Remembering Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart
The life of a professional wrestler can be quite rough as time wages further and further from your glory days. That is why if you are a fan from the sport’s heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, seeing posts on social media of former stars automatically raises a red flag and that is exactly what happened as I scrolled through Instagram on August 13, 2018. I first saw a post from WWE’s official account, and my initial thought was that it could be a birthday celebration, which is common, except I had a sinking feeling. Another post, this time from WWE Hall of Famer and childhood hero confirmed my fears, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart had died.
WWE.com eulogized Neidhart by saying he was “[b]est known as the powerhouse of the legendary Hart Foundation tag team with his brother-in-law, Bret “Hit Man” Hart, Jim Neidhart was also the father of current WWE Superstar Natalya.” He began his career as a professional wrestler after playing football for the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. Neidhart would hone his craft under the tutelage of legendary promoter Stu Hart in the infamous Hart Dungeon in Calgary, Alberta. It was while working for Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion that Neidhart earned his famous moniker after winning an anvil-throwing contest at the Calgary Stampede. Neidhart would go on to become a part the Hart family when he married Stu’s daughter Ellie and the couple would have three daughters, including current WWE Superstar Natalya.
“The Anvil” would go on to have a few successful runs in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in the 1980’s and ‘90’s. The first was as part of the Hart Foundation, along with his brother-in-law Bret “The Hitman” Hart. The team stood out from others in the division because they usually wore hot pink. “The Hitman” had the cool glasses and the “Anvil” had the trademark goatee and hearty laugh. The Hart Foundation would capture the WWE Tag Team Championship on two occasions.
It was during this time as a small child that I first became a fan of Neidhart and the Hart Foundation. There is a photo taken one Christmas in either 1989 or 1990 of my great uncle and me staring at the packaging from toy wrestlers I received as a gift. That gift was the Hart Foundation. Up until writing this article, and checking facts with my mom, I actually thought my great uncle had given me this gift, but it was actually his son. That is the thing about Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart though, he was always associated with family. Obviously, to him it was the Harts, but for me, it was also my own.
After the Hart Foundation split and Bret went on to become a singles star, Neidhart teamed with Owen Hart to form The New Foundation in late 1991. This was the height of Saturday evening wrestling on NTV. My family took part in this weekly ritual, watching the one-hour wrestling program while my mom made homemade pizza. I can still remember the brightly coloured 90’s inspired outfits The New Foundation wore, complete with racing stripes.
The New Foundation never reached the heights of The Hart Foundation but that didn’t stop Neidhart from coming back a few years later to help out Owen after he won the 1994 King of the Ring tournament and began a feud with brother Bret over the WWE Championship. The Hart family was feuding and had splintered. While this had just been a wrestling storyline no different from any soap opera it represented something that can happen in real life. Sometimes families disagree and fall out, often forcing members to choose sides, just as Neidhart did when he teamed with Owen.
A few short years later though in 1997, the tables turned and there was growing animosity between Bret Hart and the American wrestling fans. Soon “The Hitman” had rallied his own troops and teamed with his brother Owen, brother-in-law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and family friend Brian Pillman. “The Anvil” quickly joined the ranks of the reformed Hart Foundation, with the group representing the Hart family, and all Canadians against the USA. Neidhart burying the hatchet with Bret represented another age-old family cliché in which infighting can happen, but the family becomes united against an outside threat.
It was that summer, during the height of the Canada vs. America wrestling storyline, that I felt so unabashedly pro-Canadian. It was also that summer that my family and I got to see WWE live for the first time at the old Memorial Stadium in St. John’s. We saw the entire Hart Foundation family perform in several matches, all except for Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, which is a shame.
Neidhart would not compete in WWE after 1997 and it would be many years until I saw him on television again. That association with family, however, would still stick. In 2006, I attended an independent pro wrestling show in Bay Roberts, Newfoundland that featured Neidhart’s daughter Natalya that introduced me to the third generation Hart and brought back memories of the summer of 1997 and the united Hart Foundation as well as the original incarnation from the 80’s and 90’s.
About six years later, the children of family friends also became wrapped up in wrestling because we were, with one of the boys taking a liking to Bret Hart, which prompted my father to dig out my old Hart Foundation toys that I had mentioned earlier. It was also around this time that Jim Neidhart appeared back on my television, again playing that supporting enforcer role he had played all the way back in the Hart Foundation, the New Foundation, and the 1997 Hart Foundation; this time appearing alongside his daughter Natalya on the reality show Total Divas.
Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was never the breakout star, but he was definitely that muscle and reinforcement you would call on in a fight. Bret Hart knew that in the early days of his storied WWE career, Owen Hart knew that in his family feud against his brother, and despite all of that “The Hitman” knew to call on “The Anvil” when he needed backup, and Natalya knew that probably better than anyone else did. It’s for this reason that Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart reminds me again of my own family, as I think of my own brother who I know I could count on for anything, including a quest to capture tag team gold, a family squabble or to present a united front against an entire nation.
Less than a week after her father’s passing, Natalya made an appearance at WWE’s thirty-first annual SummerSlam event walking to the ring draped in her father’s jacket. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart wore this same jacket at the 1990 SummerSlam when he and Bret Hart won a two out of three falls match to capture the WWE tag team titles. This was a moment of family coming full circle, which again has been mirrored in my own. While the Hart Foundation shades are a relic of the past, the newest Hart accessory is a pair of cat ears that Natalya wears that read “Paws Out, Claws Out”. I have a pair of “The Hitman” shades that I purchased during the 1997 Hart Foundation run, and I have recently purchased Natalya’s cat ears for my six-year-old niece.
It is a sobering fact to know that as of this writing, Bret Hart is the only surviving member of that 1997 Hart Foundation faction. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart now joins “The British Bulldog”, Owen Hart and Brian Pillman as wrestlers whose lives were cut short. His legacy as an enforcer and staunch supporter of family will live on in memories of wrestling fans, in his daughter as she carves out her own path to becoming a sports entertainment legend and amongst my own family, who have been closely associated with the Hart dynasty through our unwavering support of WWE for over three decades.
Thank you Anvil, may you rest in peace.