Bret Hart has discussed how suffering a stroke led to him letting go of a lot of anger that had built up since the infamous Montreal Screwjob in 1997. Hart also broke down how a surprise conversation with Vince McMahon helped him repair his relationship with the man he once saw as a father figure.
*Note: The following article was written from a clip that, despite being new to our YouTube channel, was recorded in October 2019 as we bring some unseen archive footage into the spotlight for the first time.
The Montreal Screwjob is a moment that will live in wrestling infamy forever more. With Bret Hart on the verge of joining WCW he still held the WWE Championship in heading into Survivor Series 1997. Standing across the ring from Hart that night was Shawn Michaels. But little did Bret Hart know, Vince McMahon had created a plan to get the title off Hart, out of fear of him arriving on WCW television with the WWE’s top prize.
With Michaels locking in Hart’s signature Sharpshooter, the referee Earl Hebner called for the bell despite Hart never tapping out. This created a rift between The Hitman and some inside WWE which would last for years.
Reflecting on the incident, Hart said because wrestling meant so much to him, he was very angry for a long time.
“Well. Let’s see, where would I start? I mean, I was very angry for a really long time. I mean, that’s for sure. I think anyone that knows me knows that. And, you know, I think for me. You know, my my career was everything for me. Everything I did, my career, I mean, my family, wrestling’s not just something that I did started to do in my teens. I mean, I was I think all my life I was always. Always tied in with wrestling, everything with wrestling. When I went to my first thoughts of being when I was a little kid, everything was about wrestling. I wish I’d had action figures when I was a kid. I sure beat the heck out of a lot of Barbie dolls and stuff like that. But I, you know, everything was wrestling. And I think when this the whole screwjob happened, part of me could never believe that they would do that to me after as hard as I worked for them.”
Hart continued, saying that despite having a feeling he knew what was coming, he was powerless to do anything about it.
“And, you know, somebody’s going to come up, like Vader came up to me about 20 minutes before my match and goes, “They’re going to screw me in the match. I know it.” And I was like, “I know, but what can you do? All you do is go out there and try to stop it and not let it happen and maybe believe that they have more integrity than that.” But, you know, after it did happen. You know, I remember going home on the airplane even after the after the the whole thing happened, and I remember the documentary guy that filmed it, everyone, he was so happy. He was we got it. We got everything, you know. And I’m like, you didn’t get any of it. Like, how can you ever piece that together? How he did piece it together as a miracle. But I mean, he did piece together. But I was so angry. I never thought anyone would ever know my side of the story. I always thought I was I knew in my heart that I would never go back and work for him for sure. And so, I mean, I left and went home. Pretty angry guy. It’s hard to be too angry when you’re going from WWF and suddenly was in WCW where making more money than I ever knew what to do with my life. I would have figured out ways to spend it… But anyway, I didn’t really had a chance to digest a lot of what happened to me. And I never really had any… I was always, like, very angry inside.”
Years after the screwjob, Hart suffered a stroke which left him seriously ill. However, it was during this time that Hart came to terms with the anger that he had been carrying around since leaving WWE.
“Then, of course, I know everyone knows too much about my stroke, but I had my stroke about a year or two after I got hurt, a little over a year and a half after I got injured with concussion, I suffered a stroke riding my bicycle in Calgary on a path on the bike path. And I think. You know, when I suffered the stroke, I was definitely tied in with my concussion injury. But that, for sure was the end of my career, like any thought of ever going back or bury the hatchet with Vince or my concussion sort of slowly getting better enough that I could have some kind of a match or do something – that was impossible at that point. I think what I remember being in my hospital bed and being in a wheelchair those first five or six days, it was like, just really powerfully struck me how I’ll never I’ll never walk out to the wrestling crowd with the hands out and stuff like that, so I was very I took all that, like, really bad. I didn’t I didn’t like that. And I realized that when I had my stroke, I think that there’s a part of me that realized that. It doesn’t it doesn’t do you any good. Like, if I was going to give advice to everybody out there, it’s like when you suffer something, really something really huge happens in your life in a negative way and you hate somebody and you’re so angry about it, it doesn’t do you any good to carry it around all the time. You know, I carry it around. I always liken it to carrying a big bag of rocks around was like every day I had to pick up this bag of rocks. And when I was mad at Vince McMahon and the screw job and, you know, you’re lugging around every day.”
“And then, of course, I had the stroke. And so it’s like, I realized after I had my stroke, after about a year, maybe the first year, maybe going into the like a year after losing, how lucky I was that I got the recovery that I did have. And I learned the hard way that it doesn’t do any good to carry around a lot of grief and heartache in your. So, the idea that, you know, of course, I would never walk out to the ring, I remember thinking I’ll never do that again, you know, that’ll never happen.”
While recovering from his stroke in hospital, Hart recalled receiving a surprise phone call from Vince McMahon. Hart said the call stirred up mixed emotions for the man that he once considered a father figure.
“And I suffered my stroke, I don’t know how Vince got my number exactly, but I had a phone put in my room. I remember the day they were plugging it in. They just plugged into the wall in my hospital room. And I remember thinking, like, nobody knows my number, no one’s got it yet. And since I bought the phone and my phone rings. Hello, and it’s Vince McMahon. I didn’t know what to say to him, I didn’t what to do. Part of me wanted to like, really, you know, the anger is still there. And anger would still be there for quite a long time, but at the same time, I had once upon a time, I had a pretty good relationship with Vince. In a lot of ways, Vince was a very much like a father figure to me. We had a lot of… A lot of trust and a lot of we were, I think, close friends for a long time, and I appreciate all the things Vince did do, including give me that first chance to be the champion for him. So there was a part of me that wanted to kind of make friends or reach out or at least accept him reaching out and there was another part of me that was just want to slam the phone down and hang up on him.”
That phone call would begin the rebuilding of the relationship between Hart and WWE. The end result was a triple disc collection of Bret Hart’s legendary matches and a Hall of Fame induction. Something Hart said he’d already decided he’d he wanted to do.
“So I remember talking to him and he said, you know, he said they were going to do another DVD on me if I wanted to, and I talk to them about my archive and my film, my whole career. Usually whenever I finish the match, and we especially pay per view. I always come back through the curtain invincibly clapping, and he slapped me on the back and stuff like that, and I would always tell him there’s one for my archive when they do the Best of Bret Hart DVD someday. That’ll be on it, that match, and then I’d say that will be on it. There was got to be like is like 20 matches are going to be on it. And then I’d say it’s going to be three volumes and all that. And it was like, you know, we I had high hopes with Vince at one time and when he called me and told me that that they’d like to do all that stuff still and then he told me that. They would like to put me in the Hall of Fame and ask me if I would do it, and I said I would, I would do it and I knew I would. I ask myself that question before he ever asked me. I asked myself as if they asked me to do the Hall of Fame, would I go? And I’d say, Yeah, I go. I deserve to go.”
Bret Hart also discussed why he holds Daniel Bryan in such high esteem. The Hitman revealed that he has a lot of respect for the former World Champion.