On July 5, 2010, legendary NHL tough guy Bob Probert collapsed on his boat on Lake St. Clair and died of a heart attack. He was only 45 years old, but sadly, his death wasn’t all that surprising. Probert lived hard: Chain smoking, alcoholism, even doing lines of coke in a jail cell after his arrest. He even took nurses home with him when he quit rehab.
Probert was on his eighth OxyContin that day, something he took to deal with the aches and pains that came with the aftermath of seventeen years of being the NHL’s undisputed champion of enforcers. He averaged 40 fights a year — nearly one every other game.
How do you make such an unsympathetic person so sympathetic? That’s the beauty of Tough Guy, which is based on the book that director Geordi Day’s mother Kirstie McLellan Day wrote with the late Probert.
From archive interviews with Probert to truly raw interviews with his widow Dani and children, Tough Guy attempts to show how Probert got the way he was. After his father died at young age, the hockey star was shipped off to start in hockey’s minor leagues the very next day at an incredibly young age and had to fend for himself.
There are plenty of great stories here from a who’s who of hockey —
Bruise Brother teammate Joe Kocur, rival Tie Domi, legendary announcer Don Cherry and teammates and rivals like Jeremy Roenick, Chris Chelios, Stu Grimson, Sheldon Kennedy, Troy Crowder, Steve Yzerman, Tony Twist, Ptr Klima, and Marty McSorely.
Probert was a complex man. Sure, he was one of the biggest goons in the league, but he’d also finish seasons with over twenty goals, well beyond what you’d expect from an enforcer. And he actively supported young hockey players and often bought tickets for kids who couldn’t afford to go to games.
On April 9, 2017, Probert’s family spread his ashes in the Red Wings penalty box — he ranks #5 of on the NHL’s list of all-time penalty minutes — during the final game at Joe Louis Arena.
Tough Guy may not be the kind of movie we usually cover here, but it’s one that’ll really make you think about the sacrifices that athletes and tough guys have to make.
Tough Guy will air in Canada’s Super Channel on December 14 and will be released in the U.S. later this year.
Disclaimer: I was sent this movie by its PR team and that has no bearing on the review.