Gordie Howe, widely considered one of the greatest hockey players to ever step on the ice, died Friday morning at the age of 88, CBS News has confirmed.
While his immediate cause of death is unknown, Howe’s health has long been in decline. He fell victim to a “serious stroke” in October 2014 and has reportedly suffered from dementia for years as well.
Howe, nicknamed "Mr. Hockey," played 26 seasons and a record 1,767 games in the NHL, winning the Stanley Cup four times, earning the Hart Memorial Trophy six times and totaling what was then the most goals ever, 801. That mark would later be eclipsed by none other than Wayne Gretzky, who had grown up idolizing Howe.
The 23-time All-Star also currently sits in the No. 4 slot in career points (1,850) and comes in ninth in career assists (1,049). In 1998, The Hockey News deemed Howe the third best player of all time, behind Gretzky and Bobby Orr.
Howe’s unique synthesis of skill and strength, of finesse and ferocity, led to the playful conception of the term “Gordie Howe hat trick” -- something accomplished only when a skater tallies a goal, an assist and a fight in a single game, per the New York Daily News.
A treasured member of the Detroit community -- so much so that the city recently named a bridge to his native Canada in his honor -- Howe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 before returning to the NHL for his final campaign in the 1979-1980 season. He officially called it quits from the league at the age of 52.
In the months immediately following his October 2014 stroke, Howe’s health was so poor that his family feared “the end was close” and had a eulogy written in preparation for his death by late December of that year, according to the Detroit Free Press. But, true to form for a player who typified toughness and tenacity in the rink every night, Howe managed to rebound, partially regaining his health after undergoing stem cell treatment through June 2015.
“At this point, he is a man of few words,” his son Murray told the Free Press this past March. “He understands what everyone is saying, but he talks in short sentences and usually very quietly. It can be hard to understand him. But he is good with body language and hand signals. He is very funny, and if you listen closely, what he says is usually something extremely funny.”