Tuesday night’s season finale of Dark Side of the Ring shone the spotlight on the tragic death of Owen Hart for the first time since his widow Martha Hart released the book Broken Harts: The Life and Death of Owen Hart in 2002. Subsequent interviews with Sports Illustrated and Chris Jericho’s Talk is Jericho podcast has resulted in a flurry of articles focusing on Martha’s continued refusal to allow Owen to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
The online comments are often harsh and uneducated. Fans declaring that Martha is just being selfish and that the fans “deserve” to recognize Owen and his legacy with an induction. Others claim that Martha’s refusal to deal with WWE and participation in the Dark Side of the Ring is all about money.
Let’s explore that first accusation. In 2000, Hart settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $18 million, $2 million of which went to Owen’s parents, Stu and Helen, and lawyer fees would have had to have been paid too.
Much like they did when Owen was alive, Martha likely has lived frugally and saved over the years. She is a doctor, doing research at the University of Calgary and Alberta Children’s Hospital. Her son, Oje, is a lawyer and daughter, Athena, pursuing a career in journalism. Money is not an issue. If it were about money, then arguably Dr. Hart could take the money paid for the WWE Hall of Fame induction, along with the subsequent merchandising, video game and action figure royalties, and other financial benefits from working with WWE. Her refusal is clearly not about money. As stated multiple times, she holds the WWE responsible for Owen’s death, and the evidence backs it up. It was an accident, but it was a preventable accident on the WWE’s watch.
An evening to sell tickets and create network content for a WWE Hall of Fame that does not physically exist has little to add to Owen’s legacy. However, the launch of the Owen Hart Foundation in 2000 does. Setting aside millions from the settlement is hardly a selfish thing to do.
“I believed that if I could help others in Owen’s name, it would give meaning to his death — to me that meant he did not die in vain,” Dr. Hart wrote for the organization’s website. “Building this meaningful tribute to my husband and our children has given me strength and saved me from despair over his death. The Owen Hart Foundation is a permanent legacy that is in place to help people today and for generations to come.”
In Calgary, the Owen Hart Foundation has established a scholarship program, a program to help less fortunate afford a home, and the Owen Hart Memorial fund at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Overseas, it has supported programs like Nepal earthquake relief, building schools in countries such as Cambodia and Kenya and many other worthwhile projects. Every year in Calgary a fundraiser event for the Foundation raises not only additional funds for the cause, but a reminder of Owen. Performers Sarah McLachlan, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Russell Brand and Seth Myers are just a few of the celebrities that have appeared over the years. All of this pays tribute to Owen in a way that WWE never could.
Even the announcement that she has allowed Owen Hart merchandise, through ProWrestlingTees.com, has all profits going to the Owen Hart Foundation.
Martha Hart could have taken her settlement and disappeared. Instead she turned tragedy into hope and positivity with the Foundation. It is something her family is rightfully proud of, and undoubtedly would make Owen proud as well.
The WWE Hall of Fame certainly can have meaning. The push to induct “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith was endorsed by his kids, Harry and Georgia, and ex-wife Diana. It means something to them to have him recognized. The same for the Neidhart family, Paul Bearer’s family and other posthumous inductions. Each time it was the family that wanted to have a Hall of Fame induction. The documentary made clear that it is not just Martha, but her children that also do not want Owen inducted. Incredibly daft comments like “wait until she dies and then induct him” shows the worst of pro wrestling fandom.
Owen Hart does have two Hall of Fame inductions. In 2018 he was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame at the National Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa. In 2019 he was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Wichita Falls, Texas. Unlike the WWE Hall, both have physical locations to visit. The outrage over Owen not being appreciated ignores these inductions as if the WWE Hall of Fame is the only one that matters. It is disappointing that Dark Side of the Ring didn’t mention these inductions.
Fans seem to feel that they are “owed” a WWE Hall of Fame induction and that without it, Owen’s career and life somehow means less.
Owen’s legacy lives on in his matches, which can be seen on the WWE Network and YouTube. His legacy is in the memories of other wrestlers, friends and fans who still talk about him with such reverence. It’s in the Owen Hart Foundation and the work it continues to do for others.
Most importantly, it is in his family. It is up to them, and only them, to determine how they want to remember him.
- Review: Martha Hart shines a light in Dark Side of the Ring’s ‘The Final Days of Owen Hart’
- Owen Hart story archive
- The Owen Hart Foundation