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

Bobby Hull (7) of the Chicago Black Hawks, sporting a black eye from a previous week's injury, has just scored a goal against Detroit during a Stanley Cup playoff game in 1963. (Larry Stoddard/AP)
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Bobby Hull, a longtime Chicago Black Hawks winger nicknamed the “Golden Jet,” whose speed, high-velocity shots and showmanship made him one of the most popular hockey players of all time, has died at age 84.

The team, which now goes by the single word Blackhawks, announced the death on Twitter but did not release 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 chronicling Mr. Hull’s life before and after allegations of spousal abuse and racism tainted his public persona.

A flashy and 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 only six teams in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, Montreal, New York and Toronto.

Mr. Hull’s up-ice rushes brought fans to their feet, as he scored 50 or more goals in a season five times while turning a relatively new shooting style — the slap shot — into an offensive weapon. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated five times, then unprecedented for a hockey player and a nod of mainstream approval to 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 run of five consecutive Stanley Cups, and then defeated Gordie Howe’s Detroit Red Wings, 4 games to 2, to give Chicago its first championship in 23 years. The team wouldn’t win another title until 2010.

“Back then I thought I’d have a bunch of these,” Mr. Hull told Joyce of his only Stanley Cup victory, at age 22.

Mr. Hull packed NHL arenas during his 15 NHL seasons with Chicago. He led the league in goal scoring seven times, a record that lasted 50 years before Washington Capitals winger Alex Ovechkin bested it in 2019. He led the NHL in points three times, and was an NHL first-team all-star 10 times.

In 1968, Mr. Hull felt that his popularity didn’t match his compensation, so he protested by retiring in an attempt to get more money. The Black Hawks called his bluff and, without better options, Mr. Hull returned to the team with a prorated salary. He was fined and had 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 start of an era where superstar athletes made 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.

With much fanfare, including a large, 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 had been making in the NHL. Other NHL players, such as Howe, also fled to the WHA.

In the WHA, Mr. Hull won championships and scoring titles, but the success came at a steep cost. Team Canada didn’t allow anyone other than NHL players to participate in the 1972 Summit Series against the Soviets.

“I wanted to play more than anything else. But those 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 play in the 1974 Summit Series. (The U.S.S.R. 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 time who remained associated with hockey after hanging up their skates, Mr. Hull was a virtual castoff, having a strained relationship with the Black Hawks over the pay dispute. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983, but he left the sport behind, spending his days farming and raising cattle in Ontario.

Robert Marvin Hull Jr. was born in Port Anne, Ontario, on Jan. 3, 1939. He was the fifth child of 11 and the oldest 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 highest 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 for years a beloved figure in hockey, 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 award given for “gentlemanly conduct.”

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 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 fined $150 and six months of court supervision.

In 1998 he allegedly ranted to a Russian newspaper about Adolf Hitler having some “good ideas.” Asked in the same interview if he was racist, Mr. Hull reportedly said: “I don’t give a damn. I’m not running for any political office.”

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

“I am deeply offended by the false statements attributed to me with respect to 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 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 aired a “SportsCentury” profile that chronicled these incidents and also allegations of domestic abuse. One of his ex-wives, figure skater Joanne McKay, the mother of five of his children, including Brett, accused Mr. Hull of once beating her with a steel-heeled shoe.

His daughter Michelle Hull became a lawyer who works with battered women, a career choice she said resulted from witnessing Mr. Hull’s treatment of her mother, Joanne.

Nevertheless, the Blackhawks summoned back the two-time NHL MVP in 2007 to make him a team ambassador and installed life-size bronze statues of him and Mikita outside United Center, where the Blackhawks play. (The Black Hawks amended the spelling of the team name to Blackhawks in 1986.)

“If I had to do it over, I’d probably do more drinking,” 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’d do more thinking! Write that! Then again, thinking can get you into just as much trouble as anything else.”