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Bruce Hart in a publicity shot from his wrestling days

Two years ago, The Wrestler took the world of professional wrestling into the forefront of water-cooler chatter when the story of a dilapidated wrestler in his twilight years consumed millions of movie fans. However, this narrative has a rich Canadian branch that has fostered real-life stories for a multitude of athletes such as Bret and Owen Hart, Chris Benoit, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Chris Jericho and current WWE stars such as third-generation Harts Natalie Neidhart (who wrestles as Natalya) and David Hart Smith.

But who is Bruce? Bruce Hart is the second son of Order of Canada recipient the late Stu Hart, and was born into the family business along with his other 11 siblings.

In his new biography, Hart describes with acuity life growing up in the bizarre, circus-like world of wrestling, his brief stint in the WWF in the early 1990s with his famous brothers, Bret and Owen, and struggling to raise a large family of his own in Calgary.

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The lion's share of the book deals with his run as the Jack of all trades for his father's fledgling promotion, Stampede Wrestling, an organization that has a special place in the minds of wrestling fans from Western Canada for its rugged matches and fast-paced style.

Hart worked in every nuance of the business, from booking story lines, wrestling, driving the talent on road trips and, on one trip to London, securing two of Calgary's biggest imports ever: the British Bulldogs (Tom Billington and David Smith).

In 1984, the WWF cut a deal with Stu Hart to shut down his territory and ransack its top talent, minus Bruce Hart, who was perceived as balking at the terms - a perception that Hart says was accurate.

Within a year, the Connecticut-based WWF reneged on the deal and told the Harts that they couldn't pay, but that they could resume running Stampede Wrestling. The promotion made new stars out of young talent such as Chris Benoit and the youngest of the Hart family, Owen. After a couple of lean years, the company shut down for good.

By 1990, Bruce had secured a position teaching while still keeping his nose in the wrestling business. He would send the WWF letters with suggestions, which led to meetings with WWF owner Vince McMahon; however, family-related fate seemed to intervene at each of these opportunities.

One such opportunity was squelched when an emergency call from home came through while Bruce was en route to a WWF meeting. His son Rhett was born three months premature, and Hart recalls talking to his mother-in-law on the phone while a hyperbolic wrestling promotion was being filmed beside him. "As I was straining to hear her, the WWF was staging this over-the-top skit only about 10 feet away in which Jake 'The Snake' Roberts had just crashed Randy and Elizabeth's so-called wedding with a bunch of poisonous snakes." Hart describes the surreal moment of fake and real dramas surrounding him on all sides.

Rhett survived after several months of hospitalization and Hart recounts with gratitude the support he and his wife Andrea received from his family during those first delicate weeks at home.

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Frustrated with financial worries and not breaking into the WWF, Hart tried to stay strong for his son's health. "I had no right, whatsoever, to be feeling sorry for myself as it wasn't me who'd been dealt the lousy hand, it was Rhett." It is perhaps the survival of his son Rhett that pushed Hart away from the hedonism of pro wrestling's life on the road into a permanent role as family man.

Straight from the Hart ends with a maudlin open letter to Vince McMahon, admonishing him for destroying smaller wrestling territories and demanding a return to quality matches in part to honour the memory of past promoters and his late brother Owen.

It may just be the latest chronicle in Calgary's Hart family saga - a saga that spans half a century - but Bruce Hart's acute reporting paints a quintessential morality play of a Canadian independent company (and family) fighting for its identity during the years of Ronald Reagan's cash-crazed America.

Nathaniel G. Moore writes a column for Open Book: Toronto. He is the author of Wrong Bar, and is grappling with a new novel called Savage.

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