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The loss of Owen Hart and the family, friends and fans who loved him

Twenty years ago, the wrestling world was in mourning after a tragic accident claimed the life of Owen Hart.

20 years ago, the Canadian wrestler died when a stunt went wrong at a Kansas City arena

Owen Hart is seen heading into the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Mo., on May 23, 1999. Later that day, a stunt that went wrong claimed his life. (Steve Meyers/Associated Press)

Twenty years ago, the wrestling world was in mourning after a tragic accident claimed the life of Owen Hart.

On May 23, 1999, Hart was at Kansas City's Kemper Arena for a World Wrestling Federation event, which saw him make his entrance to the wrestling ring, on a harness and wire, from high above the crowd.

But during his descent, Hart ended up plunging onto the ring below after his harness released.

'What they were seeing was no act'

Owen Hart is seen performing in Hershey, Penn., in January of 1999, a few months before an accident claimed his life. (Jason Plotkin/The York Dispatch/Associated Press)

It happened in front of thousands of wrestling fans seated in the arena, who were initially unsure of what was happening.

"Shocked ring announcers tried to tell the home audience that what they were seeing was no act," the CBC's Raj Ahluwalia told viewers on The National, when reporting on the accident.

"But many in the arena had no idea what was really going on."

Sadly, what had happened was not something that had been planned. At age 34, Hart was dead.

'Far too great a risk'

Wrestler Ross Hart is seen speaking with CBC News about the death of his brother Owen. (The National/CBC Archives)

In death, Hart left behind his wife, Martha, their two children, and his large extended family, which was well-known in the wrestling community.

Ross Hart, a wrestler himself, told CBC News he believed there was no need for the type of stunt that had claimed his brother's life.

"It's just a stunt to attract an audience ... but it seems to me it was far too great a risk," he said.

Family, friends and fans say goodbye

The eulogy for Owen Hart was broadcast on loudspeakers outside the Calgary funeral home where his memorial service was held. (CBC Calgary/CBC Archives)

On May 31, a funeral was held for Hart in Calgary. The eulogy was played over loudspeakers, for the many fans outside who were paying their respects to the Canadian wrestling star. 

"They lined the streets, some of them with posters and cards, many of them young fans who grew up watching Owen Hart — the Blue Blazer — every Saturday," the CBC's Joanne Faryon reported on the day of the funeral.

Many fans of Canadian wrestler Owen Hart gathered to mourn his loss on the day of his funeral. (CBC Calgary/CBC Archives)

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein was there to pay his respects at the funeral, as was Calgary Mayor Al Duerr.

Three busloads of pro wrestlers came to Hart's funeral, as well.

Wrestler Hulk Hogan attended the funeral for Owen Hart in Calgary. (CBC Calgary/CBC Archives)

But it was family who spoke during the hour-long tribute to Hart's life, which Faryon reported "wasn't as much about a wrestling star, as it was about a husband and a father."

Martha Hart said that there would be "a day of reckoning" for her husband's death.

"This is my final promise to Owen and I won't let him down," she said.

Owen Hart's funeral was held in Calgary on May 31, 1999. He had died eight days earlier in Kansas City. (CBC Calgary/CBC Archives)

An investigation into Owen Hart's death did not lead to charges. However, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Hart's family against the WWF was later settled.

Settlement 'doesn't fix my broken heart'

In this June 15, 1999 file photo, Martha Hart, widow of the late professional wrestler Owen Hart, announces that her family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the World Wrestling Federation in Kansas City, Mo., as a photo of the Harts and their two children sits in the foreground. (Cliff Schiappa/Associated Press)

After the settlement, Martha Hart spoke to CBC Radio's This Morning about what she and her family had gone through after her husband's death.

"I'm certainly not better. I miss Owen every day and my life is still difficult," she said.

While the wrestler's widow was satisfied with the settlement, she told CBC "it certainly doesn't fix my broken heart."

Owen Hart's widow gets an $18 million U.S. settlement for his death. 5:40