Gordie Howe, who dominated the sport of hockey for so long that he became known simply as "Mr. Hockey," died just before 8 a.m. Friday morning at his son's home in Ohio, Sportsnet in Canada is reporting along with CBS News. His son Marty also confirmed the news to CNN. He was 88 years old.
Howe suffered a massive stroke in October 2014 and later traveled to Mexico to undergo stem-cell treatment in response. He was said to be suffering from dementia, as well.
Howe entered in the NHL in 1946 and led the league in scoring each year from 1950 to 1954, plus 1957 and 1963, ranking among the NHL's top 10 scoring leaders for 21 straight years. After leading the Detroit Red Wings to four Stanley Cups, he retired for the first time in 1971, only to return to play for the WHA's Houston Aeros and New England Whalers for six seasons alongside sons Marty and Mark.
He spent one final season in the NHL with the Hartford Whalers in 1979-80 -- by then he was the grandfather of two -- before retiring for good. The six-time winner of the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player, Howe is the only NHL player to have played in five decades (even though most of his career was played in an era without helmets).
"One of my goals was longevity; I guess I've pretty much got the lock on that," he told Sports Illustrated in 1980.
Howe's 1,850 career points rank fourth in NHL history, behind Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier and Jaromir Jagr. Only Gretzky scored more NHL goals than Howe's 801, and Howe's 1,767 career NHL games played has yet to be topped (Jagr, the only active player in the top 10, trails him by 138 games). He's credited with expanding the reach of the NHL past Canada's borders.
"When Gordie came into the NHL," then-NHL president Clarence Campbell said in 1980, "hockey was a Canadian game. He's converted it into a North American game."
With his combined scoring skill and physical presence -- he finished with 1,685 penalty minutes, which still ranks in the NHL top 100 -- Howe's name became associated with a whimsically rare in-game achievement: the Gordie Howe hat trick, for players who register a goal, assist and a fight in one game. He only notched that feat twice in his career, however.
Howe was buoyed by the love of his many fans as his health declined in recent years, as noted by Sportsnet's Dan Robson:
"After Colleen, his wife of almost 56 years, died in 2009, he fell into depression. It wasn't until he got back onto the busy circuit of autograph signings and special appearances that those closest to Howe saw the joy in his eyes return. He genuinely appreciated our company. He enjoyed telling us stories and making our eyes grow wide with wonder-ruffling our hair and throwing a mock elbows to our jaws. Often, the autograph sessions would go more than two hours past schedule because Gordie refused to leave until everyone had a chance to chat with him."