Tuesday's episode of Dark Side of the Ring is set to focus on the death of Owen Hart. Hart, acting as the Blue Blazer, tragically died at WWF Over The Edge 1999 when a ring entrance stunt went wrong.
Owen's wife Martha has been making the media rounds to discuss her late husband and promote the Dark Side of the Ring finale. Speaking to CBS Sports, Martha opened up about the night Owen died.
"First of all, the stunt itself was so negligent," Hart said. "They hired hackers they knew would do anything they wanted when they knew that proper riggers they had hired in the past had told them, 'We won't do this kind of stunt, it's not safe.' Everything about that stunt was done wrong. The entire set-up was wrong. The equipment was wrong -- the harness, for example, was meant for dragging people behind a car. It was a stunt harness, but it wasn't meant to suspend someone 80 feet above the ground.
"What was happening to Owen when he was sitting in that harness is, his circulation was getting cut off and he couldn't breathe. Then, the snap shackle that they used, that snap shackle is not meant for rigging humans. It's meant for the sole use of rigging sailboats. It's a sailboat clip that, by design, is meant to open on load. By the very design of the stunt, it was meant to fail, because the weight of Owen on that clip actually made it more likely it would open spontaneously.
"Proper riggers have a few things they would never do. First, they would never do a stunt without redundancy. That didn't happen; there was no redundancy. Second, they never, ever, let the talent have any control into the stunt. These guys were telling Owen, 'This cord taped here, don't pull it until you get to the ground.' That would never happen; proper riggers don't rig things this way. The other thing is, WWE is a billion-dollar company. Owen never questioned his safety. He thought for sure they were hiring people that knew what they were doing. He was putting his life in their hands, and they didn't care. They didn't have any regard for Owen's life whatsoever. They went outside of qualified riggers that had good experience."
Hart named Bobby Talbert as the "hacker" hired for the stunt. Joe Branam -- who had done rigging work for Elton John and The Rolling Stones -- had refused to execute the stunt. WCW had performed the stunt many times with Sting. Ellis Edwards was the stunt coordinator for WCW during that time. According to Martha in her book, Talbert claimed the stunt they asked Owen to perform was similar to Sting's stunt. But Edwards disputed that claim.
WWE legal council Jerry McDevitt issued the following statement to CBS Sports.
"The reality is, we've never told our side of the story of what happened -- at least not outside of court. We told it in court, but when she talks about the way the lawsuit unfolded over the years, it really isn't accurate what she's saying. What she did whenever this happened is, she hired a lawyer in Kansas City who we caught essentially trying to fix the judicial selection process to get a judge that was more to their liking. We caught them and went all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Missouri Supreme Court said, 'No, no, no. We're not going to let that happen.' They essentially appointed an independent judge to come in from outside of Kansas City to oversee the proceedings. We were basically trying to find out what happened that night. Martha was not even remotely interested in finding out what happened that night; she just wanted to used it as a vehicle to beat up a business that she didn't like that her husband was in, the wrestling business."
Jim Ross told fans on the air that the fall, which did not air, was not part of the show and sadly informed everyone of Owen's passing. There was a brief stoppage in the action, but the show continued as scheduled.
"When Owen died, they scooped him out like a piece of garbage and they paraded wrestlers out to wrestle in a ring that had Owen's blood, where the boards were broken from Owen's fall and where the guys could feel the dip in the ring from where he fell. Just that disrespect and lack of respect for a human life that had just been lost," Martha Hart said. "The fact that they didn't stop the show is just appalling. Vince McMahon was a poor leader, and he failed because that talent was looking for leadership and he failed them."
Following Owen's death, Martha filed a wrongful death lawsuit against WWE, which was settled out of court for approximately $18 million on November 2, 2000. Martha believes her own family was working against her during the lawsuit.
"Vince was manipulating Owen's family, which resulted in some of the family members working against me," Hart said. "The Hart family overall didn't support the lawsuit, but some worked against me. They stole my legal documents and were faxing them to the defense. It was like they had our whole playbook. They were just muddying the waters because they knew they didn't have the case. They just muddied the waters and made everything a mess. There was just this nonstop disrespect."
McDevitt has a different view on how things played out between WWE and Martha.
He said, "Her and her lawyer, in reality, had tried to get the members of the Hart family, Owen's brothers and sisters, to sign a document in which they would agree to support Martha and her case and they would not talk to WWE. In exchange for that, they were all promised a share of any verdict or settlement, which is highly illegal, completely improper and you can get in big trouble for that. What happened was some of the members of the Hart family were offended by this because they realized this was wrong. ... They knew this was wrong and they faxed me those documents, which I fell out of the chair when I read them. I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me. This is completely illegal, you can't do this stuff.' All of that was then brought to the attention of the judge in Kansas City.
"She talked about how $18 million settlement, she didn't really want to do that, she wanted justice. Again, that's just not true. There was court-ordered mediation. We went to the mediation, and her lawyers were demanding $35 million and some admission of punitive damages. Vince told her right there, 'Look, Martha, I feel so bad for what happened. I feel responsible because this happened on my watch. I want to take care of you and your family, I loved Owen.' He was almost crying. We offered $17 million to take care of her. How many times does a CEO walk in a room and say he feels responsible? 'I'm not going to argue, I just feel responsible for what happened.' They turned it down; they wanted to go to court for their $35 million. Fine, we'll go and litigate. The next day, I get a call from her Canadian lawyer, saying they didn't want to do it because they knew what they were facing with the other things I talked about. They said, 'If you could put a little more money in. If you can go to $18 million we'll settle right now.' That's how the settlement went down."
Martha says she has forgiven the Hart family and WWE as she doesn't want to hold any grudges. However, she doesn't have a relationship with members of the Hart family. Including Bret Hart.
She told The Wrap, "Unfortunately, I have no relationship with Bret. Bret was supportive throughout the lawsuit, but there were a few things that were a problem with Bret. First of all, when we were going through the lawsuit, he really was hoping that I would be able to help him get his wrestling footage. Because at the time, he had no relationship with WWE and he was hoping somehow — if we ever had a settlement — that we could work it in. When that didn’t happen, he was very upset that he didn’t get his footage. It prompted him to befriend Vince [McMahon, the chairman of WWE] again so he could have access to his footage. That was the first fracture in our relationship.”
The Montreal Screwjob in 1997 looked to be the end of Bret's relationship with WWE, but the two parties reunited in 2005 to produce a DVD highlighting the career of Hart. Bret would be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.
According to Martha, Bret became "really nasty" when she wouldn't allow Owen to be inducted into the Hall of Fame and that's when Bret started to turn.
Bret told The Wrap, "While I am not interested in engaging in any more media mudslinging between Martha and myself especially in light of a global pandemic, I will say that our fallout is multifaceted. To say that it only involved being able to access and use my WWE footage and photos for future projects would merely be an oversimplification and inaccurate. I will not comment any further on the matter.”
Martha has stood firm on her stance that Owen will not be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, saying it doesn't exist. You can find her full comments by clicking here.
On Monday night, Martha, the Owen Hart Foundation, Dark Side of the Ring, and Pro Wrestling Tees released the first official Owen Hart t-shirt in over 20 years. Fans can find more information on the new merchandise by clicking here.
The Owen Hart episode of Dark Side of the Ring premieres Tuesday, May 19 on VICE. You can view the trailer for the episode in the video above.