Bobby Hull was one of the best hockey players who ever lived. He played professional hockey for 23 years, from 1957 to 1980, and led the NHL in goals seven times. He played in 1,063 NHL games and accumulated 610 goals, 560 assists, 1,170 points and 640 penalty minutes. He added 62 goals and 67 assists for 129 points in 119 playoff games. He was called “The Golden Jet,” and opposing teams had to assign a player just to follow him all over the ice.
He died at age 84 on January 30, 2023, of unreported causes, but his unhealthful lifestyle in retirement would have set him up for diseases that his athleticism could have helped to prevent. He drank alcohol excessively, smoked cigars, was reported to use chewing tobacco, ate a lot of meat and had massive abdominal obesity that is often a sign of Type II diabetes.
Professional Hockey Career
Hull was born in in 1939 in Point Anne, Ontario. He joined the Chicago Blackhawks in 1957 at the age of 18, and played until he was 42 years old. He scored more than 50 goals in five of the 15 years he played for the Chicago Blackhawks. At 5’10” and 195 pounds, he possessed incredible strength and speed, and had slapshot speeds as high as 119 miles per hour. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player twice and the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s leading point scorer three times, and helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 1961. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Blackhawks retired his Number 9 jersey.
Hull was constantly beaten upon by opposing team members who were specifically told to do everything they could to keep him from scoring. In the 1963 Stanley Cup playoffs, when the Blackhawks were one game from elimination against the Red Wings, he played with a nasal fracture extending into his skull. He ignored the orders of his doctors, checked himself out of a Chicago hospital, flew to Detroit with both eyes blackened, his nose encased in tape and blood draining into his throat. He scored three goals and an assist.
In the 1969 season, at age 30, he was a top scorer even though his jaw was fractured and wired shut. He lost 20 pounds from having to take all his meals through a straw. His wife fed him “brownish ugh” consisting of three-fourths of a pound of ground beef, a cup of half-milk and half-cream, a can of barley soup and raw eggs mixed in a blender. “It tastes terrible,” said teammate Eric Nesterenko. “Really I don’t see how Bobby can eat it.”
As a teenager, Hull married Judy Learie and they had one child before divorcing. In 1960, at age 21, he married his second wife, figure skater Joanne McKay, and they had five children. They were divorced 20 years later after she reported that he had assaulted her on multiple occasions. She said Hull beat her bloody with her own shoe in 1966 and threatened her with a loaded shotgun in 1978.
He was romantically involved with a woman named Claudia Allen and they had a daughter named Jessica, but they never married. In 1980, he retired from playing hockey with the Hartford Whalers to take care of her after she was seriously injured in an automobile accident.
He married his third wife, Deborah Hull, in 1984. In 1986, he was arrested and charged with assault and battery after allegedly hitting Deborah, but she later dropped the charges. When a police officer intervened, Hull was charged with assaulting the policeman. He had to pay a $150 fine and was on six months of court supervision. Hull remained married to Deborah until his death in 2023.
A Family of Gifted Athletes
• Hull’s younger brother, Dennis (“The Silver Jet”), starred alongside him with the Chicago Blackhawks for eight seasons and scored more than 300 goals.
• His son, Brett Hull (“Golden Brett”), was also a hockey star who scored 741 goals in the National Hockey league. That was the fifth-highest goal total in NHL history. They were the only father-and-son tandem to achieve the marks of more than 50 goals in an NHL season and score more than 600 NHL goals. They also are the only father-and-son to win the Hart Memorial Trophy (Bobby twice and Brett once) and the Lady Byng Trophy, and to lead the league in goal scoring (Bobby seven times and Brett three times).
• Another son, Bart Hull, was a top running back for the Boise State University Broncos football team, played with the Ottawa Rough Riders and Saskatchewan Roughriders in the Canadian Football League, and then in professional indoor football but had to drop out because of injuries. After football, he played professional hockey with the Idaho Steelheads.
• Two more sons, Blake and Bobby Jr., both played junior and senior hockey. They played together for the Allan Cup-winning Brantford Mott’s Clamatos of the OHA Senior A Hockey League in 1987. Bobby Jr. won the Memorial Cup with the 1980 Cornwall Royals.
• Hull’s daughter, Michelle, was an accomplished figure skater who won the British Columbia Pre-Novice Championship at the age of 11. Repeated knee injuries ended her skating career, and she became a lawyer who works with battered women.
Later Health Issues
Repeated injuries and lousy lifestyle choices took their toll on his health. In 1980, at age 41, Hull told a reporter: “I have nothing left, just my sanity, my health and my memories.” In an interview reported in the NY Post on December 4, 2010, he said that he developed a lung infection and found out that he had blocked arteries leading to his heart that caused an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. To increase blood flow to his heart, doctors put a stent into his heart arteries, and to make the heart beat more regularly, he had a pacemaker installed. At that time, he told reporters that he couldn’t sleep at night because he had chronic shoulder and knee pain from his many injuries. He spent his last years debilitated by heart trouble and dementia.
Violent Sports Do Not Justify Criminal Behavior
A statue of Bobby Hull stands outside the United Center in Chicago as a testimonial to the fact that he was one of the best hockey players ever, and he played through severe injuries because he was incredibly dedicated to his teams. None of that outstanding record can offset his violent behavior out of the rink. All athletes need to understand the boundaries between sportsmanship and out-of-control anger.
January 3, 1939 – January 30, 2023