May 23rd, 1999 is to this day, one of the darkest days in not only WWE history, but in the entire business of professional wrestling. At WWE’s pay per view chillingly titled ‘Over the Edge,’ ‘The Blue Blazer’ Owen Hart plunged seventy eight feet from the top of the rafters at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. It was supposed to be a grand entrance for The Blue Blazer character as he was to descend down from the rafters using a safety harness. Instead, the harness gave way and Owen tragically died at the young age of 34.
As of this writing, that tragedy happened 20 years ago. 20 years since the death of one of wrestling greatest often underappreciated stars. For those who were in attendance for that horrific accident and all those watching at home on pay per view, it is a night that we all will never forget. Oh sure, to this day there is still bitterness and sadness from fans and wrestlers alike that felt that Owen should’ve never attempted that stunt. This piece isn’t so much to recollect that tragic night, but to remember Owen Hart and how he became the Blue Blazer character to begin with.
Owen Hart was considered by many as the most naturally gifted wrestlers in the entire Hart family. He was a mat technician who could also do a plethora of aerial maneuvers. In 1987, Owen won the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Rookie of the Year award. It was only a matter of time before the World Wrestling Federation came calling. It was Owen’s older brother Bret Hart, who urged Vince McMahon and the WWF to take a long look at his kid brother and sign him.
Vince McMahon wasn’t entirely sold on Owen Hart at first. He felt Owen was too small and lacked a certain charisma that the WWF sought after. Owen Hart was a shy kid, who was still a bit green on the microphone, but his abilities inside the ring is what sold him to Vince. Owen was signed by the World Wrestling Federation in the summer of 1988. The big issue was, McMahon did not want Owen to debut under his real name. McMahon believed that wrestling as Owen Hart would hold him down and be compared to his older brother Bret.
Vince saw Owen’s agility and high flying moves and decided to give him a sort of super hero gimmick. According to Bruce Prichard, Vince loved the cartoon character ‘Mighty Mouse’ as a kid and always wanted to create a wrestling gimmick based on that character. Owen Hart was chosen for that gimmick. Owen’s face would be hidden behind a mask, because after all, Owen Hart was a well known, red hot rookie out of Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion.
The masked gimmick needed a name, but what to call this new masked super hero character. Initially, Owen was named ‘The Blue Angel,’ and wrestled a couple of matches in the Los Angeles house show circuit under that name. The rumors were, however, that the United States Navy took issue with the WWF using the name Blue Angel as it was a name used for its flight squadron. So as to not get into a legal feud with the U.S. military, the Blue Angel name was dropped and other names were bandied about. Some other names given to Owen’s character were The Blue Demon and the Blue Laser, but neither seemed right.
Vince McMahon finally settled on the name ‘The Blue Blazer’ and thus the character really started to come together. Initially, when Owen debuted under the mask in June/July of 1988, his girlfriend Martha and her relative made his first wrestling super hero outfit. According to Bret Hart, nobody liked the look of it including Owen, but he didn’t want to hurt his girlfriend’s feelings.
Eventually, the WWF’s wardrobe department created their own costume and mask fitting for their version of what the Blue Blazer should look like. The Blue Blazer certainly was a trailblazer back in 1988, as he was doing moves that were completely uncommon for that era in the WWF. Springboard moonsaults and all these flips and aerial maneuvers set the Blue Blazer apart from everyone else.
While the Blue Blazer was amazing WWF fans with all these relatively new, unseen moves, Owen was not moving past the low to mid card status. He was becoming frustrated that he was becoming more of a glorified jobber to other wrestlers such as ‘Mr. Perfect’ Curt Hennig and the ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted Dibiase. Owen made the decision to quit the WWF and start blazing a trail in other parts of the world including Europe, Japan, Canada and even a brief stay in WCW. Owen Hart would stay away from the WWF for two years before returning out from under the mask and as himself.
Under his own name, Owen achieved many great accomplishments winning various titles and Slammy awards. He turned heel and had a legendary feud with his brother Bret. The gimmick of the Blue Blazer would eventually return to Owen in 1998, 10 years after abandoning it. This time, however, it was used more of a parody and not taken seriously as it once was. It of course, sadly, was Owen’s last gimmick.