigger, so he got on steroids," Lane explained. "He was getting out of bed one morning and fell back dead of a heart attack."
The steroid excesses, well-chronicled by Hulk Hogan, manifested themselves in other ways. Lane, who wrestled 30 years at about 200 pounds, gained 12 pounds on a steroid but developed hives and quickly dropped it.
Other souvenirs of his career remain, such as the cauliflower left ear Karl Von Steiger gave him. And there is a scar atop his head to remind him of the night in Canton, Ohio, when the Mighty Zulu fractured his skull -- away from the ring.
"He went nuts because I wouldn't drive him to the next show. I was sitting in the seats and he hit me with an iron bar. He got away before the cops arrived. I was in hospital 17 days."
The orchestrated mayhem is almost as bad, such as the time Lane and an opponent fought out of the arena and into the street, culminating with Lane going through a plate glass window. They left town before the police arrived and the promoter paid the damages -- a tenth of what the next card grossed.
Lane is more circumspect when talking about other excesses in wrestling. Such as "gigging" -- cutting oneself with a razor blade to produce blood -- or taking one's own blood, placing it in a condom and biting it to produce real blood when "struck" in the face.
But there are wrestlers who absorb a shot in the eye to produce a real shiner, those who routinely "drop a fall" or dive. In defence, guys like Lane will say they are better than actors because there are no retakes.
The show, clearly, has gone too far when one of the participants is killed.
How it happened to Hart will eventually come to light. Why it happened is all too apparent.
There are two main wrestling organizations, the WWF and the newer, well-financed World Championship Wrestling, which had already used a similar stunt to the one that killed Hart.
At stake is not only the rich live gate and enormous retailing market but also a healthy share of a lucrative pay-per-view audience.
Greed killed Owen Hart.