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‘Dark Side of the Ring’ Season 2 Finale: ‘The Last Days of Owen Hart’ Review

Over two seasons, Vice has brought us some of the darkest and most sordid stories in the history of professional wrestling.  Underhanded business dealings, personal gripes, spousal abuse, and murder have been profiled.  The season two finale is different.  This tragedy happened in the ring.  WWE’s Over the Edge was a 1999 Pay-Per-View event held in Kansas City’s Kemper arena and, in front of over 17,000 people in attendance, Owen Hart fell 80 feet to the ring below and his death in a stunt gone wrong.

Owen Hart was the youngest of 12 children that grew up in the wrestling business.  Between his father, brothers, brothers-in-law, and those trained by his family (including series narrator, Chris Jericho) dozens of the top stars throughout the past 60 years are tied to the Harts. Owen, however, was far more tied to his wife Martha and two small children, Oje and Athena, than wrestling. The grueling training that goes into becoming a wrestler (and especially in Stu Hart’s “dungeon”) aside, Owen was a natural in all aspects of the business. He was an exceptional athlete with an honest and easy charisma and he was happy to use them to provide for his family but lamented the time away necessary to do it.  Those closest to him say he was looking forward to retiring young.

After his brother, Bret Hart, had left Vince McMahon’s WWF following the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” for Ted Turner’s WCW promotion, “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart (each married to Bret and Owen’s sisters) left with him.  Owen, though, was unable to be released from his contract and continued on with the company. He continued on but was less comfortable in controversial direction of his character. After pushing back against a storyline involving a love triangle with his tag team partner Jeff Jarrett and Jarrett’s on-air girlfriend, Debra McMichael, Owen’s narrative saw him undergo a schizoid break and he began to appear as a masked alter ego, “The Blue Blazer.” The tongue-in-cheek superhero was a milk-drinking moral crusader trying to inspire children to do their best and stand against debauchery.

Having been a fan at that time, I remember that, despite being comic fodder in his mission against the popular attitude-driven anti-heroes of day, the character became increasing popular. Fans went from booing him for covering scantily clad women with his feathered cape to cheering each of his entrances, whether it was on foot or lowered by cable in a safety harness. At Over the Edge things would be different.

Owen’s widow, Marth Hart launched her own investigation into what happened. She explains that the crew and method of the line rigging was changed for that show with a new method of release. Dark Side doesn’t go into how the release failed and the exactitudes are still argued to this day. The ensuing legal fight against WWE was difficult.  The demands of accountability have continued to this day, including public comments by WWE’s long-term attorney, Jerry McDevitt, in the week leading up this broadcast.

Adding to the controversy was that, following the fall and announcement of Owen Hart’s death, the decision was made that “The show must go on.” The Blue Blazer was scheduled to face off against The Godfather, a “fun-loving pimp” character, early on the card. Once EMTs had removed Owen Hart from the ring and a 15-minute recess, five more matches went on. Stars like The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, and more went out and performed only minutes after their friend had died and they did it in ring that still born the depression formed by his body’s impact.

The next night, WWE’s Monday Night RAW broadcast was live and featured matches interspersed with candid interviews with other wrestlers, many in tears. Some even questioned the decision to continue the previous night or perform the show they were currently on. WCW chose to never again lower their franchise star, Sting, from the rafters via cable, a signature entrance that The Blue Blazer had, in part, been lampooning.

Interviews during Dark Side of the Ring included Martha Hart and her children, adamant that they would not allow Owen’s likeness to be used further in any sort of Hall of Fame induction and wishing no further involvement with the company. Always outspoken and ever-present, Jim Cornette had been Owen’s on-air manager during his career. Charles “Godfather” Wright had little screen time despite being Owen’s final scheduled opponent.  D’Lo Brown and Chris Jericho referred to Hart as their inspiration to become wrestlers and wonder what type of matches he could have given audiences with the incoming generation of wrestlers. Former WWE referee, Jimmy Korderas, chillingly recounts having barely felt his friend brush his shoulder, having stood only a few feet from the impact.

There was plenty of blame leveled at Vince McMahon and the WWE. It had been their prerogative to do the stunt. Martha questioned the Kansas City Police Department for not shutting down the arena as a crime scene and forcing the show to end. That may very well have been their procedure. Since the accident, I have heard many fans criticize Martha Hart herself for not allowing Owen Hart to be inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame for their own catharsis. It is of my opinion that, no matter what attachment we as fans form or what inspiration we take, none can invalidate the decision of a widow and orphans as to manner in which they honor their fallen. They prefer to set up charitable contributions in the name of the man and forget what happened in the ring.

Dark Side of the Ring Season 2 Finale ‘The Last Days of Owen Hart’ is now on demand via your local cable operator as well as Viceland’s website and app.


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