Jimmy Hart was once thrust into the role of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s manager to face Hulk Hogan in WCW, thanks to Bobby “The Brain” Heenan’s neck injury putting him on the shelf.
Hart’s response to the assignment?
“I’ll pay to manage him,” the “Mouth of the South” remembered, recalling the story with an exhilaration you could almost see through the phone at the thought of walking to the ring with Flair.
Successful pro wrestling careers are rare when not retaining a certain level of fandom, and Hart is no exception. During a recent interview to promote “The History of WWE: 50 Years of Sports Entertainment” DVD release, he spoke of how much he enjoyed catching up on WWE history via its video archive.
The only difference between Hart and the masses is that he got a nearly 30-year head start, as a primer for his breakout performance at WrestleMania I in 1985 at Madison Square Garden.
“I know when I got up there, I didn’t know a lot about Bruno Sammartino or anybody because I lived down in Memphis and we were so isolated down there,” Hart said. “You know, all the territories were local. In Memphis it was Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and Jimmy Hart and Andy Kaufman. In Florida it was Dusty Rhodes, of course, and Ric Flair up in the Carolinas and the Von Erichs out in Texas. I was able to look at a lot of the videos back then and some of the [footage WWE] had before we got there to learn about ‘Nature Boy’ Buddy Rogers and the Grand Wizard, who I thought was great, and Bruno and them. So Vince and them are keeping the dream alive by going back into the past and into the vaults and putting all these DVDs out and showing people the past.”
WWE’s 50-year release is far from a Pollyanna representation of the company’s history, with full chapters devoted to McMahon’s 1994 steroid trial; the infamous 1997 “Montreal Screwjob” controversy involving McMahon and Bret “Hitman” Hart; and the 1999 death of Owen Hart, who fell to his death at Kemper Arena in Kansas City after a repelling malfunction while portraying his Blue Blazer character.
But the ever-jovial Hart tends to focus on the good times.
“When I went to the dressing room each and every night, it was like our office,” Hart said. “To have Andre [the Giant] playing cards over in the corner, and the Rougeau brothers over there putting their boots on and Nikolai Volkoff rehearsing the Russian national anthem and Honky Tonk [Man] tuning his guitar and Jake [“The Snake” Roberts] feeding [snake] Damian and the [British] Bulldogs over there with [their dog] Matilda, it was just a thrill to be in the room with all these people.”
To that end, he hopes the WWE Universe will be able to share in some new memories soon. One of the most-talked-about elements of the proposed WWE Network is the “Legends’ House” series that was taped in 2012, a “Real World”-type format in which Hart shared a Palm Springs, Calif. home with the likes of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, Hillbilly Jim, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and Tony Atlas, among others.
“It’s probably one of the greatest things I was ever a part of in my life, with all the legends together,” Hart said. “When we were on the road we never spent a lot of time together. But we were in the house for over a month, and it was just a great experience for me to go through that, it really was.”
He added that he thinks all of WWE historical releases can act as “maybe the kickoff” to finally making the network a reality. But until then he can more than bide his time at the Hulkster’s restaurant, Hogan’s Beach Tampa.
Hart jokingly bristled at the notion of him “working” at the restaurant, responding that “I hope [Hogan] doesn’t think I was a cook down there.” On the contrary, he performs promotional duties like signing autographs daily and singing with the band on occasion.
He’s still amazed at the memories fans share with him that even he had forgotten, like sharing the ring with Andre The Giant during one of his last matches.
“People still have these stories, and I didn’t realize how much the things we did back in the day meant to these people until they start telling you,” Hart said. “...But they make you feel like you’re 18 years old again.”