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Book Review: Bret Hart’s Hitman – The Greatest Wrestling Story Ever Told

While reading Bret Hart’s Hitman: My Real Life In The Cartoon World Of Wrestling, you never get the feeling that he’s happy writing his memoirs. He does remember happy moments in his life, but you get the idea that he’s telling his stories with a chip on his shoulder. And if you understand the Bret Hart story, it’s not a surprise. But I truly wonder about those folks who don’t know his entire story like I do. I wonder if they think he’s just a bitter old wrestler. Because if anyone has a right to be bitter about wrestling, it’s Hart.

When I was growing up, Bret Hart was a tag team wrestler who Gorilla Monsoon called “The Excellence Of Execution”. I never thought he’d become the singles star that he did, winning the WWE championship on a number of occasions, and recently, on Wrestling Observer/F4W, a hardcore wrestling/history site, was voted the best wrestler who ever lived via a fan poll. When I was twelve, never did I think he would become that wrestler. He wasn’t huge in a big man’s game. He had good size for a normal human being, but not for a business in which being 300 pounds is a positive. But he was always the one wrestler who was believable in the ring. You couldn’t see much phony in his art. And he had this magnetism about him that wasn’t the result of pandering to the crowd. He was just good.

Hart knows he was good. He tells you. He has a high opinion of himself. But most people who were great at what they did have that kind of opinion about themselves. But in Hart’s business, it’s even more important to do so because no one else is going to do the marketing for you. You market yourself and hope that someone notices. He also tells you who was good. And he doesn’t pull any punches on who he thinks was bad. He’s very honest, but maybe to a fault. He’s honest about everything. He’s honest about his broken marriage and the affairs he had on the road. He’s honest about the early drug and steroid abuse in his career. And as a reader, you have a hard time dealing with Hart being the “good guy”. He plays that role well, but then cheats on his wife. He’s a great son, but then finds a ring rat, sleeps with her, and thinks it’s ok. Bret Hart is a walking contradiction. But there’s something about the wrestling business that eats these guys up and eventually, you feel sorry for Hart, rather than hold him responsible for his actions.

He covers his entire career from early on in Canada, wrestling for his dad’s Stampede territory. He spent a lot of his early career wrestling overseas in Germany and Japan and also in Puerto Rico. It covers his early stay in WWE where they wanted to put a cowboy hat on him and call him “Cowboy Bret Hart”. He talks a lot about his legendary tag team with Jim Neidhart and Jimmy Hart. He covers his the latter part of his WWE career in fantastic detail as well. His WCW career isn’t really covered as well, but it was such a terrible time for him in his life that I don’t blame him. But the end of the book is where it really develops. As his life started to get worse, his story became better and it’s a rare case of the end of the book being just as interesting as the middle.

Bret Hart’s WWE Hall Of Fame Introduction Speech

He never wanted to be a lifer and wrestled mostly to meet girls, travel, and make a little bit of money. In the end, the business nearly ate him up. But he still survived. There are three truly heartbreaking stories. The first is when his brother Owen died. Bret has 11 other brothers and sisters and holds disdain for most of them based on their actions. But not Owen. He saw Owen as a true peer and a best friend. On May 23, 1999, Owen was dressed as the masked Blue Blazer and he was to descend from the top of the building via a harness, only the release mechanism malfunctioned and he fell 78 feet into the ring and to his death. It’s something you never get over and it really started the downward spiral of Hart’s life.

His mother and father also passed away amidst a lot of family in fighting, much of it the result of the lawsuit that Owen’s widow Martha filed against Vince McMahon and the WWE. The Harts were a wrestling family and if you turn against McMahon, you kill the possibility of working for him. Hart has this very different relationship with both parents. He caters to his mom and wants nothing more than to make her laugh, but is scared of his father and respects him for his toughness at the same time. I don’t think he intended the book to necessarily be a love letter to his parents, but it’s definitely one of the defining themes.

The last heartbreaking part of the book is Hart’s own dealing with his concussion and the result of it. The once strong and determined Hart becomes scared, sad, and broken down. I will just say that while Hart will never be able to wrestle again, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The reason why Hart is able to remember his life in great detail is because he kept a tape recorder with him on the road and verbally documented his entire career. Also, during the infamous Montreal Screw Job where wrestling stopped being a work (fake) for a few minutes, filmmaker Paul Jay was doing a documentary on him at the time, so there’s video evidence of the situation. This helps him tell a story that is colorful, but also very factual. Many biographies suffer from bad memories.

I will always hold Mick Foley’s bio, Have A Nice Day: A Tale Of Blood And Sweatsocks in the highest regard, but this book might be better. It might also be that Bret Hart’s story plays out in a more dramatic fashion, like a great narrative. It’s a must read for wrestling fans. If you have any interest in the craziness of the wrestling business or simply a fantastic human interest story, you can’t go wrong with this book.

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