Bret “The Hitman” Hart comes from a deep line of pro wrestlers. Hailing from Calgary, he was trained and promoted by his father, Stu Hart. His father received the Order of Canada for a lifetime of community and charity work. It was this family spirit that inspired Bret to travel the world for over 20 years during which he became the World Champion of WWE and WCW, and used his charm and kindness to brighten the lives of sick and dying children around the globe. He revelled in meeting young fans one-on-one and tried to live up to the image they held him to as they watched The Hitman, along with millions of others, on television.
He will be in Ottawa on Sunday February 12 for a live talk and Q&A session. Ahead of his visit, Hart was kind enough to give me a call from his Calgary home to chat about his life and career.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: I know you’re busy and appreciate you taking the time to talk to me ahead of your visit to Ottawa.
Bret Hart: No problem. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me as well.
What was your earliest wrestling memory as a kid?
I was maybe three or four. I remember I was watching on a black and white TV and it was a match between Killer Kowalski and Tex McKenzie. They were pretty famous wrestlers back then. I remember it was a pretty intense match where there was a disqualification and Tex McKenzie was pretty badly hurt. I remember him lying on his back and his boots were shaking. I thought he wasn’t gonna make it. I remember being scared. They ended the match and were trying to put Tex McKenzie on a stretcher and take him out and trying to take him back to the dressing room. I then remember Kowalski running right up to the edge of the ring and climbing right up to the top turnbuckle and jumping right off the top and landing on the stretch… taking out everybody, the guys carrying the stretcher and Tex McKenzie as well. I remember the announcers going wild.
I was watching this with my brother and mom. I remember as this was going on, she didn’t seem very rattled. It was a big storyline for my parents at that time and she was hoping it would get everyone interested and help sell out the next show. I remember that every year was like a separate season, like in football, with a storyline and all. This season’s storyline was centred around Kowalski and McKenzie. Back then it was all real to me and I loved watching every minute of it.
“I never planned on doing it for life. Wrestling was supposed to be a temporary fix for five years or so…”
At what age did you know you wanted to make a go at becoming a professional wrestler?
When I finally started taking the steps and angling myself to become a wrestler, it was after everything else in my life had gone wrong and I had nothing to fall back on. There was this temporary period where I thought I could use wrestling to regroup. I never planned on doing it for life. Wrestling was supposed to be a temporary fix for five years or so… do some travel, get in shape. But I knew it was something more than temporary when I realised I was good at it. I knew a lot of guys that made big, big money wrestling and I also knew a lot of guys that didn’t make any money at all wrestling. So you can go high or you can go low doing this thing and I knew that if I was going to wrestle, I wanted to go all the way to the top. I’m going to be the best wrestler I can be, the best wrestler in the world.
And so I remember being down in Puerto Rico in 1979 with my brother to do some wrestling. The audience there was very passionate. The fans were intense and took their wrestling very serious. I remember they were very supportive and helped me get over my shyness, which I had early on. Afterwards I was standing on a beach, looking up at the sky and I couldn’t believe that I was actually a wrestler and taking part in pro wrestling. It was at that time that I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to be the best wrestler I could be. To try to do my best, be my best, help save my dad’s company and be a big star. I wanted to make money and help my dad and the rest of my family by working as hard as I could.
You were a writer for the Calgary Sun newspaper from 1991 to 2004. What got you into writing in the first place, considering your wrestling career was in full swing at that time? You won the WWE King of Ring tournament in 1991?
I always liked English class and was a decent writer. I was invited to write a one-time article for [the Calgary Sun]. They got such good feedback that they asked me to do it on a regular basis. A lot of the times, my brother Bruce would help me draft up articles. He would tend to write stuff that I didn’t necessarily agree with so I ended up doing it all myself. There was a time when Bruce wrote something political and [the founder of WWE,] Vince McMahon got upset over it. He told me he didn’t want me getting into any political stuff and for a while, they stopped me from doing any writing for The Sun.
About six months later, I started writing again. I asked Vince about it and he said that it was okay and to go ahead. Bruce still helped out but I eventually phased him out and did it all myself because at the end of the day, the article had my name on it and I wanted to make sure I wrote it all myself. It’s not like I made any real money off it, but it helped me expand my boundaries and try something different from wrestling. It was through writing the column that I came to the conclusion that I wanted to write my own book.
You also founded and even lent your name to the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen. What made you get into the hockey business on top of your wrestling and writing careers?
I was always a junior hockey guy. Even when I was wrestling, I’d go over and watch the local games. Through the creation of the team, I was able to meet great players like Joe Sakic and Theo (Theoren) Fleury. It was actually Theo Fleury that suggested, during one meeting when we were trying to figure out what to call the team, we call them The Hitmen.
You are also a spokesperson for the March of Dimes Stroke Recovery Program. What made you want to get involved with the program?
I had a stroke in 2002, lost everything, and was blessed with a pretty good recovery. I was able to get 90% of my movement back. I was in a bike accident that left my left side paralyzed and was so grateful for all the people that helped me during my recovery and I wanted to give something back. During my time, Walter Gretzky was working with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and he did so much for me in terms of helping and giving me words of encouragement that when March of Dimes approached me about being a spokesperson, I realized that it was a good opportunity to give back and spread awareness. I’m also involved with the Calgary Prostate Cancer Centre, especially after I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
What’s it like being a grandfather? What was it like to hold your first grandchild?
It was a magical moment. I was very lucky to experience it. Holding my grandchild in my arms brought back memories of my own children. You know, you give up a lot to be something great… to be a great wrestling superstar I had to give up a lot. My biggest sacrifice that I had to make was having to leave home almost every single day and be a kind of superhero for kids around the world. I always feel like I short changed my kids in that aspect. I’ll never get those moments back, seeing my kids all dressed up to go out for halloween or performing in school plays, or graduating from high school. I missed so much. So when you get the opportunity to hold your grandchild, especially after they have just been born, it’s a very powerful moment, worth everything you ever worked for.
One of your daughter’s nicknames is Beans, and her grandchild’s middle name is Beans too; what the story behind that nickname?
Actually my second daughter, my third child, her middle name is Sabina but my other children couldn’t pronounce either her first name, Alexandra, or her middle name, Sabina, and used to call her Beans instead. Since she was a baby, she’s been nicknamed Beans and so she’s gone all her life being named Beans. And when my older daughter, Jade, had her first child, she named her Kyra Beans. I think she gave her daughter the official middle name of Beans as a tribute to her little sister.
Going forward, do you plan on writing another book? If so, what do you think it will be about?
Yes, I would like to write another book. It will be a little similar to my last book, but won’t be so much about wrestling. It will be more about my life after wrestling. I’ve had an interesting life since and have done a lot and overcome a lot, like the stroke and cancer. I think there’s a story there to tell that others will find valuable. I would like to explore the things I’ve gone through over the last ten to fifteen years. There are a lot of people that supported me from all over the world during that time. At this point, I’m have too much fun to stop but I do plan on doing just that in the future and dedicating myself to writing another book.
You can catch Bret Hart weaving stories and answering any questions you may have at Algonquin Commons Theatre this Sunday February 12 at 4pm. Visit www.algonquinsa.com for ticket information.