Book Review: Hitman

The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s critically acclaimed movie starring Mickey Rourke, brought the darker side of the “sport” to the mainstream in late 2008. A riveting drama from start to finish, The Wrestler portrayed the downward spiral of a wrestler who had been a huge star in the eighties but was now eking out a living by wrestling for small independent promotions in New Jersey. Anyone who has seen Barry W. Blaustein’s seminal 1999 documentary, Beyond the Mat, and particularly the scenes featuring Jake “The Snake” Roberts, will know that the movie isn’t a million miles off in its portrayal of a down and out wrestler who finds it difficult to exist outside the false world he is a part of.

In terms of literature on the subject, Mick Foley’s 1999 New York Times chart-topping autobiography, Have a Nice Day, provided a ground-breaking behind the scenes look at the sport and it paved the way for the many wrestling biographies that have been released in the past decade. I’ve read a great number of them from wrestlers such as Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, and WCW executive producer Eric Bischoff . I’ve also read all three of Foley’s autobiographies, of which the first,  Have a Nice Day, is the benchmark in the genre; until now that is.

Bret Hart’s recently released and long-awaited autobiography, Hitman, is undoubtedly the best book ever written about wrestling. For those of you unfamiliar with professional wrestling, Bret Hart was one of its biggest stars in the nineties, capturing five WWF (now WWE) world titles amongst others. His career spanned almost a quarter of a century, he became one of Canada’s most famous sons and he toured the world doing what he was always destined to do.

Unlike Foley,  Bret was born into wrestling. His father, Stu, was a famous promoter who ran Stampede Wrestling in Canada and trained a number of famous wrestling stars. One of 12 children, Bret, like most of his siblings, quickly found himself entwined in the business.

Although Bret reached the top of his profession and enjoyed fame and riches beyond his dreams, he endured some tragic events during that time, most notably the death of his brother, Owen, in an accident at a WWF pay-per-view.

In fact, Hart’s book is tinged with sadness as, chapter by chapter, more and more of the book’s characters fall victim to the grim reaper – thanks, in many cases, to the over-whelming effect of the lifestyles they led in a bid for glory in the ring.

Hart’s book is a riveting behind-the-scenes look at the world of professional wrestling, told with an honesty and frankness that earns my respect.

If you like wrestling, then this book is a must-read. If you watched The Wrestler and are curious about what life as a wrestler is really like, then again you must read this book. At 592 pages, it’s a long book but I would gladly have read another 592 pages. Some events are glossed over (the controversial death of Chris Benoit only gets a mention) and, like most autobiographies, it really only gets going when Bret hits the big time, but Hitman is one of the must-read autobiographies of 2009. An instant classic!

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