|The Calgary Sun cover on June 26, 2007
Members of the Hart family wrestled with the sudden, tragic death of Chris Benoit yesterday.
Legendary wrestler Bret Hart had to stop and compose himself often when talking fondly of a man considered his brother and friend.
"I don't know the details, and I'm not sure I even want to know," said Hart, just hours after learning of the discovery of Benoit's body - along with those of his wife and son - in his suburban Atlanta home.
"He was like a family member to me, and everyone in my family is taking it real hard.
"It's almost like reliving the whole Owen (Hart) death over again."
At a young age, Benoit, an Edmonton native, became a standout among many wrestling prospects who trained in the famed "dungeon" basement of the Hart family home in Calgary.
"Chris was always one of the good guys - a straight guy and a hard-working guy," Hart said.
"When you list off all the qualities of someone like Benoit, he had a lot of integrity and was a good, family man. "He was really respected and really loved by everybody."
Bret's older brother, Ross Hart, a producer and former part-time wrestler, further described the onetime "Canadian Crippler" as respectful, polite and very humble.
"We kind of adopted him when he first broke into the business in 1986," said Ross, adding Benoit was a huge fan of Stampede Wrestling and idolized the Dynamite Kid.
"He was a quick learner, fast on his feet and had natural strength and agility.
"We learned right away he'd be a natural talent."
And he's been an outstanding mentor to the next generation of Hart family wrestlers, said Ross and Bret's sister, Diana.
That's especially true of the last six months in Atlanta, where Harry Smith (son of the late Davey Boy Smith), Nattie Neidhart (daughter of Jim Neidhart), T.J. Wilson (Nattie Neidhart's fiance) and Ted Hart (Ross's nephew) had been training close to Benoit.
"My son Harry and the others have all been talking about all the great plans that were to come with Chris mentoring them," said an emotionally shaken Diana, the former wife of Davey Boy Smith.
"And they were all hoping of Bret coming back to have a Hart Foundation wrestling reunion.
"This is all really hard to believe."
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