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Saturday, November 10, 2001

Tale of Hartbreak

Bret breaks his silence over family rifts and his sister's tell-all book

By BRET HART -- SLAM! Wrestling
 Dear People of Calgary,

 As many of you know, my mom passed away on Nov. 4 at about 3 o'clock in the morning. I'd like to take this opportunity to deeply thank everyone who has sent condolences to my family. It goes without saying my mom had a lot of dear friends in our city and around the world. I know you'll all agree she had a way of making everyone feel welcome and appreciated. She was a very gracious and genuine lady -- and I use the word "lady" in the truest sense of the word. She was a rose among thorns in the gruff world of wrestling.

 Well-read, articulate, smart as a whip. My mom was the glue that held the Harts together. Now that she's gone, the already-strained relations in our family have quickly gone from bad to worse.

 During the last five years, my family has been tried by a number of misfortunes that have been covered by the press. I thank them -- and all of you -- for your genuine interest in both our triumphs and our tragedies. The great people of Calgary have stuck by the Harts through thick and thin, as was never more eloquently demonstrated than during my brother Owen's funeral in May of 1999. People lined the streets, some dressed in their Sunday best, tossing flowers at the motorcade. There was even a soldier on an overpass in full dress uniform, saluting as the entire lengthy procession went by.

 My parents worked very hard for more than a half-century to earn a reputation that garnered such respect from you fine people. Six months ago, my father was even awarded membership to the Order of Canada in recognition of a lifetime of charitable contributions and involvement in community causes, an honour he was humbled and stunned to receive.

 I have always tried to conduct myself in a way that would live up to my parents' example and would make them proud. As a seven-time world champion in an era when wrestling titles still had dignity and honour, when I'd be announced in the native languages of major venues around the world, I was always proud to be introduced: "From Calgary, Alberta, Canada...." I was honoured Alberta Report called me the most recognizable Albertan and the most famous athlete ever from Canada. I mention it only because my affection for our city and its people is well known way beyond its borders. Like my father and mother before me, I hope Calgarians will be proud of whatever contributions I endeavour to make to our city. I hope I have proven myself to you to be a man of honesty and integrity.

 I feel the need to share with you now some things I've had to keep to myself for the past two-and-a-half years since Owen died. There have been a lot of hurtful comments about me and my family in the media, many of them made by two of my sisters, Diana and Ellie. More often than not, I restrained myself from responding because I didn't want to cause any more grief for my already-beleaguered parents. My mother can no longer be hurt by my rebuttals and my father's mind is elsewhere. So, now I have a few things to say.

 It will come as no surprise to most of you that deep differences have developed among the 10 remaining Hart siblings stemming from our various opinions about how certain things should have been handled in the wake of Owen's death. Last May, when the WWF came to town for the first time since Owen's passing -- Ellie, Diana and my brother Bruce led a contingency to the globally televised show, telling the media beforehand and afterwards they harboured no acrimony toward the McMahons. I was not the only Hart sibling who was distressed at and disappointed in the five who went to the show, bringing Stu along, who had told me he had absolutely no interest in attending.

 There are members of my family who contend Martha would not have sued Vince McMahon for the death of her husband had I not relentlessly urged her to do it because of a major falling out between he and I on Nov. 9, 1997. The reality is, Martha needed no persuasion from me. When she called to tell me she was suing the WWF, she already had a team of high-powered lawyers in place. I supported the decision made by Martha and my parents and, for that, some of my siblings have painted me as the bad guy.

 So now Diana has written Under the Mat: Inside Wrestling's Greatest Family, described as "a gossip and scandal book -- and a legal minefield," by Sun Media columnist Mike Jenkinson. Initially, I decided the book is so damaging to everyone in my family, including the children and grandchildren, I wasn't going to call attention to it by making any comment at all. But then Martha decided to serve a libel notice, so it hit the papers anyway. I found it to be a very disturbing read and not because of the way Diana has pictured me as a self-centred jerk since I got off easier than many in her book. Especially hard hit was Martha, who has conducted herself with nothing but dignity throughout this whole terrible ordeal, and Bruce, with whom I have my differences but, in all fairness, did not deserve a blistering public attack from Diana, without any regard for how it will affect Bruce's five children. It would be hard to walk a mile in Bruce's shoes.

 Granted, Diana has been through some ugly things and that's the only explanation I can figure out for the gross distortions in her book. Lord knows my family isn't perfect: There are enough true Hart stories that Diana didn't need to resort to fiction.

 Many people have asked: "What is the purpose of a book like this?" On Nov. 1, talk-show host Mike Bullard opened his interview with Diana by asking her: "Is anyone in your family still talking to you?" She replied the book has the support of everyone in the family, especially my mother and except for me, of course. I can see where my mother -- or anyone else in the family -- would support the idea of Diana writing a book but that doesn't mean they support what the book ended up saying! I do not believe my mother even read the book -- she was in intensive care when it was released. I cannot tell you how it pained me to look into my dying mother's eyes and pray she wouldn't live long enough to read that book. I'd like to think Owen answered that prayer and she's with him now.

 I am going to my mother's funeral now. The people who put this book out have caused unnecessary anguish and should have left my family to grieve in peace. Stu has had enough grief.



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