Bret Hart's Speech
Thank you ladies and gentlemen. Thank you very much. I’ve won many awards in my lifetime. But the Bob Edwards Award is indeed a tremendous honor.
When I even look for a second at the list of past recipients, it’s a fine list with many bonafide heavyweights: Pierre Burton, Margaret Atwood, Preston Manning. I think I’m more at home with names like Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon, and Abdullah the Butcher. Wow! There was a commercial I saw that struck me when I was thinking about this speech. “We’re all a kid from somewhere.” Well, all my life I’ve always been a kid from Calgary. Who would have ever thought? As I stand before you, it’s hard for me to put my finger on what got me here; the rough and rocky road that has delivered me here over the course of my lifetime. “All the lunacy, that’s half the beauty (author unknown).”
I’ve only got 20 minutes to fill in the gaps and give you some kind of worthy account of my life. I grew up in a home of 12 kids, one of eight boys in the notorious Hart family. Of course, the first people I would have to single out and thank are my parents. My Father, Stu, was without a doubt one of the toughest and most interesting men to call Calgary home. My Mom, Helen, equipped with a quick wit and a great sense of humor, was the charmer of all wild things. She calmed the wild beasts that pulled into the yard on a daily basis. I thank them both for giving me the most incredible, wacky, hilarious house filled with love; alongside my 11 siblings, so many cats, usually a dog or two, two baby goats that weren’t babies anymore that would rear back and smash heads together while we all played in the sandbox. We had Daphne the cow and a whole barn-full of chickens. Big old broken down cars everywhere. But, for me, the best part was all the ugly faces. Wrestlers from every corner of the world worked for my father; all colors, all shapes, all ages, big and little people, men and women, strongmen, tough guys, and bullshit artists. Most of whom had ears like doorknobs. As early as I can remember, from the time I rolled out of bed in my pajamas, this was the backdrop for my life. I loved the crazy mixed up world I was born into and loved of all of those around me. I’ll never know what possessed my Mom to have 12 kids, but I’ll go so far as to say my poor Dad never had much say in any of it. Being one in a family of 12, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle, or lost in the herd sort of thing. But both my parents spent their lives trying to teach us right from wrong, integrity, conscience, sacrifice, dedication, and there was always a big spoonful of laughter sprinkled on everything. Everyday was an adventure.
I remember when Terrible Ted, the wrestling bear, came to town. His handler had him in a little mesh cage underneath the back porch. I can remember sitting out on the steps with various sisters and brothers. My feet would be so dirty they’d be black on the bottom. When we would be eating our Fudgecicle’s, I’d drip that ice cream all over my toes and, if you pressed your feet up against that mesh cage, Terrible Ted wasn’t so terrible. Dang if he didn’t lick my feet clean, spotless in fact.
By the time I was 4 years old, I was loaded up in one of my dad’s big old Cadillacs and whisked down to the Stampede Grounds, more specifically the Victoria Pavilion every Friday night for all of my youth and the early start of my adult life. I was just another character in the world of Stampede Wrestling. I remember being squashed in a back seat with four midget wrestlers. I wanted to be a wrestler so bad, and when the midget wrestlers came to town, I thought: “how perfect? Wrestlers my size!” It didn’t take long to figure out that most of the midgets were leery of little kids, maybe especially the Hart kids. I’d always wanted to wrestle them, try to put them in a headlock. But I found with guys like Little Beaver and Sky Low Low, the best way to get rid of a kid like me was to grip down on my kneecap with their strong little hands as hard as they could. On an ordinary Friday night, Dad would pull up in front of the Victoria Pavilion and the youngest Hart boys would pile out with a wad of programs under our arms. I learned to count and earn my first real money as a young program seller. The best part of my night would be just after I sold my programs when my brother Dean and I would take on all comers on the grass out in front of the Pavilion. From there, I’d eventually find my way to the timekeeper’s table with old Tommy Carr with his stopwatch and a little hammer to ring the bell. I can honestly say that I was never the best student. How could I be? The circus came to town day in day out; but sitting ringside, unknowingly, I got the education I needed. Staring between those ropes I watched many of the best, some of the worst, the old and the young, world champions, and wrestling styles from all over the world. Don Delillo once wrote: “There is only one truth. Whoever controls your eyeballs runs the world.”
I find it funny to tell you I had countless fights with kids at school or down at the pavilion, but the funny part was I always won with holds I learned watching wrestling: Camel Clutch, Boston Crab, Full Nelson, Sleeper Hold, Figure Four Leg Lock. Before long, I was feared by kids for my wrestling abilities. I understood fights, the psychology even then, school fights or high school wrestling. There is a story to tell.
By the time I was 13 yrs. of age, my Dad had brought in the biggest, baddest, wrestler Stampede Wrestling ever had: Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie. He went through every wrestler my Dad had like a buzzsaw until finally he got into it with my Dad. He attacked him one Friday night, and with the only weapon to defend against this brute was my dad’s famous elbow smash to the jaw. So The Stomper laid my Dad out and proceeded to stomp his poor arm over and over. He broke my Dad’s arm. That was the thing about the wrestling business in my house. Nobody told me anything. You just figure it out. I remember my Dad would be cooking dinner, and there’d be a knock on the door. Just when I thought he was getting better, he’d run and find his cast and put it back on just in time to open the door. When I finally started figuring it out was while watching The Stomper screaming at the top of his lungs: “Stu Hart, old man Hart, if I got to go up your big house on the hill, I’ll tear that house down brick by brick. I’m going to kick your kids all around the yard. I’m going to pile drive Helen Hart on the interstate!’’ I remember being scared; goosebumps going up my arms and chills up my back. My God, what’s an interstate? Just while I was watching this on TV, The Stomper pulled up in the backyard and got out of his yellow Corvette, came up the steps, and knocked on the door. I was ready to go hide in the basement when I could hear the pitter patter of my Mom’s slippers coming down the steps to the kitchen door. To say I was astonished would be an understatement. My mom opened the door and said, “oh hi Arch”, and handed him his check. What the heck?? I think I started looking at wrestling differently from that point on.
I’m going to stop here and just say, for the record, that I never really wanted to become a pro wrestler. I was always a kid that loved his books. Reading was something my Mom encouraged all of us to do. She was always fascinated by what I was reading and asked me questions relating to the book. My mom would often bring books home from the library and buy used books all over town. The Hart house may have been filled with wrestlers in the basement, but there was always one room filled with books called the Library. When I wrote my autobiography, I always felt it was my greatest accomplishment and I dedicated my book to her because she would have been so proud of me. My oldest brother Smith taught me how to draw. I became a good cartoonist and could do amazing caricatures of, you guessed it, wrestlers.
I was a very good amateur wrestler. I was undefeated in grade 7 until I broke my tailbone falling in a closet at home. I did a radio interview with the late, great Bill Powers. I was in grade 11 and undefeated at the time. We talked about me following my Dad’s footsteps. I hesitated, but confessed I was. I eventually won the Calgary High School Wrestling Championship twice for Ernest Manning, the Provincial Championship once, and I won the Alberta College Championship in 1977 for Mount Royal College. My Dad hitchhiked to Vancouver in 1938 to win the Canadian Championship. I had coaches that believed I could go to the Commonwealth Games, maybe the Olympics. Does it matter? Yes, it matters to me. Like all young men, I had aspirations to do great things, to use my imagination. I wanted to be a moviemaker, to tell stories, to be artistic and creative. I’ll just say that I ran into obstacles, and just when I felt I wouldn’t ever reach those lofty heights, I escaped all my barriers and ran straight into the loving arms of pro wrestling.
When I got into pro wrestling, I got in to make some money, stay in shape, see the world, and meet girls. All of that came true. After starting out, I ran into a girl I knew from high school. We hadn’t seen each other since graduation. She asked: “So what are you doing these days?” I answered: “I’m working for my dad now. I’m a pro wrestler.” She had a sad look on her face and said: “Really, I’m so disappointed. I thought you would do so much more than that.” I felt this immense pang of shame and guilt. But, you know, she was so right. I’ve carried those words in my heart for a long time and they pushed me to make my career as a pro wrestler mean something, to never let it become a waste of time.
I understood pretty clearly when I was twenty years old that my Dad needed me to help save his struggling business. I promised I would become the greatest wrestler that ever lived. My Dad always believed in me; he truly became my biggest fan. In Stampede Wrestling, I became his North American Champion having matches against some of the greatest wrestlers of that era: The Stomper, Abdullah the Butcher, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkle, Dynamite Kid and so many more. After six exhausting years learning and crafting my skills, the WWF, now WWE, came knocking on my Dad’s door with an offer that he couldn’t refuse.
I was more than skeptical that I would ever make it in the WWE. At that time, it was a company filled with not only the biggest names, but the largest collection of giant men ever assembled. I started out from there, a young man with six years of wrestling under my belt, a few pennies in the bank, and a wife and two kids. My favorite author, Mark Helprin, wrote: “When your chances start to run out and your prospects have disappeared, and you are alone in the dark looking back, you live your life to the fullest and clearest, and this is when, belatedly, you really know love.” I didn’t think I would last a month in WWE. I ended up being there for 14 years.
I got to travel all over the world to places like Japan, Kuwait, Africa, Europe, and India. I got to be on TV shows like Lonesome Dove, MAD TV, and The Simpsons. I had a top-5 song in the UK produced by a then-unknown Simon Cowell. One of my biggest honors was having the Calgary Hitmen named after me. I was voted #39 on CBC’s Greatest Canadian list and, wherever I went, when I walked out to the ring, I was always announced as being from “Calgary, Alberta, Canada”. America became my home away from home, but I always came back to Calgary after touring.
I was on the road over 300 days a year, 21 straight years. The biggest sacrifice I made was missing my kids every day. The four dots you see alongside my autograph or the four hearts you saw down the leg of my tights represent my four kids and served as a constant reminder of why I did all of this. My four kids, Jade, Dallas, Beans, and Blade, are all grown and are here tonight with their partners. I can’t say enough about how proud I am of all of them. We shared the same sacrifice and, by the grace of God, we all turned out OK.
Jay Leno put it best when he said: “Wrestling is a curious phenomenon that helps people get out their aggressions while watching a morality play.”
I did a good job. I worked very hard and was always reliable. But my life as the Hitman took a big upturn when the WWE became embroiled in a highly publicized steroid and sex scandal back in 1992. Hulk Hogan preaching about taking vitamins and saying prayers rang hollow with fans and corporate sponsors. Vince McMahon needed to find a new hero fast, a wrestler with a clean reputation, one that could pull the sword out of the stone, replace Hulk Hogan, and chart wrestling in a new direction. That wrestler turned out to be me.
The Bob Edwards Award is all about not judging a book by its cover. It’s about perseverance and the tenacity to always challenge yourself and never accept limitations. I’m proud to say I’ve always been just a kid from Calgary. I always did my best to be a good strong hero, to never fail or disappoint my fans or the young impressionable kids that came to believe in me. “99% of people live very far from their dreams (Svetlana Allilyuva)”, and I’ve always been proud of how I carried myself through some very trying times.
I once made the quotable quotes at the back of a Reader’s Digest. My quote was: “You can’t fake a body slam!” Well, you can’t. All that fake wrestling has taken its toll on me. I feel every body slam I ever took. Looking back, I only wish that many of my opponents had been as kind and careful as I’d been with them. My career took me through the infamous Screwjob which nearly destroyed me, the tragic fall of my lovable little brother Owen, a vicious kick to the back of my head which ended my career early. Two years later, I faced my biggest battle, suffering a full-on stroke that left me a weak and shattered mess in a wheel chair. I’ll never forget all the people that helped put me back together again like Humpty Dumpty. To be in a wheelchair for three months, never knowing if I was ever going to be free of it. The physio people, speech, small motor skills, my memory. I cried a lot. Still do. But I left that wheelchair behind because all those people never gave up on me. The nurses that gave me pep talks, I think of you all often. They say what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. I guess so. Since then, I’ve had two hernia operations, two knee replacements, and a horrific surgery to my wrist that has cost me my right thumb and my right finger. I knocked out prostate cancer in the first round. I can go on. I’m inclined to believe that “it’s true that a difficult life produces a better human being (Svetlana Allilyuva).” I also believe that “you never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from (Cormac McCarthy).” In closing, I want to thank some of my teachers growing up: Mrs. Gregory at Wildwood School, Mr. Levitt, Mr. Daniels, and Mr. Bell from Vincent Massey Junior High, Mr. Pederson at Ernest Manning High School, Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakarada, school of hard knocks, and, of course, my late friend, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. I also want to thank my sweet, beautiful wife Stephanie. Thank you for being there. Your love is the light, and is eternal. Everyday is a blessing.
In wrestling, I was the Excellence of Execution, the best there is, was, and ever will be. I never seriously harmed or injured a fellow wrestler. When I look back at my matches, I realize I got to make my movies, to tell my unbelievable stories. Action packed with twists and turns. No animals were harmed in the making of any of my movies. Wrestling is performance art. “You’ll discover that life is based less than you think on what you’ve learned and much more than you think on what you have in you from the very beginning (Mark Helprin).” I was just a kid from Calgary. “The best chance you have if you want to rise to the top is to give yourself to loneliness, fear nothing, and work hard (Helprin). In the meantime, soar, eat ether, see what’s never been seen, depart, be lost, but always climb (Edna St. Vincent Millay).” It was always really cool getting to be Bret “the Hitman” Hart from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and it still is. Thank you to the Calgary Public Library Foundation for the Bob Edwards Award and all that it stands for. I won’t let you down.