The world of professional wrestling is a downright wacky place. Since the carnival days, muscled-up men and women have pretended to fight for money. In the years since, the industry has become increasingly sophisticated and organized, eventually becoming a billion-dollar industry despite the inherent insanity of the business. Imagine growing up in it. Bret Hart did.
Born in 1957 as one of Stampede Wrestling promoter Stu Hart's 12 children, Bret Hart was seemingly destined to become a wrestler. Truth be told, all eight Hart boys became wrestlers and all four girls married wrestlers. After pondering a career in filmmaking, Hart excelled as an amateur wrestler and eventually joined his father's wrestling circuit as a way of earning some extra money. He soon got hooked, beginning a 24-year career. Hart's autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, tells the ups and downs of his tumultuous journey.
For those whose knowledge of wrestling is what they are told in the news--steroids, drugs and death--Hart eagerly acknowledges all of these subjects. Hart admits to doing steroids early in his career and recalls many instances--mostly in the '80s--when grapplers used chemical assistance to attain their larger-than-life physiques. Hart's stories aren't much of a revelation, though, as most of the folks he fingers as steroid users have either been dead for several years or were already named in the 1990s steroid trials. As for drugs and death, Hart writes candidly of the occasions where he did drugs. The most revealing part of the book, however, delves into Hart's personal life, where he writes at length about frequently cheating on his wife as a means of dealing with the rigors of the road. He rationalizes it by pointing out the various wrestlers he knew who died because of abusing drugs to deal with the wrestling lifestyle and figured that he could deal with the heartache while remaining alive. Whether the reader agrees with that or not, at least he's honest.
Wrestling fans will likely skip quickly to the sections regarding Bret Hart's ongoing real-life feuds with longtime WWE star Shawn Michaels and promoter Vince McMahon--including the so-called Montreal Screwjob in 1997 and the accidental death of Hart's brother Owen in 1999. Much of the Montreal subject matter has already been addressed in the documentary Wrestling with Shadows and books by other wrestlers who worked with Hart at the time, but it's interesting to get a glimpse of how both incidents dovetailed into many other things in Hart's life, particularly his ongoing feuds with many of his siblings.
Pieced together from audio diaries kept by Hart from the beginning of his career until the end, Hitman is a stunningly accurate glimpse into the wacky world of pro wrestling and how it's changed since the 1980s. Regardless of personal feelings towards the business, it's also a remarkable look inside the mind of a Canadian icon and a expose of how a man who grew up loving wrestling could eventually grow to despise it. Now retired and disconnected from the business he grew up in, Hart pulls no punches and as a result, Hitman is one of the most honest, revealing books ever published on the subject.