“Hull was Canada’s Superman,” author Gare Joyce wrote of the Ontario-born athlete in “The Devil and Bobby Hull,” a 2011 book chronicling Mr. Hull’s life before and after allegations domestic violence and racism tainted his public personality.
A flashy, marketable player who scored goals in bunches, Mr. Hull 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 had fans on their toes, as he scored 50 or more goals in a season on five occasions while turning a relatively new style of shooting – the slap shot – into a offensive weapon. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated five times, then unprecedented for a hockey player and a nod to 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 the “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 consecutive Stanley Cups, then defeated the Detroit Red Wings of Gordie Howe, 4 games to 2, to give Chicago its first championship in 23 years. The team would not win another title until 2010.
“At the time, I thought I would have a bunch,” Mr. Hull told Joyce of his lone Stanley Cup victory, aged 22.
Mr. Hull filled NHL arenas during his 15 NHL seasons with Chicago. He led the league in goals seven times, a record that stood for 50 years before Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin beat him in 2019. He led the NHL in scoring three times and was 10-time NHL All-Star First Team member.
In 1968 Mr Hull felt that his popularity did not match his pay, so he protested by retiring in an attempt to get more money. The Black Hawks called his bluff and, with no better options, Mr. Hull returned to the team with pro-rated pay. He was fined and had to issue a public apology for missing part of the season.
It was the beginning of the end for Mr. Hull in Chicago, but also the beginning of an era where superstar athletes were earning millions of dollars.
“The name of the game now is money,” Mr. Hull told Sports Illustrated in 1972 as he negotiated with an upstart hockey league, the World Hockey Association, that would give him what he wanted.
To great fanfare, including a big cardboard check, Mr. Hull signed as a player-coach with the Winnipeg Jets for $1.75 million over 10 years, plus a $1 million signing bonus – far more than he earned 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 cost. Team Canada did not allow anyone but NHL players to participate in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets.
“I wanted to play more than anything. But these big heads in the NHL decided to pay me back,” Mr. Hull later told The Associated Press. The rules soon changed and Mr. Hull was able to play in the 1974 Summit Series. (USSR won, 4-1-3.)
Late in his career, after the NHL purchased the WHA, Mr. Hull was traded to the Hartford Whalers, where he briefly played with Howe.
Unlike other star players of the era who remained associated with hockey after hanging up their skates, Mr Hull was a virtual reject, having a strained relationship with the Black Hawks over the salary dispute. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, but left the sport behind, spending his days farming and raising cattle in Ontario.
Robert Marvin Hull Jr. was born in Port Anne, Ontario on January 3, 1939. He was the fifth child at age 11 and the eldest son. His father, a foreman in a cement factory and a farmer, encouraged his sons to play hockey.
Mr. Hull played football at St. Catharines High School while also playing hockey for the St. Catharines Teepees, a team in the Ontario Junior Hockey Association, Canada’s highest amateur league. 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 beloved hockey figure for years, often signing autographs hours after games and doing charity work. But off-ice incidents have painted a bleaker picture for the former winner of the Lady Byng Trophy, an NHL award given for “gentlemanly conduct.”
He has been married at least three times and two of his wives have accused him of physical abuse. Some of his children said he was an absent father and drank to excess. 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 sentenced to a $150 fine and six months of judicial supervision.
In 1998, he reportedly told a Russian newspaper that Adolf Hitler had “good ideas”. Asked in the same interview if he was a racist, Mr Hull reportedly said: ‘I don’t care. I am not running for any political office.
Mr Hull then insisted that the Moscow Times reporter misquoted him.
“I am deeply offended by the misrepresentations attributed to me regarding Adolf Hitler and the black community in the United States,” he wrote in a statement. He reportedly sued the Moscow Times, which stood by its reporting, and the Toronto Sun for reprinting the interview. Those lawsuits were resolved out of court, his attorney Tim Danson said.
In 2002, ESPN ran a “SportsCentury” profile that chronicled these incidents along with allegations of domestic violence. One of his ex-wives, figure skater Joanne McKay, mother of five of his children including Brett, accused Mr Hull of beating her once with a steel heeled shoe.
His daughter Michelle Hull became a lawyer who works with battered women, a career choice she says stems from witnessing Mr Hull’s treatment of her mother, Joanne.
Nonetheless, the Blackhawks recalled the two-time NHL MVP in 2007 as a team ambassador and installed life-size bronze statues of him and Mikita outside the United Center, where the Blackhawks. (The Black Hawks changed the spelling of the team name to Blackhawks in 1986.)
“If I had to do it over 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 was that I would do more thinking! Write that! Again, thinking can get you as much trouble as anything else.