Death of Guy Lafleur: The Blond Devil in Hockey Heaven

Among the few of the greatest hockey players of all time, Guy Lafleur will have counted a lot.

Among the few of the greatest hockey players of all time, Guy Lafleur will have counted a lot. A monument already consecrated in life, the right winger passed the gun on the left in the absence of having managed to stop the cancer. For months, all of Quebec was informed about the progress of his health, as during his dazzling sporting career.

Even though the nicknamed Blonde Devil has also played professionally with the Quebec Nordiques and the New York Rangers, his name remains primarily associated with the national feeling surrounding the Montreal Canadiens’ existence. For the hockey fan, Lafleur was at the center of winning five Stanley Cups. Symbol of success on a collective level, he also embodied, on an individual level, the easily accessible “good guy”.

University of Montreal professor Benoit Melançon, passionate about the cultural representations of hockey, recalls that Lafleur belongs to the first generation of pre-programmed stars. “In the 1960s, for the first time, we now know when a great player is coming. In the case of Lafleur, we know that he can follow Jean Béliveau”, his idol. Lafleur is already the big star in the minor leagues. Within the Quebec Remparts, he enjoys the title of best junior player in the country. At the end of the 1969-1970 season, he had amassed 103 goals. The following season, there will be 130! Everyone is waiting for your transition to the professional league. We find ourselves following her in her wake, in all spheres of her life.

The Canadian’s general manager, Sam Pollock, set the stage for his coming to the pros. He multiplied player exchanges beforehand. On June 10, 1971, he announced that he had selected Guy Lafleur first in the amateur draft. Captain of the Quebec Remparts, Lafleur was already known when he wore the tricolor jersey in his first professional season. Everyone is convinced that hockey is in danger of undergoing a revolution. The red carpet is rolled out in front of him. Jean Béliveau even offers him the famous number 4. Lafleur, out of modesty, refuses. He will be number 10.

However, success does not come as quickly as expected. So much so that amateurs are a little reluctant in the face of results that take a long time to appear.

Lafleur is looking for himself. In 1971, he began writing poetry to escape boredom. “In the magazine Panorama, Victor-Lévy Beaulieu presented the poems of Lafleur, considered a proletarian, a common subject”, recalls Benoit Melançon. In 1973, Lafleur married Lise Barré, a flight attendant who lived in the same building as him.

His career only blossomed from the 1974-1975 season. In every regular season until 1980, he got into the habit of scoring over 50 goals, which then constituted unparalleled heights. Lafleur soon amassed, as a mainstay of his team, five Stanley Cups, while crystallizing the public’s attention. The “Blonde Devil”, as he is nicknamed, is considered the most electrifying player on the professional circuit.

After playing with a helmet and getting rather disappointing results, it was a new Lafleur, hair in the wind, who appeared triumphant on the ice. Is this new image the source of your success? “In a world as superstitious as hockey, that was mainly why Lafleur no longer wore a helmet,” says Benoit Melançon.

An exception

His success is mainly due to an exceptional physique. At rest, this athlete’s heart beats at a rate of less than 40 beats per minute. He already belongs, in this respect, to the small echelon of exceptional athletes. Lafleur may allow misbehavior that seems unthinkable today. So he voluntarily smokes between periods. “I’ve always smoked,” he explains. And he celebrates with gusto, even occasionally making headlines. So he narrowly escaped death in 1981 aboard his enormous Cadillac when he fell asleep at the wheel after a night of drinking.

Retirement?

In 1984, after a few games, Lafleur surprised everyone by announcing that he was retiring. Everything’s over? There are those who believe. Your enthusiasm is no longer the same. In fact, the athlete has problems with Jacques Lemaire, his coach. Lafleur doesn’t have enough time on the track, he says. And a monument like him, linked to a single team since its inception, cannot think of changing uniforms. What is the use of persisting in continuing in these conditions? At 33, he dropped out. On the bench, in addition to a few million dollars, he has 518 goals scored in the regular season, which puts him second in scoring for the team, just behind Maurice Richard’s 544 goals.

It is against all odds that Lafleur will be resurrected. After rocking out at home, here he is again putting on his skates after four years out of the pro circuit. First will be a year spent in the New York Rangers uniform. When he returned to the Montreal Forum on February 4, 1989, he received an unprecedented ovation. At the end of the night, Lafleur won two goals and cheers like never before. Viewers rejoice. Lafleur will play the next two seasons with the Quebec Nordiques, at a time when the rivalry between Montreal and Quebec is served boiling on ice.

the right to vote

Like many athletes, Guy Lafleur will be used for political purposes. He was presented to the public in 1992 as being in favor of the so-called Charlottetown Accord, which aimed to amend the Canadian constitution. Why ? He explains painfully on the radio, into the microphone of presenter Robert Gillet. The presenter asks him to explain what this right of veto is, which Lafleur considers a gain for Quebec. A four-second silence, which is very long on the radio, welcomes this question. After this awkward silence, the hockey player responds in a very uncertain voice that “gives you the opportunity to vote, to represent Quebec…” The right of veto actually allows a province to avoid a general change.

Lucien Bouchard will then say that Guy Lafleur can certainly speak about hockey with full authority, but that his skills on constitutional issues appear to be very small, to say the least. The stunned hockey player immediately ended his political involvement, not before insinuating that the October 26, 1992 referendum was a step towards “Quebec independence”, another political error as it was a consultation on the renewal of the constitution.

Thurso, in Outaouais, where the hockey player was born in 1951, has erected a bronze monument in his honor and calls itself “the city of Guy Lafleur”. But Quebec independence, Lafleur claimed, could encourage him to leave his homeland. “If business was so bad that there were no more opportunities for my family and me, I would definitely consider leaving Quebec. Unlike other hockey players such as Maurice Richard, who openly campaigned for the National Duplessis Union, Lafleur was never directly committed to a political party. On the other hand, it will endorse a number of consumer products.

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Guy Lafleur’s image is one of the most used in Quebec, during and after his career, to market all kinds of products, from hair extensions to foot massagers, not to mention yogurts, sausages, sliced ​​bread, poker machines, beer or gin. His real life often seems out of step with objects that are supposed to benefit from his aura. So Lafleur advertises, in the 1970s, an American car for the general public while he drives, in his daily life, behind the wheel of a shiny Ferrari, even though he admits having already covered the distance between Montreal and Quebec in 55 minutes. assumes driving at about 240 km/h. Lafleur will then drive, more smoothly, behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce, while he is passionate about piloting his helicopter.

In many television commercials, the hockey player appears uncomfortable in front of the camera, notes Benoit Melançon. “The only commercial where he really seems to be in his shoes is the one he shot for CHUM when he was already very sick. There, we know he’s talking about something he knows. And he speaks with a dignity he’s never had in publicity before. »

For the new year 1983, hockey stick maker Sher-Wood, then owned by his friend Léo Drolet of Cookshire, printed a calendar with a photograph of Lafleur showing him next to a large white-tailed deer shot in a pen. private breeding on November 27, 1982. The hunting season ends that year on November 7. Also, Lafleur does not have a hunting license. And the person in charge of that hunt told the media that the animal was killed in Maine. A judge ended up acquitting Lafleur in this embarrassing story for the athlete, taking into account his good faith.

The legal cases of Mark Lafleur, his son, will also reflect on him. His son is accused several times of narcotics-related stories. He is also convicted of beating, kidnapping and threatening a girlfriend. Next, Guy Lafleur is accused of having given contradictory testimony before the court.

Lafleur’s disappearance, after Maurice Richard and Jean Béliveau, seals the hockey grave of the Montreal Canadiens’ great years. Few athletes in the land of maples had a career that placed them, from an early age, in the spotlight. In 2019, Guy Lafleur underwent a quadruple coronary bypass. Since then, he has been battling lung cancer. He died on April 22, aged 70.

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