ST LOUIS, MO — The family of Owen Hart lashed out at pro wrestling officials, saying they took too many chances by devising stunts like the one that killed him. "My poor brother Owen was a sacrifice for the ratings," his sister said.

Suspended by wires 90 feet above the arena, Hart was to make one of his dramatic entrances.

Hart, a member of a prominent Canadian wrestling family, plummeted 70 feet or more to his death Sunday at Kemper Arena in Kansas City as he was being lowered into the ring from the arena's ceiling. At the World Wrestling Federation's event the next night, in St. Louis, some wrestlers wept openly, as did some of the 19,000 fans at the sold-out Kiel Center.

Police in Kansas City said today they were still trying to determine what went wrong.

Hart's brother Bret, also a wrestling star, told ABC's "Good Morning America" today that his brother had been worried about the stunt.

"This idea was taken to him," Bret Hart said. "There was a bit of discomfort about the danger in it. But somehow over the weekend he got talked into doing it again. He was very uneasy about it."

He said there should have been "some kind of a safety cable."

"We're professional wrestlers; we take our falls on the mat, inside the ring," Hart said. "I was never a stuntman, and my brother Owen was never a stuntman. He never should have been put in a situation where he was up on the top of a ceiling of an arena to go into the ring."

Bret Hart, known as "The Hitman," is a star on the World Championship Wrestling circuit, rival to his brother's organization, the World Wrestling Federation. They are sons of Stu Hart, a member of Canada's Olympic wrestling team in the 1940s. All seven of his sons went into wrestling. Even after Hart hit the canvas, many of the 16,200 fans thought the stunt was part of the theatrics.

Ellie Hart, a sister, said both organizations were trying more and more tricky stunts to attract fans.

"Frankly, wrestling was getting so far out and my poor brother Owen was a sacrifice for the ratings, that's how I look at it," she said Monday.

Hart's widow, Martha, said: "I think if you're asked to do some ridiculous stunt from 90 feet in the air, that the least they could do is consider safety first before ratings or, you know, how it looks to the fans. ...

"I'm not doing very well at all, and — and I miss my husband, and I'm just sad for myself that I'm a widow at 32, and I have two children that are fatherless now. It's very hard for all of us," she said this morning on NBC's "Today."

WWF spokeswoman Susan Warner said the organization had no comment on the family's statements. "We don't want to get into a 'he said, he said' situation over this. Our thoughts are with Owen Hart's family," she said.

More improvisational theater than sport, pro wrestling has been likened to soap opera for men. Hart's death was all the more shocking to fans because the performers aren't supposed to get hurt — no matter how painful the pounding seems. Even after Hart hit the canvas, many of the 16,200 Kansas City fans thought the stunt was part of the scripted theatrics that have helped fuel the explosion of popularity in wrestling

More improvisational theater than sport, pro wrestling has been likened to soap opera for men, complete with storylines, subplots and love triangles. The eternal themes are respect, revenge and redemption.

In popular weekly broadcasts on cable television, wrestling has the flash and thunder of a rock concert, the costume and color of a Broadway production.

In that vein, Hart was about to make another of his dramatic entrances Sunday night. He had been attached to wires near the top of Kemper Arena, whose ceiling is 90 feet above the floor. The plan was for him to descend into the ring in "superhero-type fashion," WWF President Vince McMahon said.

Instead, the wrestler plunged into the ring. His head hit a padded turnbuckle, a metal coupling that holds the ring's ropes together, and snapped backward. Hart struggled to lift his head and his arms rose slowly, about a foot off the mat, then collapsed.

Paramedics rushed into the ring, unraveling Hart's trademark "Blue Blazer"

"Wrestlers will stop performing the aerial move, but other stunts will continue," said WWF President Vince McMahon.
mask and unsuccessfully
trying to resuscitate him. He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Wade Keller, editor of the Pro Wrestling Torch newsletter, said it was the first fatal accident he knew of in U.S. wrestling since 1969, when Mike DiBiase died of a heart attack during a match in Texas.

McMahon said WWF wrestlers will stop performing the aerial move, but other stunts will continue. The WWF has scrapped plans to replay Sunday's event on pay-per-view TV and called off live events in Peoria, Ill.; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Hamilton, Ontario; Montreal and Ottawa.

But the Kansas City event resumed after about 15 minutes, and the show in St. Louis went on.

"Out of respect for Owen, knowing the consummate performer he was, I'm sure members of the Hart family would concur with me that he would want the show to go on," McMahon said.

Ellie Hart agreed that her brother, "being the kind of person he was, would have wanted Vince to continue. That's the nature of wrestling." But she said she thought Sunday's event should have been halted.


Police speculate that Owen Hart's fatal fall may have been caused by his elaborate, feathered costume catching on his release cord mechanism, similar to a parachute release. The feathers of his costume may have become caught in the pull-string, or he may have yanked the string accidentally.

On June 15, the Hart family filed suit against the World Wrestling Federation for the wrongful death Owen Hart. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, contending the device the fallen wrestler wore was grossly inadequate and that the WWF failed to provide a safety net and harness and backup cables.

Police are still investigating to see whether criminal charges should be filed.