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Heart to Hart with Hitman
Former wrestling great at peace with life after the ring and new role as the Genie in Aladdin
By DENIS ARMSTRONG - Ottawa Sun


You'll forgive Bret Hart if his characterization of the Genie in Ross Petty's Christmas pantomime, Aladdin: The Magical Family Musical, isn't a whole lot different from his more famous persona as wrestling's Hitman.

The Hitman is, after all, the best role the former professional wrestling champion's ever played.

But playing the Genie is safer and a lot more fun for the battered and bruised warrior from Calgary's famous Hart wrestling dynasty.

"The whole show is a lot of tongue-in-cheek version of my wrestling character. It isn't a stretch playing the Genie after playing the Hitman. They're the same thing," the 49-year-old explains over the phone.

He first appeared in the play about a young boy with a flying skateboard who falls in love with a princess in 2004. Hart thinks the new version, which comes to the National Arts Centre in Ottawa Dec. 26-31, improves on the original.

"It's a better show because of the hip-hop music that's been added," he says. "The hardest part of his job is keeping a straight face."

The eighth child of the famous Hart wrestling family, Bret originally wanted to be an actor but fell into his father's Stampede Wrestling business.

TRAGIC ACCIDENT

After years at the top as World Wrestling Federation champion, Hart went into a spiral beginning with the infamous "Montreal screw job" in which he was unceremoniously cheated out of his title by company owner Vince McMahon, the same man who had signed him to, then talked him out of, a long-term contract with the firm.

In 1999, his brother Owen, who had wanted to quit the WWF after the Montreal affair, was killed in the ring during a pay-per-view event that continued despite the tragedy.

Hart retired from wrestling in 2000 after a devastating series of concussions that threatened to leave him "a mental vegetable."

Then in 2002, he suffered a major stroke after hitting his head in a bicycle accident that left him paralyzed on his left side.

"I felt like I was going crazy. It was a terrifying ordeal," Hart says. "I went from being a fairly fit, strong guy to a guy who couldn't lift a finger. I was an emotional wreck. That was the lowest. I never forget those days. Aladdin helped me get over that."

His recovery hasn't been 100%. He still experiences weakness on his left side and a limp when the weather turns cold, which means he will never ever wrestle again.

"I did everything I could do in the ring, I don't know what else I could have done," he says without a hint of bitterness or regret.

Since quitting the squared circle it seems the sport has also quit him. The once famous Hart dynasty is a shadow of its former glory. His father and mentor Stu is dead. So is his mother. The family's Calgary home and its famous Dungeon wrestling studio have been sold, he divorced first wife Julie to marry Cinzia, an Italian fan and now divides his year between Calgary and Italy.

It's all in an autobiography he's written that's scheduled for release next fall.

"I've lived a couple lifetimes," he jokes. "I always wanted to get out of wrestling when I was in it, but I had a hard time quitting. I had to go through what I went through to break away. And I'm glad because I love what I'm doing now. And I'm not bad at it either."

He should be good, after all, he is the "Excellence of Execution".

Tickets for Aladdin are $49, $59 and $69 for adults and $45 for children, with a family four-pack for $180 at the NAC box-office and Ticketmaster outlets.

RELATED LINKS

  • More on Bret Hart


    Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!


  • Hart Foundation Legends Fan Fest Q&A
  • Hart Foundation 3-Pack Figures
  • Order the Bret "The Hitman" Hart Triple DVD Set