Wrestlers don suits for Owen Hart's funeral
By Carol Harrington -- Canadian Press
CALGARY -- About 100 burly wrestling stars, usually known for their head-butting, crotch-pointing antics, donned designer business suits and dark glasses Monday to bid a solemn farewell to one of their own.
Barricades held back about a thousand other people gathered outside a funeral chapel to pay their respects to Owen Hart, a.k.a. The Blue Blazer.
Light showers fell on the hushed crowd, their heads bowed as they listened to the service over loudspeakers. Many dabbed their eyes with clenched tissues as they heard a heart-wrenching eulogy by a sobbing Martha Hart, Owen's widow and mother of his two young children.
"I didn't sleep at all last night because I don't know how to say goodbye," she told the packed chapel of 300 wrestling celebrities, politicians, singers and family members.
"I don't want to let him go."
Hart, 34, plunged nine storeys to his death onto a wrestling ring during a choreographed stunt last week in Kansas City, Mo.
Thinking it was all part of the show, fans cheered as the fallen wrestler was carried off, and the televised show carried on as scheduled.
Hart's death has raised criticism from family as well as wrestlers about the so-called sport that often highlights scripted racist, sexist and violent acts.
"Owen is too good for the wrestling industry that has become plagued by professional rivalries, ratings wars, ego clashes and outrageous gimmicks and stunts," his brother Ross Hart told the mourners.
"He never took the business too seriously. To him it was just a job."
Some fans outside the service echoed the bitterness.
"I think they've gone too far," said Peiro Perrotta, 21, who has watched wrestling since he was six.
"It has progressed from a sport to gimmick entertainment."
Calgary's Hart family is a Canadian wrestling dynasty headed by Owen's father, 84-year-old Stu Hart. He started wrestling in the 1940s and later promoted the sport by taking bouts to small-town Prairie arenas.
The eight Hart sons learned to wrestle in a ring called The Dungeon in the basement of the family home. Three of the four Hart daughters married wrestlers.
At five foot 10 and 227 pounds, Owen Hart started his professional wrestling career in 1989 with the World Wrestling Federation. He was a four-time tag-team champion, two-time intercontinental champion and a European champion.
Bret "The Hitman" Hart, by far the family's biggest crowd pleaser, tried to lighten up the funeral service by talking about Owen the prankster.
Driving through a small American town, Owen and a group of wrestlers passed a scarecrow plunked on the roadside, Bret said. One of the boys woke from a deep sleep, and Owen talked the sleepy friend into asking "this guy," the scarecrow, for directions.
"He was so funny to be around," Bret said.
Sometimes laughing, sometimes crying throughout the service were the bulky wrestlers sitting shoulder to shoulder in the chapel's pews.
Wearing a black bandanna, Hulk Hogan arrived in a white stretch limousine. Filing from buses were World Wrestling Federation owner Vince McMahon, and wrestlers Road Dogg, Gorilla Monsoon, Paul Bearer, Sgt. Slaughter, and Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and his wife Colleen attended the funeral, and country music singer Collin Raye performed Amazing Grace as well as Hart's favourite song, One Boy, One Girl.
Bonnie Carpenter, 16, and a few of her friends skipped school for the funeral.
"We lost a great man -- he was a great role model for me and a great Canadian who spoke his mind," she said.
Joe Friars, 36, spent all night driving from Moose Jaw, Sask., to make the funeral.
"Owen the person was a class act, pure and simple. Never cared for him as a wrestler."
The six remaining Hart brothers -- Keith, Ross, Wayne, Bruce, Smith and Bret -- were pallbearers.
Police believe Hart's fatal free-fall was an accident, with Hart likely inadvertently unhooking a harness attached to a cable as he was being lowered from the rafters of the Kemper Arena.