Bret Sergeant Hart – ‘Hitman’ (born July 2, 1957) is a Canadian-American retired professional wrestler. A member of the Hart wrestling family and a second-generation wrestler, he has an amateur wrestling background, wrestling at Ernest Manning High School and Mount Royal College. A major international draw within professional wrestling, he has been credited with changing the perception of mainstream North-American professional wrestling in the early 1990s by bringing technical in-ring performance to the fore. Hart is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time; Sky Sports noted that his legacy is that of “one of, if not the greatest, to have ever graced the squared circle”. He was a face of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) during the New Generation Era and the early Attitude Era. For the majority of his career, Hart used the nickname “Hitman”.
Hart joined his father Stu Hart’s promotion Stampede Wrestling in 1976 as a referee and made his in-ring debut in 1978. He gained championship success during the 1980s and 1990s in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE), where he helmed The Hart Foundation stable. He left for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) following the controversial “Montreal Screwjob” in November 1997, where he remained until October 2000. Having been inactive from in-ring competition since January 2000, owing to a December 1999 concussion, Hart officially retired in October 2000, shortly after his departure from the company. He returned to sporadic in-ring competition from 2010 to 2011 with WWE, where he won his final championship, headlined the 2010 SummerSlam event, and served as the general manager of Raw. Throughout his career, Hart headlined WrestleMania IX, X, and XII, and participated in the main event of Starrcade 1997 and 1999 – as a special enforcer and referee in the former. Hart was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame upon its inception in 1996, while still an active performer.
Hart has held championships in five decades from the 1970s to the 2010s, with a total of 32 held throughout his career, and 17 held between the WWF/WWE and WCW. Among other accolades, he is a five-time WWF Champion and a two-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Hart has most combined days as WWF Champion during the 1990s (654), and was the first WCW World Heavyweight Champion born outside the United States. He is the second WWF Triple Crown Champion and fifth (with Goldberg) WCW Triple Crown Champion, and the first man to win both the WWF and WCW Triple Crown Championships. Hart is also the 1994 Royal Rumble match winner (with Lex Luger), and the only two-time King of the Ring, winning the 1991 tournament and the first King of the Ring pay-per-view in 1993. Stone Cold Steve Austin, with whom Hart headlined multiple pay-per-view events as part of an acclaimed rivalry from 1996 to 1997, inducted him into the WWE Hall of Fame class of 2006. In 2019, Hart became one of seven people to enter the WWE Hall of Fame twice, when he was inducted again as a member of The Hart Foundation, with brother-in-law Jim Neidhart.
Outside of wrestling, Hart has appeared in numerous films and television shows such as The Simpsons as well as featuring in several documentaries, both about himself specifically and others about his family or the wrestling industry in general. Hart also helped found and lent his name to the major junior ice hockey team the Calgary Hitmen, and has written two biographies along with a weekly column for the Calgary Sun for over a decade. After his retirement, Hart has spent much of his time on charitable efforts concerning stroke recovery and cancer awareness, due to his personal experiences with the two. Hart chronicled his wrestling life and the Montreal Screwjob in his best-selling autobiography.
The eighth child of wrestling patriarch Stu Hart and his wife Helen, Bret Hart was born in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) into the Hart wrestling family. He is of Greek descent through his maternal grandmother and Irish through his maternal grandfather. His father was mainly of Scots-Irish descent but also had Scottish and English ancestry. Hart is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States since his mother Helen was born in New York. Hart has stated that he considers himself to be North American and that he is equally proud of his U.S. and Canadian nationality. His maternal grandfather was long-distance runner Harry Smith.
Hart grew up in a household with eleven siblings, seven brothers Smith, Bruce, Keith, Wayne, Dean, Ross and Owen, as well as four sisters, Ellie, Georgia, Alison and Diana. As a child he was the closest with his older brother Dean who was the nearest to him in age of all his older brothers, being three years his senior. Together they would often fight with Bret’s two older sisters, Ellie, who was two years older, and Georgia, who was one year older. Hart’s family were non-denominational Christians, but he and all of his siblings were baptized by a local Catholic priest.
Hart spent the vast majority of his childhood in the Hart family mansion which was owned by his father. During one period his father was housing a bear known as Terrible Ted chained under the building, the bear had had all of its teeth removed and Hart would sometimes as a very young child let the bear lick ice cream off his toes since he thought it was a good way to keep them clean.
His introduction to professional wrestling came at an early age. As a child, he witnessed his father training future wrestlers like Superstar Billy Graham in the Dungeon, his household basement which served as a training room. Before school, Hart’s father, also a wrestling promoter, had him hand out fliers to local wrestling shows. In the 1998 documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, Hart reflected on his father’s discipline, describing how Stu uttered morbid words while inflicting excruciating submission holds that left broken blood vessels in Bret’s eyes. Hart claimed his father had an otherwise pleasant demeanor.
Hart’s first work in wrestling involved pulling out lucky numbers out of a metal box during intermission at the Stampede Wrestling shows when he was four years old. When he got slightly older he would sell programs to the shows, something all Hart’s seven brothers would do. He would often compete for customers with his little brother Ross since the fans would often want to buy from the youngest Hart child.
Like his father, Hart was an excellent amateur wrestler since an early age, having begun training as a nine-year-old. At Ernest Manning High School, Hart became a standout student in the amateur wrestling division. Hart has stated that he joined the wrestling team “for the sole reason that my dad expected me to… no-one asked me to.” He won significant championships in tournaments throughout Alberta, including the 1974 city championships in Calgary. He scored a victory over competitor Bob Eklund – who would go on to become a Canadian Interuniversity Sport national champion, winning “Outstanding Wrestler of the Year 1980–1981” – en route to the championship. Hart describes the moment where he displayed the medal to his father, Stu, as a “powerful moment”, and that the relationship with his father “took a different direction from that point on.” Hart considered the medals to be one of his most prized possessions.
By 1977, Hart was collegiate champion at Mount Royal College, where he was studying filmmaking; his coaches and other people around him felt that he had shown sufficient promise to compete at the following year’s Commonwealth Games and encouraged him to begin training for the event. Hart, however, was beginning to find amateur wrestling unrewarding amid injuries and fluctuating weight. Stu still believed his son capable of making it to the Olympic or Commonwealth Games if he put forth the effort. Hart has expressed that he believed that even if he became an exceptionally successful sports wrestler it would not have led to a career afterwards which he was interested in, stating that he thought that he would end up as a wrestling coach or phys-ed teacher at a high-school if he pursued the olympic route. Hart felt that the only way to give up amateur wrestling without disappointing his father was to become a professional wrestler. His college grades became poorer as his interest in filmmaking waned; he dedicated himself to professional wrestling and began training with his father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. Hart has spoken of how helpful his amateur background was in his professional wrestling career, and also of what a positive effect amateur wrestling has on junior high school and high school-aged boys in terms of building self-confidence.
With Stu’s sale of Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment in 1984, Hart joined his in-laws Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith on the roster of the rapidly expanding Connecticut-based promotion.
The Hart Foundation
Hart’s initial WWE success came as part of the Hart Foundation, a tag-team partnership with Neidhart under the management of the unrelated Jimmy Hart. Known for their eye-catching pink and black attire, Hart and Neidhart toppled the British Bulldogs – Smith and fellow Stampede alumnus Tom “Dynamite Kid” Billington – for their first tag-team title in 1987, and they later became two-time champions at SummerSlam 1990.
Superstar and Champion
Making the push as a solo performer, the Hitman won over fans with his cool-as-ice style, marked by the gifting of his trademark sunglasses to kids before matches, and his distinct “Sharpshooter” finishing move. He knocked off Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991 to win the intercontinental championship, awarded to the organization’s best technical wrestler and reclaimed the title with a dramatic win over “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII the following spring.
After dropping the intercontinental belt to Smith in August 1992, Hart earned a bigger prize that October by defeating Ric Flair in his father’s hometown of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, for the first of his five WWE heavyweight championships. He cemented his elite standing with wins at the 1993 King of the Ring and 1994 Royal Rumble, before ousting the gargantuan Yokozuna at WrestleMania X.
Celebrated primarily as a “face” – a good guy – for much of his championship days, Hart also enjoyed a noted turn as a “heel” to American audiences in the latter half of the decade.
The ‘Montreal Screwjob’ and Move to WCW
Set to jump to World Championship Wrestling in late 1997, Hart clashed with McMahon over the directive to lose his belt to rival Shawn Michaels. Believing he had earned the go-ahead to vacate the title following a November 1997 showdown vs. Michaels in Montreal, Hart instead was declared the loser of the match by a submission that never occurred, a moment that went down in wrestling lore as the “Montreal Screwjob.”
Still one of the sport’s most popular figures, the Hitman became a two-time WCW heavyweight champion and teamed with Bill Goldberg for a tag-team title, but an errant kick to the head from Goldberg aggravated the toll of years of hard knocks, and eventually led to Hart’s announced retirement in 2000.
Return to WWE
After recovering from a debilitating stroke, Hart took steps toward mending ties with WWE by way of his induction into the Hall of Fame in April 2006. He publicly reconciled with Michaels during Monday Night Raw in January 2010, and while his attempt to do the same with McMahon resulted in a violent response, Hart enjoyed his revenge by downing the WWE chief with the Sharpshooter at WrestleMania XXVI.
Each of Hart’s seven brothers became involved in the wrestling industry, while all four of his sisters married professional wrestlers. The youngest Hart, Owen, also enjoyed a prominent WWE career, thanks in part to his rivalry with his big brother, before he was tragically killed in a botched stunt during a May 1999 event.
Book and TV Appearances
Hart published his autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, in 2007.
On screen, Hart landed the recurring role of Luther Root on the mid-1990s Western Lonesome Dove: The Series, and saw an animated version of himself appear on The Simpsons. He was also the subject of the 1998 documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows.
Hart fathered children Jade, Dallas, Alexandra and Blade with his first wife, Julie Smadu. He later had a brief union with Cinzia Rota, before marrying Stephanie Washington in 2010.
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