Twenty-one years after her husband’s death, the widow of WWE legend Owen Hart insists she doesn’t hold any grudges.
But Martha Hart will never not point the finger at WWE.
Owen Hart died May 23, 1999 at a WWE (then WWF) pay-per-view in Kansas City after falling more than 50-feet to the ring from the rafters while performing a stunt.
Hart’s death at the age of 34 will be the subject of Tuesday night’s season finale of Vice on TV’s “Dark Side of the Ring” series for which Martha Hart was interviewed.
She says the WWE has always controlled the narrative surrounding her husband’s death, says the company was “negligent” in orchestrating the stunt and remains disgusted by WWE CEO Vince McMahon deciding to continue the show that night after the tragedy.
The show was paused 15 minutes before it resumed, and Jim Ross later announced Owen’s death on the air. He died of internal bleeding from blunt force trauma.
“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 told CBS Sports.
“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.”
According to Martha Hart, WWE cut corners in planning the stunt, not using the right equipment and hiring “hackers” because experienced riggers said it wasn’t safe. Owen trusted WWE, she said, and didn’t question their process. WWE gave Martha Hart $18 million in 2000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
“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,” Martha Hart told CBS Sports. “They didn’t have any regard for Owen’s life whatsoever. They went outside of qualified riggers that had good experience.”
Jerry McDevitt, outside legal council for WWE, offered the company’s side of the story 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,” he told the website. “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.”
The lawsuit was divisive within the Hart family, which had many members who made a living in the wrestling business. Martha Hart says that some family members worked against her. Owen’s brother Bret, one of WWE’s top stars in the 1980s and ’90s, has advocated over the years for Owen to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame — which has no physical location — but Martha won’t allow it because she doesn’t want WWE making money off her husband.
“They don’t even have a Hallway of Fame. It doesn’t exist. There’s nothing. It’s a fake entity. There’s nothing real or tangible. It’s just an event they have to make money,” Hart told the website. “They put it on TV and have a celebration, and it’s just so ridiculous. I would never even entertain it. It’s garbage.”
Relationships are broken beyond repair, but in some ways, Martha Hart has moved on.
“At the end of it all, I’ve forgiven all of them, really,” Hart told the website. “The Hart family, Vince McMahon, I don’t hold any grudges. I hope life has been kind to all of them. My life hasn’t been easy, and I certainly wouldn’t wish harm on anyone.”