Bobby Hull, hockey’s “Golden Jet” of the ice, dies at 84

Bobby Hull, a longtime Chicago Black Hawks winger nicknamed “Golden Jet” whose speed, high-velocity shooting and showmanship made him one of the most popular hockey players of all time, has died at the age of 84.

The team, now known by the single word Blackhawks, announced the death on Twitter but did not release any further information.

“Hull was the Canadian Superman,” author Gare Joyce wrote of the Ontario-born athlete in The Devil and Bobby Hull, a 2011 book that chronicles Mr. Hull’s life before and after allegations of abuse by the Spouses and racism had tainted his public persona.

Mr. Hull was a flashy and marketable player who scored many goals. He was one of the NHL’s biggest stars during the Original Six era, when the NHL had just six teams in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto.

Mr. Hull’s up ice rushes got fans pumping as he scored 50 goals or more in a season five times, while turning a relatively new shooting style – the slap shot – into an offensive weapon. He’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated five times, unprecedented for a hockey player at the time and a nod of mainstream approval for the sport itself.

He passed his skills on to one of his sons, Hockey Hall-of-Famer Brett Hull, who scored even more goals than his father. Mr. Hull’s brother Dennis, nicknamed “Silver Jet”, also played with him in Chicago for many years.

In 1961, Mr. Hull and teammate Stan Mikita helped end the Montreal Canadiens’ record streak of five straight Stanley Cups, then defeated Gordie Howe’s Detroit Red Wings 4 games to 2 to give Chicago its first championship in 23 years. The team would not win another title until 2010.

“I thought I had a bunch of these at the time,” Mr. Hull told Joyce of his only Stanley Cup win at the age of 22.

Mr. Hull filled NHL arenas with Chicago during his 15 NHL seasons. He led the league as top scorer seven times, a record that lasted 50 years before Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin surpassed him in 2019. He led the NHL on points three times and was an NHL first-team All-Star ten times.

In 1968, Mr Hull felt his popularity was at odds with his pay and protested by retiring to get more money. The Black Hawks called his bluff and with no better options, Mr. Hull returned to the team with a cut salary. He was fined and forced to issue a public apology for missing part of the season.

This was the beginning of the end for Mr. Hull in Chicago, but also the beginning of an era when superstar athletes made millions of dollars.

“The name of the game now is money,” Mr. Hull told Sports Illustrated in 1972 while negotiating with an up-and-coming hockey league, the World Hockey Association, that would give him what he wanted.

With much fanfare, including a large cardboard check, Mr. Hull signed as player-coach with the Winnipeg Jets for $1.75 million for 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus — far more than he made in the NHL. Other NHL players like Howe also fled to the WHA.

In the WHA, Mr. Hull won championships and scored titles, but success came at a high price. Team Canada did not allow anyone other than NHL players to compete in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets.

“I wanted to play more than anything. But these big NHL heads decided to pay me back,” Mr. Hull later told the Associated Press. The rules soon changed and Mr. Hull was able to compete in the 1974 Summit Series. (The USSR won 4-1-3.)

Late in his career, after the NHL bought the WHA, Mr. Hull was traded to the Hartford Whalers, where he briefly played with Howe.

Unlike other star players of the era who stayed connected to hockey after hanging up their skates, Mr. Hull was effectively an outcast who had a strained relationship with the Black Hawks over the pay dispute. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, but left the sport behind and spent his days farming and raising cattle in Ontario.

Robert Marvin Hull Jr. was born on January 3, 1939 in Port Anne, Ontario. He was the fifth of eleven children and the eldest son. His father, a cement company foreman and farmer, encouraged his sons to play hockey.

Mr. Hull played football at what is now St. Catharines Collegiate High School while playing hockey for the St. Catharines Teepees, a team in the Junior Ontario Hockey Association, the premier amateur league in Canada. Showing exemplary skill on the ice at a young age, Mr. Hull dropped out of high school and signed with the Black Hawks.

Mr. Hull remained a popular figure in hockey for years, often signing autographs hours after games and doing charitable work. But off-ice incidents painted a darker picture of the one-time Lady Byng Trophy winner, an NHL honor given for “gentlemanly behavior.”

He was married at least three times and two of his wives accused him of physical abuse. Some of his children said he was an absentee father and drank too much. In 1987, after a domestic dispute with his wife Deborah, he pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer who had been called to the scene. He was fined $150 and six months of court supervision.

In 1998 he is said to have scolded a Russian newspaper about Adolf Hitler’s “good ideas”. When asked in the same interview if he was racist, Mr Hull reportedly said: “I don’t care. I am not running for any political office.”

Mr Hull later insisted the Moscow Times reporter had misquoted him.

“I am deeply offended by the false statements attributed to me regarding Adolf Hitler and the black community in the United States,” he wrote in a statement. He reportedly filed lawsuits against the Moscow Times, which stood by their reporting, and the Toronto Sun for reprinting the interview. Those lawsuits were settled out of court, his attorney Tim Danson said.

In 2002, ESPN aired a SportsCentury profile chronicling these incidents as well as allegations of domestic violence. One of his ex-wives, figure skater Joanne McKay, the mother of five of his children including Brett, accused Mr Hull of once hitting her with a steel-heeled shoe.

His daughter, Michelle Hull, became a lawyer working with battered women, a career choice she says was due to Mr. Hull treating her mother, Joanne.

Despite this, the Blackhawks recalled the 2007 two-time NHL MVP to make him a team ambassador and placed life-size bronze statues of him and Mikita in front of the United Center where the Blackhawks play. (The Black Hawks changed the spelling of the team name to the Blackhawks in 1986.)

“If I had to do it again, I’d probably drink more,” Mr. Hull joked in the book When the Final Buzzer Sounds: NHL Greats Share Their Stories of Hardship and Triumph, published in 2000.

He then added: “What I meant is that I would think more! write that! On the other hand, thinking can get you in trouble just like anything else.” Bobby Hull, hockey’s “Golden Jet” of the ice, dies at 84

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