Martha Hart Talks Owen Hart's Legacy, Dark Side of the Ring, Battle with WWE, and More
One of the most tragic events in the history of WWE and professional wrestling overall involves the death of Owen Hart, but fans didn't just lose a beloved wrestler that day. Martha Hart and her family lost a loving husband and father that day as well, and fans will see both sides of Owen's life explored in tomorrow's season finale of Dark Side of the Ring. The episode, titled The Final Days of Owen Hart, will take a look at life before the accident, the accident itself, and what happened after, and recently ComicBook.com had the chance to talk to Martha Hart about the episode, the man behind the wrestler, and the fight that she would undertake with WWE. The documentary reveals quite a bit about Owen, and you can find our full conversation below.
Matt Aguilar: The documentary covers not just what happened in WWE, but also the life that was taking place outside the ring with Owen, adding some welcome perspective. What is the one thing you want people to leave the documentary with knowing about Owen, that maybe they don't fully appreciate right now?
Martha Hart: Well, you know what? I really appreciated how the Dark Side of the Ring highlighted and showed Owen's personality. He was such a bubbly, happy person. He's was so kind, and I know we didn't get to really, I wish we could have fleshed out more about his personality, but I think people really get a sense of just the great father that he was, the great husband. He was such a warm, uplifting person. He was the kind of person that you're just attracted to because he's positive and happy and fun to be around and uplifting. I think people are going to get a sense of this very playful, fun guy that was just a real sweetheart, and he really was. He was just a pleasant, wonderful person.
And he was very generous, and I know, I didn't get a lot of time to really go into how kind he was, but he really was the kindest person I'd ever met. Just so many examples I could give of his kindness to other people. And then one thing too, it doesn't maybe come across totally in the episode, but he really accepted everybody at face value, which is a rare quality. He was so non-judgmental, and I think that's why people always liked him because they really felt comfortable. They never felt like, he didn't accept them...he accepted everybody, he didn't care. He was always just trying to, I guess lead by example. But he didn't care if someone fell short or something, he just didn't look at it that way. He just accepted everybody. Hopefully, that comes across a little bit that he was just this fun, accepting person.
Matt: Well, and it very much does, and like you referenced, Owen is spoken about by people in such a positive and kind light among those who have had the chance to meet him and interact with him. If you had to recall one memory that really personified who Owen Hart was, what would that be and why?
Martha: I like to tell this story because I think it's pretty remarkable and really speaks to just all of the good qualities that Owen had. He was leaving the hotel and he had to leave early and he was going to have the room for, I don't know, another six hours or something like that, and he saw this homeless guy. So he went to the homeless guy and he said, "Listen, here's my key. Go to the room. You know what, sleep in the bed, have a shower. There's some leftover pizza in the fridge. Help yourself to whatever you want. Just take the room, but just please don't break anything." And that was just the kind of guy he was. He was always doing stuff like that. Always trying to help people. He had such a big tender heart and he always went over and above, and just things that he would see that other people would just walk by and not even give a second thought.
He was just a very kind person and really was such a humanitarian. He did a lot of charity work, which people might not be aware of, either. He always was affiliated with the children's hospital and he would always go do meet and greets at the schools. He would visit sick kids, some terminal kids. That was tough, but he would do lots of different things like that. He worked with the Special Olympics. So there were lots of things, but those were on an organizational level. He also just in his everyday life, he would see things and he would just help people.
He was always so helpful, and he really had a heart for anybody that struggled or was down and out. He had that kindness to him and he didn't look at, he never fed off the fame and he never looked at people that, well it's us and them. That's why I think he really resonated with his fans too, because he never looked at fans like, "I'm up here, you're down there." They were equal. Lots of fans actually became his really good friends and they would even pick him up from the airport and drive him, and he'd get them tickets to the show or whatever. He loved people. He was a people person and he just looked at everybody like, we're all just human.
It was interesting because even though he was really pretty different from the other wrestlers, they loved him because he was funny. And again, because he didn't care how people lived their lives. He just accepted them, he didn't care, but he also just wanted to be accepted. It's like, "Well, accept me for the way I am. I'm a straight arrow, but I'm a fun guy and I don't care what you do with your life. I don't judge you." So that's why they liked him because they never felt like he looked at them differently or any of that. That's why I think everybody liked him because he always had some commonality with everybody.
Matt: Well, and you get a really good sense of that throughout the episode. As you went through the process of revisiting everything, was there anything that stuck out to you after going back through, maybe this time that perhaps hadn't in the past?
Martha: Well, I guess the one thing was that I was really happy that they told the story that I'd hoped that they would tell. The story that I think, even though it's a difficult story, it's important to tell the story of Owen. There's been other people that have approached me, but they didn't want to tell the story as it really was. I think that's what I liked about the Dark Side episode was that they really nailed it. They really got the story behind the story, which was Owen Hart, the person, but then everything that had also happened to him. I think that's really critical, that people know all about the accident, all about what happened in regards to the lawsuits. And all of what everything entailed there, but also just what we lost in a person that, this was such a great person to lose and how it had such a huge impact on so many people. Also too, I guess I'm really happy that people are going to see all the good work done in his name through the Owen Hart Foundation. I'm really happy about that, too.
Matt: It's also really interesting to see how your kids have changed and grown over the years and that's a really revealing part of the episode, as well. We see that you and Oje and Athena have all moved forward with your lives and you've done amazing things with the Owen Hart Foundation, and all of it really doesn't have much of a connection to professional wrestling. I was wondering how is wrestling looked at as a whole amongst your family? Are you still able to look at aspects of his career in a positive light, despite what ultimately happened, or is it something that you just compartmentalize and that's not something we really look at anymore because of all the memories it brings?
Martha: I think you always have to give credit where credit is due, and Owen was an exceptional athlete and he was very good at his craft. I guess too, for us, because he was born into a wrestling family, his dad was a wrestling promoter, but he actually was not going to pursue wrestling as a career. We were in university together, and he was going to be a Phys Ed teacher, and then he got introduced to the wrestling business because at the time Vince McMahon was taking over all the small territories, and his dad's business was failing terribly. The one brother said, "Geez, could you come and help out?", and because in Calgary, wrestling and the Hart family were such a big name, the fact that Owen was a Hart and this blonde, young, good looking athletic guy, just was all the better.
He wrestled to help the family business, but he never planned on staying there. It was just for the now and then he was always trying to get out of it. He applied for the fire department several times and every year they'd hire on new applicants. He tried every year for years to get on the fire department because his brother was a firefighter, his brother-in-law was a firefighter. So he knew that lifestyle and he thought that would be ideal. He was a big guy, he was strong. He thought that would be a good job for him, but the problem was that at the time, that was such a sought after job, that they were only hiring university graduates and Owen had not finished his university degree because he stopped to help with his dad's business.
So then that option kept getting blown off the table. He also, because he was an American citizen and a Canadian, he also applied to work as a customs agent because he thought, I'm a big guy, and I could work with American customs in Canada, so he thought that might be an option. He was always looking to get out of wrestling, and people might not realize that because of these things, it wasn't central to our life. It was his job, but it wasn't our whole life. We didn't live and breathe wrestling. For us, there was so much more to Owen than just him being a wrestler. And I know people, they came to know Owen as a wrestler and that's okay, but you know, now they're going to see that he was much more than what he did for a living.
Wrestling was always a Plan B that he had eventually planned to get out of, and he liked to build bicycles. Because he was a very tactile guy, and he thought when he would be all done with wrestling, that he was going to just open up his own business because he tried so many times to get out of it. He was always looking for a way out and it just didn't happen. And then there was a point where we accepted, okay, for the now this is going to be our life, and he was good at it. He was a good athlete and because he grew up in that business, he was a natural. He understood the philosophy behind wrestling. It was easy for him.
He got the whole mindset of wrestling, but as a person, he had different interests. He wasn't looking to stay there forever. He was looking to get out of it. Yes, we admired him for the athlete and the wrestler that he was, but, I guess, we know there was just so much more to him. It's not like we discount that or put it in the closet and forget about it, but we don't lord over it either. The kids just, you can't get away from it, it's an everywhere kind of thing. They've seen matches, I'm sure on the internet or whatever, but it's not like we sit down and watch it, because we never did that even when Owen was alive.
It wasn't a big part of our life, and in fact, it's odd because wrestling was such a small part of my life. We were on the fringe. It didn't consume our whole world, and it actually became more a part of my life after he died than it was when we were together as a family. Because then I actually had to really learn about the business in order to fight this giant, WWE, and have my battle with them. It was interesting how before it was such a small part and then it became a bigger part after he died.
Matt: That brings us to the next question, which a little bit refers to you talking about where Owen's life wasn't all about wrestling. Your life was not all about wrestling but obviously, wrestling is a giant platform. And you were right, a lot of people, there are a giant amount of fans that do know him primarily as a wrestler, and that's something that the documentary does a really good job of, regarding showing some of those other aspects of Owen. You haven't had ties to WWE since his death and you touch on why a bit in the documentary. That decision has been scrutinized by some and defended by others. What do you feel is the most misunderstood aspect of your decision to keep Owen's legacy untied to WWE and kind of separate?
Martha: I think what a lot of people... I wrote a book in 2001 that really details everything that happened with my lawsuit against WWE, how they were so terrible on every level. I also understand not everybody's going to read my book. I think with having a visual like the Dark Side, people will get a sense of why I don't want to have any relations with this company. Unfortunately, we don't get into it enough, and I'll tell you that it's such an ugly story that first of all, when you go right back to the incident, when this happened, Owen died in the ring, and they just scooped him out like he was a piece of garbage and they sent match after match into a ring that not only had Owen's blood on it, but it was broken.
The boards underneath were broke from Owen's fall and the wrestlers could feel the dip in the ring and that was the first, right out of the gate, the disrespect that they showed for a human life. And then on top of it, when I was suing them in Missouri for the wrongful death, WWE actually sued me, the widow, because they wanted the case moved to Connecticut. Because in Owen's contract it stated that any lawsuits against them should be taken up in Connecticut because they never have punitive damages awarded in Connecticut. And they thought that they were going to be put through the ringer if the case goes through Missouri because of the punitive damages clause. So they were suing me in Connecticut, and I actually had two lawsuits I was fighting with them at the same time.
I had to hire a law firm in Connecticut to fight that lawsuit against them, while I was fighting the wrongful death lawsuit in Missouri, as well. The fact that they would actually stoop so low to sue me, for breach of Owen's contract over something so ridiculous. But again, it was just a tactic to intimidate me, muddy the waters, make it messy because they knew they didn't have a case. We had every single rigger in the business on our side, that had either been deposed or provided affidavits in support of our fight against them to say that the stunt was egregious and by its very design meant to fail, that it was so beyond negligent it wasn't even funny. So we had all of this conflict going on. On top of that, Vince was manipulating Owen's family, which then caused family members to work against me. Literally steal my legal documents out of the Hart house and give them to the defense.
So they had our playbook, they knew what our strategy was, what we were planning to do. I had two fights going on. I had the Connecticut lawsuit, I had the Missouri lawsuit, and I'm from Canada, so to fight across state lines and different countries, it was a lot. On top of that, and I knew I was going to have a fight with WWE, but I didn't expect to have a fight also with Owen's family, and just that betrayal and lack of support. I was just a young mom with two little kids and it was a lot to deal with, and just to dig in and say, I don't care because you know what? I really didn't care. I felt like I'd lost everything. I just thought I am fighting this fight, and either you stand with me or you stand against me. It's that simple.
I guess that was the biggest thing was I think that they truly underestimated me and just my determination to see this thing to the end and to make sure that I had something, some form of justice for Owen. I guess what I hope people will know, and unfortunately, we don't get into that as much as I wish we could've, but we only had a short amount of time, and there was a lot to tell, and there were a lot of people that needed to say things. I think they did the best they could do with the allotted time that they had to do it in. The nice thing is like, in some ways the whole story hasn't been told, and I think that will just leave a little bit of mystery and hopefully, people will want to look into it and explore it a little deeper. There is a lot more to this story that I hope to tell in the future.
People had no idea the fight that I had on my hand on so many levels, but I just think, well, that's the story too, that you have to stand your ground and when something's wrong, you need to stand up and you need to fight the good fight. I think when you do that, then even though it's really, really difficult, that you come out a victor. I think if you do the thing for the right reason with no agenda but because it's the right thing to do, then you're always going to get the best result from that.
So even though it was really, really hard, now, all these years later, I look at me, I look at my kids. I look at our life and the life that we've created all out of the Phoenix rising from the ashes, but we have come out the victors in so many ways. I wouldn't change anything of how I handled any of it. I think that I always let my heart lead me and I just always did what I thought was the right thing to do. It was all selfless, it was just, I want justice for Owen and he deserves it. That's why I'm just going to see to it, that he gets it, and if that means fighting this big billion-dollar company and not having the support of Owen's family, then I guess that's the way it's going to be.
I'd like to end by saying, I really wish everyone well, I do. I don't hold any grudges, and I hope life has been kind to all these people because life is hard. My life hasn't been easy either, and I wouldn't wish that on anybody. I've forgiven them all. I hope that people, they also know that you can forgive people, but that doesn't mean that you have to have a relationship with them either, right? The important part of this story was, there were wrong things done here and people need to be accountable, but at the end of the day, we have to move in a positive direction, and that means letting things go too, and forgiving, and I have.
You can watch Dark Side of the Ring's Final Days of Owen Hart on VICE TV this Tuesday, May 19 at 10 PM ET/PT.0comments