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  May 26, 1999

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Wrestling stars set to mourn

By BILL KAUFMANN -- Calgary Sun
  Controversial World Wrestling Federation chairman Vince McMahon and a legion of his grapplers are expected to attend next week's funeral of Calgary wrestling star Owen Hart.
 "The whole WWF company is coming, including Vince McMahon who, of course, absolutely should be there," Hart's wife Martha said yesterday.

"All the wrestlers are coming and the only ones not coming are those who choose not to be there."

The wrestlers will be led by current fan favourite Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Martha said she's told McMahon, who's been criticized by members of the Hart family for allowing the stunt that killed her husband, that she'll welcome him to Monday's memorial.

"I'm a compassionate person and regardless of who's accountable, I know he feels terrible," she said. "I told him I don't feel bitterness or anger, but that I couldn't tell him how anyone else will respond."

The WWF has cancelled or postponed all events for the week, including the highly-rated Monday Night Raw, so the wrestlers can attend the service.

The grieving mother of two said she also feared the WWF's ratings could be bolstered by the tragedy.

"I hope not -- I've requested none of our family be placed on the show ... that would be pretty low," she said.

WWF spokesman Jim Byrne said the federation's presence "is absolutely fitting to pay tribute to Owen, who was a very beloved part of the company."

During a WWF pay-per-view event at Kansas City's Kemper Arena, Hart fell as much as nine storeys to his death, striking his head on a turnbuckle. Hart, 34, was being lowered to the ring on a cable for a spectacular entry when he was prematurely released from the harness carrying him.

Kansas City police say Hart may have inadvertently unhooked himself while suspended from the arena's 28-metre-high ceiling.

Martha Hart questioned the safety of the harness.

"When you're 90 feet up, it's certain death if you fall, so there shouldn't just be one release button," she said, adding she wants all of the facts before venturing a final opinion.

Owen's father and local wrestling legend Stu reiterated his contention Mc-Mahon was ultimately responsible for the over-all show -- questioning the safety of the fatal stunt.

"It should never have been left to one individual to (make a miscue)," said Stu.

Hart's body was flown into Calgary yesterday on a private plane. Monday's private funeral inside McInnis and Holloway's Park Memorial Chapel, 5008 Elbow Dr. S.W., is expected to attract an overflow crowd to its 250-seat facility.

The family has asked that loudspeakers be set up outside the building to accommodate other mourners.

"People are really sad about it and want to be connected to it -- Owen would be really proud knowing so many people cared," said his widow, adding her husband won't be buried with any wrestling memorabilia.

"Wrestling was just a job to Owen -- when he was home, he never talked about it," she said, adding her husband might be buried with photos of their children Oje, 7 and Athena, 3.

The minister who wed Owen and Martha on July 1, 1989, and baptized their two children will preside over the funeral.

"I've known Martha since she was a tiny little girl -- she said she didn't want anybody else to do it," said Rev. Andrew Risby.

Interest in attending the funeral has spread throughout North America. "It's a long way to go, but I'd come in a moment," said Tom Giglio, 26, of Long Island N.Y., who's followed Bret and Owen Hart's wrestling careers for years.

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