THE maniacal laugh, the menacing stare and, oh, the hot black and pink wrestling attire.
Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart offered that and more during the rock n’ roll days of the World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the World Wrestling Federation). Competing at a time when WWE owner Vince McMahon was changing the pro wrestling landscape by packaging wrestlers as rock stars (complete with colorful nicknames, outrageous costumes and concocted background stories), the character of “The Anvil” was one of the many that stood out in the roster.
Along with his brother-in-law Bret “Hitman” Hart and manager Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart (no relation to the Hart family), Neidhart formed in 1985 the original tag team the Hart Foundation which twice won the WWE world tag team championship. To this day, the Hart Foundation is considered one of the greatest tag teams in pro wrestling and subsequent versions of the team never came close to matching the feats of the original “Pink and Black Attack.”
Wrestling fans were thus taken by surprise when the WWE announced early this week the passing of Neidhart. Initial reports claimed that Neidhart’s death was the result of a nasty fall. The Wrestling Observer disclosed that Neidhart had been previously diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and that the fall may have been triggered by a seizure. Neidhart was 63 years old.
“Stunned and saddened. I just don’t have the words right now,” posted Bret Hart in his Twitter account.
A native of Tampa, Florida, James Henry Neidhart was born in 1955 and excelled in athletics (shot put was his specialty) as a high school student. Built like a truck, Neidhart pursued a career in football after high school but never made the final roster of the Oakland Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL) in his initial attempts.
With nowhere else to go, Neidhart packed his bags and headed to Calgary where he was trained in the fine art of grappling by the legendary Stu Hart. According to Bret Hart, one of Stu Hart’s twelve children, Neidhart exhibited unbelievable upper body strength as a kid and once bench pressed close to 600 pounds.
After learning wrestling, Neidhart returned to the US and resumed his dream of becoming a football player. Neidhart did not last long in the gridiron and an injury sent him back to the grunt-and-groan trade. He initially competed in the Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling before taking his act to Memphis and his native Florida.
In 1985, Neidhart formed the Hart Foundation along with Bret Hart and manager Jimmy Hart. According to Jimmy Hart, he coined the name “Hart Foundation” after seeing a kid flash a sign that read “Jimmy Hart’s Hart Foundation” while they were making their way to the ring in a card in Miami. McMahon initially did not like the tag team name because of possible copyright issues, but he ended up embracing it after being informed that the tag team name will be spelled “H-A-R-T” and not “H-E-A-R-T” Foundation. It was also McMahon who changed the color of the tag team’s uniform from black and blue to black and pink. McMahon found the original colors too dark and gloomy.
The Hart Foundation dominated the WWE’s tag team skirmishes from 1985 until 1991, when Neidhart was released by the organization and Bret Hart decided to pursue a career in the singles category. Neidhart later teamed up with Owen “The Rocket” Hart, Bret’s younger brother, and established The New Hart Foundation. Down the road, yet another variation (the heel version) of the Hart foundation cropped up, with Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog), Brian Pillman and Owen Hart signing up.
Suffice it to say, Neidhart’s career assumed an incoherent direction after he parted ways with Bret Hart. He figured in his last WWE match in 1997 and ended up in a rehabilitation facility because of substance abuse. Then came the brushes with the law. In 2005, a Canadian businessman accused Neidhart of invading his home and pilfering pieces of jewelry. Five years later, Neidhart was busted after police found Oxycontin pills and methadone tablets in his car. The controlled substances reportedly came from the owner of a house Neidhart had also burglarized.
Neidhart’s wrestling legacy lives on through his daughter, WWE star Natalya. Before his death, Neidhart had been often seen accompanying Natalya in several WWE tapings. Neidhart also left behind daughters Jennifer and Kristen.
The Hart Foundation has been shaken to the core by Neidhart’s demise, but wrestling fans will always remember “The Anvil” who enjoyed a colorful and memorable run with Bret “Hitman” Hart.