Canadian pro wrestler Bret “Hitman” Hart became a popular WWE champion thanks to his smooth style and technical proficiency.
Who Is Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart?
One of 12 children born to Canadian wrestler and promoter Stu Hart, Bret “Hitman” Hart began his career in his father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. After surfacing in WWE as one-half of the Hart Connection tag-team duo, the “Hitman” emerged as a fan favorite en route to becoming a five-time heavyweight champion. Hart joined the rival WCW in the late 1990s following the controversial “Montreal Screwjob,” before mending ties with WWE the following decade.
Early Years and Stampede Wrestling
Bret Sergeant Hart was born on July 2, 1957, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the eighth of 12 children of longtime wrestler and promoter Stu Hart and his wife, Helen.
An artistic child, Hart enjoyed drawing cartoons and later went to film school, but the lure of the family business proved irresistible. He began selling programs for Stu’s Stampede Wrestling promotion at an early age, and soon joined his brothers for practice in the basement of their 22-room mansion, a space known as “The Dungeon.” By high school, the well-trained grappler had emerged as a state and provincial champion.
Hart became a regular competitor in Stampede Wrestling in the late 1970s and went on to claim a series of individual and tag-team championships.
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.