23rd May 1999, a date remembered by all wrestling fans for all the wrong reasons. Owen Hart tragically died in the ring after a harness supporting him broke on a live pay per view event: Over The Edge. Today marks 16 years since the world lost a true heart, aged 34 Owen Hart.
That fateful Sunday evening, WWE hosted its 5th pay per view of 1999, headlined by Undertaker challenging Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWF championship. Anticipation was high, over 16,000 fans packed the Kemper Arena and achieved an impressive 1.24 PPV buy rate.
Owen Hart had restarted portraying his Blue Blazer gimmick. In November 1998, on Sunday Night Heat, Hart successful pulled of the stunt which later cost him his life. The stunt in question was for Owen to glide to the ring from the rafters, superhero style. Bret Hart mentioned later that Owen wasn’t comfortable about doing the stunt, however against his will waited above the ring patiently for his decent.
The Blue Blazer was scheduled to face the Godfather for the Intercontinental championship. A video was aired hyping Owen’s change in character. After the video finished you could hear concern in the voices of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. An interview from Heat with the Blue Blazer was then aired.
To everyone watching at home was confused about what was going on. To the 16,000 in attendance they witnessed a horrific accident. As Owen was lowered from the rafters, a chest harness snapped, causing Owen to drop 21m to the ring. Owen’s chest landed into the turnbuckle. EMT’s rushed to Harts aid, trying to revive him before being rushed to hospital.
For 15 minutes the event had stopped, Jim Ross explaining what had happened and empathised that this was not part of the act. WWF then made the difficult decision to continue the event. Every wrestler visibly looked uncomfortable to perform, within the situation who can blame them. Fans and wrestlers alike voiced their concern for continuing the event. For WWF hundreds of thousands of people who had ordered the event on PPV, cancelling the event would have done huge harm. Look at the WCW Halloween Havoc event that over ran and got caught off by the PPV provider. Given the situation in Kanas there was no right or wrong thing to do, unfortunately the show must go on.
An hour after the accident, commentator Jim Ross had the very unpleasant duty of announcing the following.
Owen Hart’s death left a horrible cloud over the night. The following night WWE aired an tribute “Raw is Owen” show. The world lost a true gentlemen of the wrestling industry. A complete artist of the backstage ribs, a fun family loving human being. Only good things were heard of the man, and that continues into his legacy today.
As a mark of respect the Over The Edge PPV was never released on Video or DVD. The name was dropped from the calender and replaced with Judgement Day. Nearly 15 years after the incident with the launch of the WWE Network, the event is finally being aired, with all references to Owen Hart remove.
We remember Owen Hart for the great things he accomplished in his career, for his legendary slammy moments. He was a proud man of the delightful gift he possessed. We can only speculate where Owen’s career would have gone if his hadn’t been taken from him. He would have thrived on Smackdown during 2002, imagine Owen facing Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero or Chris Jericho. Hopefully two of those matches is happening right now in Heaven.