The history and legacy of Stampede Wrestling embodied family, brotherhood and all its blemishes. You blend “brotherhood” with “outlaws” and that’s the primary reason why I love professional wrestling so much. The shame of it all is a year ago, I was only familiar with the territory’s featured players. Enter Heath McCoy and his 2005 book, Pain And Passion: The History Of Stampede Wrestling.
Stampede was so much more in addition to your Hart Family and Dynamite Kids. You had Archie Gouldie, Dan Kroffat (Phil LaFon), Sweet Daddy Siki, Leo Burke and John Foley and maybe most importantly, you had the established voice of Ed Whalen to add the voice of reason to all the colorful chaos. I recently sat down with Pain And Passion author Heath McCoy to reflect back on the book that he scribed over 15 years ago. The former journalist, who now teaches at the the University of Calgary, gave details behind the tragic serendipity as to how his book eventually came to be. McCoy got into journalism with initial aspirations to be a rock music critic, but found a different trajectory that fateful May of 1999.
“I was doing cops and robbers and crimes and calamities for a number of papers and all this sort of stuff and I happened to be at The Calgary Herald actually. I was an intern, summer of ’99, and that was the summer that Owen Hart died of course in Kansas City.”
Just like that, it was baptism by fire for Heath.
“It was a holiday Monday. We were doing a follow up on it sort of thing. Nobody else is in the newsroom cause all the senior reporters are gone so they send the intern over to the Hart House and it was so surreal for me to go there because I grew up watching Stampede Wrestling. In the early ’80s, that was my heyday for watching it. I followed the careers of Bret and Dynamite and Davey Boy and all these guys as they went to the WWF as well so I was such a fan of this world and so going to the Hart House as a reporter to cover this serious tragic news story it was so surreal for me.”
Owen Hart’s untimely death happened to be the biggest news story going at the time. Although he was just an intern at the time, McCoy had an invaluable leg up to all the established journalists swarming the Hart estate—a true fandom for wrestling to provide that much needed understanding element of the situation.
“I went in there, and I feel because I was a wrestling fan ’cause I kind of knew about the Harts and I knew a little bit about their world, I stood out from a lot of the other journalists. [And they] came from all over the world that day.”
McCoy certainly made that connection and developed a trusting relationship with the Harts over the years as he continued to cover the family fallout from Owen Hart’s death.
“It kind of became my little pet story there at the Herald,” he said. “Members of the family at least kind of came to trust me and know me and I got to know them and we talked and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is something I have to write about this. This is an epic story. This should be a movie.'”
Welp, looks like I'll be pulling the highlighter out for this one – from Heath McCoy's "Pain And Passion: The History Of Stampede Wrestling." This excerpt is from 2005 (15 yrs!) & it still echoes truth. That second paragraph is truly what makes wrestling special. @WRESTLEZONEcom pic.twitter.com/8599paRXul
— Dominic DeAngelo: Pro Wrestling Writer (@DominicDeAngelo) August 10, 2020
What makes the Stampede story so tangible is that it stems from two loves of Stu Hart: His “Tiger Belle” Helen and the “tell-tale” bell ringing of the squared circle.
“Stu loved the business and he wanted to be a part of it and he was born to be in that business and it fired everything he wanted to do. And then you had Helen, she was the right hand of that business. She was handling all the business aspect. She was doing the books and she hated it.”
Helen hated it for good reason because, for as beneficial as it could be, it always led to uncertainty and instability in the family, and in the books she balanced.
“There’d be high times when Stampede Wrestling was doing really well, but there’d also be a lot of dips when they had no money and they could barely get by and she’d begging Stu, year after year, time after time, ‘Let’s get out of this business, let’s get out of this business!’ So lots of drama there.”
Stu’s unshakeable allure to the ring is akin to a Michael Corleone being pulled back into the clutches of organized crime and that’s a comparison Heath always makes when describing Pain And Passion.
“There’s two comparisons I always make with the book. I say it’s ‘The Godfather of wrestling’ and it’s the ‘Boogie Nights’ of wrestling. Either one. The Godfather comparisons because Stu and Helen had 12 kids, eight boys all sucked into the wrestling business one way or another and four girls who also were cause they married wrestlers and often not, not every happy relationships, and there’s this family drama that ensues. It’s all that’s based around this kinda crazy family business, not mafioso-like in case of The Godfather, but the wrestling business and there’s all these colorful characters that come through and there’s battles behind the scenes.”
“At the beginning of Boogie Nights, even though it’s the porn industry, it’s a shady business still, but it’s kind of like a family. There’s a happiness to it, it works and then when it becomes more corporate, when it becomes big industry then suddenly everybody gets into drugs and it tears the family apart and everybody goes down a real bad path and I see that happening, I see a similarity with the Hart family and their Stampede Wrestling business actually. When it was just a territorial family thing, they had their conflicts and it was still a crazy business, but they loved it. It was a family dynamic and when the WWF buys them out and some people go to the WWF and some stay behind, there’s all this resentment and animosity and people get into steroids and it tears the family a part in a similar way, culminating with Owen.”
Purchase your own copy of Pain And Passion: The History Of Stampede Wrestling and listen to the entire conversation with Heath McCoy below:
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