Event: Over the Edge 1999
Date: May 23, 1999
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Arena: Kemper Arena
WWF Tag Team Championship
Kane and X-Pac vs D'Lo Brown and Mark Henry (w/Ivory)
WWF Hardcore Championship
Al Snow vs Hardcore Holly
Val Venis and Nicole Bass vs Jeff Jarrett and Debra
Mr. Ass vs Road Dogg
The Union (Mankind, The Big Show, Test and Ken Shamrock) vs The Corporate Ministry (Viscera, The Big Boss Man and The Acolytes (Faarooq and Bradshaw))
The Rock vs Triple H
The Undertaker vs Steve Austin (w/Shane McMahon as Special Guest Referee)
On May 23, 1999 Hart fell to his death in Kansas City, Missouri, during the Over the Edge 1999 pay-per-view event. He was 34 years old. Owen was in the process of being lowered into the ring from the rafters of Kemper Arena for a booked Intercontinental Championship match against The Godfather. In keeping with the Blazer's new 'buffoonish superhero' character, Hart was to be lowered to just above ring level, at which time he would release himself from the safety harness and fall flat on his face for comedic effect. It was an elaboration on a Blue Blazer stunt done on the Sunday Night Heat before Survivor Series 1998 where the Blue Blazer had come down from the rafters but was attacked when he was unable to release himself from the harness (which was how the stunt was supposed to go, not a malfunction). Owen had performed the stunt only a few times before, and was worried about performing the stunt at Kemper Arena due to the height involved (Owen had a fear of heights). Something went wrong with the stunt which triggered the early release mechanism. Owen fell 78 feet (24 m) into the ring, smashing his chest on a turnbuckle, throwing him into the ring. He died from his injuries (including a severed aorta that filled his lungs with blood) less than an hour later. A short time later, during the show, Ross announced that Owen had passed away. The pay-per-view continued, however, apparently after Owen's fellow wrestlers decided that Owen would not want them to cancel the show.
Owen had performed a practice stunt earlier in the day to calm him down, and the stunt went forward on the show as scheduled. His wife Martha has suggested that, by moving around to get comfortable with both the harness and his cape on, Owen unintentionally triggered an early release and TV viewers at home did not see the incident or its aftermath, as the WWF were transmitting a promotional video package for the match, and only showed the audience while Owen was being worked on by medical personnel inside the ring while WWF television announcer Jim Ross repeatedly told those watching live on pay-per-view that what had just transpired was not a wrestling angle or storyline and that Hart was hurt badly, emphasizing the seriousness of this situation.
Owen was transported to the Truman Medical Center in Kansas City, where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Owen had actually died while still being tended to in the ring. The cause was later revealed to be internal bleeding from blunt chest trauma. Jim Ross announced the death of Owen Hart to the home viewers during the PPV, but not to the crowd in the arena. The WWF chose to continue the event, which drew a great deal of criticism over the following weeks,especially as the main event of the evening involved The Undertaker (nicknamed the "Deadman";) winning the WWF Title. While the show did go on, it has never been released commercially by WWF Video and to this date no footage has ever been released of Owen Hart falling.
In the weeks that followed, much attention focused on the harness Owen used that night, especially on the 'quick release' trigger and safety latches. When someone is lowered from the rafters in a harness, there are backup latches that must be latched for safety purposes. These backups may take some time to unlatch, which would have made Owen's stunt difficult to perform smoothly. Therefore, it was apparently decided that it was more important not to have the safety backups, because it would be easier for Owen to unlatch himself.
In addition to not having safety backups, the harness Owen used was designed for sailboats and required only six pounds of weight to trigger the quick release mechanism; Owen weighed about 225 pounds. An out-of-court settlement between Owen Hart's family and the WWF has prevented the release of any information about the harness. The WWF, however, decided to ban stunts of a similar nature from this point on to avoid a similar event from occurring.
Owen left behind a widow, Martha, and two children, Oje Edward and Athena. Martha Hart settled her wrongful death lawsuit against the WWF for approximately $18 million, and used the funds to establish the Owen Hart Foundation. Martha wrote a book about Owen's life in 2002 called "Broken Harts: the life and death of Owen Hart".
In his DVD set The Bret Hart Story, Bret comments that, despite the bad blood between himself and Vince McMahon, he wishes he had been with the WWF the night Owen's accident happened.
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