Authors: Bret Hart
Part One: Stampede Days
1: Hart Boy
2: Loves Me Like A Rock
3: Learning The Art
4: Puerto Rico
5: Big-Hearted Brutes
6: Not A Big Enough Name
7: Keeping It Real
8: Japan and The Rising Son
9: “Oh, Dawling, Not Your Nose!”
10: The Cowboy Sees the World
11: Puzzle Rings
12: Marriage and Fatherhood
13: The Deepest Pockets
14: War Breaks Out
15: Sink Or Swim
Part Two: The Foundation
16: Paying My Dues In The WWF
17: “Turn Us Heel and Call Us The Hart Foundation”
18: The Push Brothers
19: Thrown Bones
20: “Cuts In Our Heads Like Piggybanks”
21: “More Mail Than Hogan”
22: Every Dog Has His Day
23: Wages Of Sin
24: Broke and Broken
25: The Real Push
26: “You’re Over, Brother!”
27: “Listen To Me, and I’ll Carry You”
28: Onwards and Upwards
29: “Brother, You Don’t Know The Whole Story!”
Part Three: Steal My Crown
30: Lone Wolf
31: Kane and Abel
32: Rel Worl Simpion
33: Bigger Than I Ever Imagined
34: The Clique
35: The Snakes are Docile
36: “I’ll Never Give You A Reason To Ever Want To Leave”
37: Everyone Around The World Hates Americans
38: The Lion and The Hyena
39: “No Matter What Happens, I’m Loyal To You”
40: Think With Your Head, Not Your Heart
41: The Montreal Screwjob
Part Four: Pink Into Black
42: Casualties Of War
43: “If I Gave You My Life, Would You Drop It?”
44: “Watch The Kick!”
45: The Last Dance
46: Pissing God Off
47: Going Home Song
I want to thank my children for giving me the time and space to write this book, especially after sacrificing so much of our time together during my pro wrestling career. Thanks to David Moraniss and Joe Fiorito for their encouragement throughout. Thanks also to Bruce West-wood and his staff at Westwood Creative Artists; and to Anne Collins at Random House Canada for an absolutely brilliant editing job, and for helping me to pull it all together. Thanks to all Hart family members, especially Ross and Alison; and to Julie, for putting up with me for as long as she did. I need to give special thanks to Marcy Engelstein for her amazing and tireless devotion to helping me write this book, which would never have been written without her. That’s the plain truth of it. Thank you, my friend. I’ll never forget the time and energy you’ve given me through some very difficult times.
Thanks to Dave Meltzer and Bob Leo-nard for preserving history. Thank you to all my fans around the world: I hope I haven’t disappointed too many of you by being as truthful as I’ve been in these pages. Lastly, to every wrestler mentioned in this book—the good, the bad and the ugly—and even more so to all the wrestlers I worked with from the start, I thank each and every one of you for working with me, and for trusting me like a brother and a friend. I’m free at last.
IT SEEMED LIKE AN ETERNITY until the pastor called me to the podium. I rose slowly from my seat, away from the insulation of loved ones—Julie, our four kids, my friend Marcy and Olympic wrestling champion Daniel Igali. I felt them all take a deep breath as I made my way to the aisle.
My father’s funeral service was held on October 23, 2003, at the biggest church in Calgary, yet it overflowed with an eclectic throng of thousands who came to pay their respects to the legendary Stu Hart, old-time pro wrestling promoter extraordinaire.
I moved slowly, a silent prayer resounding in my head, “Please, God, help me make it through.” I am an experienced public speaker, but my confidence had been shattered by a major stroke.
It hadn’t been that long since I’d been trapped in a wheelchair, paralyzed on the left side, unsure whether I’d ever walk again. Since then I’d been having emotional meltdowns triggered by the most unlikely things; this is common among stroke victims. I didn’t know how I was going to deliver a eulogy worthy of my father and not break down. It was also hard for me to walk tall when I felt so many eyes measuring the difference between what I was now—my body stiff, the chiseled edges softened—to what I’d been.
But when I walked past the pew where my brothers and sisters sat—my limp more noticeable than I wanted—I sensed, perhaps for the first time in our lives, that they were all behind me, even those with whom I’d had differences. Do it for Dad, Bret. Do it for all of us. Do us proud. There’d been twelve Hart kids, and now there were ten. Our beloved mother, Helen, had died just two years earlier. We’d all been through so much, traveled such a long, long road.
This wasn’t just the end of my father’s life, this was something deeper, and I think we all felt it. So many times over so many years I truly thought this godforsaken business was dead to me, but this was the day pro wrestling died for me—for good.
In the front pew sat Vince McMahon, billionaire promoter of the WWE (once the WWF), who’d made a failed attempt to steal my dignity, my career and my reputation. Beside him sat Carlo DeMarco, my old friend turned loyal McMahon lieutenant. They were doing their best to look dignified, but I knew—and they knew I knew—that McMahon’s presence at Stu Hart’s funeral was more about image than anything else. It only made me more determined to climb the steps with my head held high. You don’t matter to me anymore, Vince. I survived you, and everything else too. I had thought it was wrestling’s darkest hour when I’d had my heart cut out in the middle of the ring by that son of a bitch. Then the Grim Reaper of wrestling took my youngest brother, Owen, and that was the blackest day.
Keep walking, I?told myself, for Davey, Pillman, Curt, Rick, Liz . . . so many of us are gone, so young, and directly on account of the wrestling life. Hell, even Hawk. People told me he had wept like a baby when he heard Stu had died of pneumonia at eighty-three . . . and then Hawk died that very night. One more for the list. And surely not the last.
I reached into my breast pocket and took out my notes, carefully unfolding them on the slippery, polished surface of the oak podium. I surveyed the crowd, my gaze stopping at the young apprentices, Chris Benoit, Edge and Storm, who looked back at me with respectful anticipation. Next I glanced at a company of stalwart ring veterans—The Cuban, Leo, Hito, even Bad News—all more ruminative and melancholy than I’d ever seen them. I read it in their faces, the unspoken truth that burying a man like Stu Hart was truly the end of what we had lived for—and too many had died for.
And then the sight of old Killer Kowalski, in his good suit, transported me back four decades, to before Owen was even born.
I am a survivor with a story to tell. There’s never been an accurate account of the history of pro wrestling. All the public knows is what is packaged and sold to them by the industry. Since I’m no longer in the business, I’m in a decent position to tell the truth, without fear of recrimination. With this book, which is based on the audio diary I kept through all my years in wrestling, starting in my early twenties, I want to put you in my shoes so you can experience what pro wrestling was like in my era, through my eyes. It’s not my intention to take needless jabs at those who made the journey with me, but I’ll pull no punches either. Not here.
Wrestling was never my dream, and all too often it was my nightmare. Yet ingrained in me from birth was the instinct to defend it like a religion. For as long as I can remember, my world has been filled with liars and bullshitters, losers and con men. But I’ve also seen the good side of pro wrestling. To me there is something beautiful about a brotherhood of big, tough men who only pretend to hurt one another for a living instead of actually doing it. I came to appreciate that there is an art to it. In contrast to my father, who loved to proudly tell people who the real tough guys, or shooters, of his generation were, I can just as proudly tell you who the great workers, or pretenders, of my generation were. Unlike so many wrestlers with their various made-up names and adopted personae, I was authentic, born Bret Hart into a wrestling world I couldn’t escape. I can’t say life’s been easy, but I can say it’s been interesting.
I’ve always thought of myself as a quiet, easygoing kind of guy, and I believe I was well respected by most of my peers. Some have labeled me as arrogant, and others say I lacked charisma. Admittedly, I wasn’t the best talker or mic man in the business, but I more than made up for it with my technical proficiency in the ring. I don’t think anyone can rightly dispute that I was a wrestler who put the art first and gave everything I had to the business—and to the fans.
I’ve always been grateful to have been a world champion who actually did travel the world. People from all walks of life, from New York to Nuremberg, from Calgary to Kyoto, have told me that I inspired them in some way and that I represented everything that was decent about pro wrestling, the way it used to be, when there was still honor in it. It seems like all the world loves an honest battler.
I worked hard to bring out the best in my opponents. I gratefully acknowledge the hundreds of wrestlers I worked with in thousands of matches over twenty-three years, and am proud that I never injured another wrestler to the point that he couldn’t work the next day. Regrettably, I can’t say the same about some of those who worked with me. I took it as a challenge to have a good match with anybody. I respected both the green-horn jobbers, whose role it was to lose or put me over, and the old-timers, the big tough men of wrestling who allowed me the honor of standing over them with my hand raised. I refused to lose to a fellow wrestler only once in my career, and that was because he refused to do the same for me and others.
The public record is filled with false impressions of me from those who think they know me. Sadly, that includes some members of my own family. My youth wasn’t as loving and sweet as the fable that’s been perpetuated in wrestling lore. I’ve been hurt and betrayed by some of my brothers and sisters, yet I don’t feel I ever let them down. Some of them sometimes behave as though they begrudge what I’ve achieved, even though I’ve paid my dues in ways they can’t even imagine. The truth is, my family knows very little about me.
It wasn’t easy growing up the eighth of twelve kids, with seven brothers and four sisters. As a child I was drawn to my sweet mother and intimidated by my gruff father. Stu had a temper so fierce that some would consider his corporal punishment child abuse. Too many times I limped around bruised and battered, my eyeballs red and ruptured because of his discipline. On more than a few occasions I thought I was going to die before he was done with me. Often, as I was on the verge of blacking out from some choke hold of Stu’s, he’d huff, “You’ve breathed your last breath.”
My father was two different people. At an early age I began to call one of them Stu, and I was terrified of him. Dad was the father I loved. When I was little I used to think Stu overlooked the bad behavior of his favorite kids and ignored the goodness in the kids who didn’t matter as much to him.
Looking back I can see that he was hardest on the ones he thought had the most potential. He instilled in me a tenacious drive to succeed by implanting in me his own strong fear of failure. For most of my youth, he teetered on the brink of bankruptcy while I feared becoming the first Hart kid to fail a grade in school. My empathy with his fear connected us.
Like my father, I developed at least a couple of alter egos. At home I kept to myself and generally did whatever my older brothers told me to do; it was just easier that way. At my father’s wrestling shows every Friday night, I played Joe Cool, popular with the girls and on top of the world—all part of the show. At school I was shy, but the fights were real. All the Hart kids were bullied for wearing hand-me-downs, and I was always scrapping to defend the family honor. The wrestling fans on Friday nights had no idea that I often attended school wearing shorts in the winter because that’s all I had, or that I got my first pair of new runners when I was fourteen.
Later on in life I was one guy on the road, another at home and yet another in the ring. Which one is truly me? They all are.
MY EARLIEST MEMORY OF WRESTLING goes back to 1960, when I was three years old. There were nine Hart kids then, and we were huddled in the kitchen on a Friday night, watching my dad’s TV
show on a flickering black-and-white screen. My mom, pregnant with Ross—it seemed like she was always pregnant then—held my baby sister Alison in her arms. Though back then she never liked to watch wrestling, she, too, was riveted to the TV as Sam Manecker, the wrestling announcer, repeated frantically, “Kowalski has broken Tex McKenzie’s neck! He’s broken his neck!” My eyes popped out of my head and my mouth hung open. I was watching my very first wrestling angle.