TORONTO — He’s brash, he’s outspoken and he’s been a fixture on Canadian television screens for more than three decades.
On Wednesday, Don Cherry celebrates his 80th birthday.
In honour of “Grapes” becoming an octogenarian, here is a look back at the man and some of his best (and worst) moments:
Cherry was born in Kingston, Ont. Also from Kingston: Singer Bryan Adams, rock band The Tragically Hip, filmmakers Bruce McDonald and Patricia Rozema, actress Polly Shannon and actor Hugh Dillon.
Cherry was born the same day as baseball great Hank Aaron. It was the same year the first Three Stooges short film was released, Adolf Hitler became the head of Germany, Alcatraz welcomed its first civilian prisoners and New York’s Apollo Theatre opened.
Cherry had two children, Cindy and Tim, with his longtime wife Rose, who died of liver cancer in 1997. (The Darling Home for Kids in Milton, Ont. was formerly known as Rose Cherry’s Home for Kids and Mississauga’s Hershey Centre is located on Rose Cherry Place.) Tim Cherry, 50, is a scout for the Ontario Hockey League.
Don Cherry has been married to second wife Luba since 1999.
Cherry’s brother Dick, who turns 77 next month, played 145 NHL games as a member of the Boston Bruins and then the Philadelphia Flyers.
Cherry’s paternal grandfather, John T. Cherry, was an original member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
Cherry played only one game in the NHL. He skated for the Boston Bruins during the playoffs in 1955. He previously played for the Barrie Flyers and Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League and the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. In 1969, he played for the Vancouver Canucks — then part of the Western Hockey League.
He also played minor hockey for the Springfield Indians, Trois-Rivieres Lions, Kitchener-Waterloo Beavers, Sudbury Wolves, Spokane Comets, Rochester Americans and Tulsa Oilers. Cherry earned the Memorial Cup in 1953 and the Calder Cup in 1960, 1965, 1966 and 1968.
Behind the Bench
Cherry started coaching the Rochester Americans in 1971 and then became head coach of the Boston Bruins — winning the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year in 1976. He went on to coach the Colorado Rockies.
Cherry coached 480 NHL games during his career and won 250 regular season games and 31 playoff games. His teams lost 153 regular season games and 24 playoff games. Cherry never managed to coach a Stanley Cup-winning team.
Becoming a Broadcaster
Cherry was hired by the CBC as a colour commentator in 1981 but canned for favouring teams — usually the Bruins or Leafs. The network created Coach’s Corner, which aired during the first intermission of Hockey Night in Canada. Cherry sat with Dave Hodge until 1987, when Hodge was replaced by Ron MacLean. Cherry also hosted half-hour shows Don Cherry’s Grapevine and Don Cherry’s This Week in Hockey for other stations.
In addition to hockey, Cherry has worked as a car salesman, construction worker and painter. He also cashed in from 1989 to 2005 with a series of hockey video compilations called Don Cherry’s Rock’Em Sock’Em Hockey.
In the mid-’80s, Cherry founded themed restaurants called Don Cherry’s Grapevine. A decade later he licensed the concept to operators across the country and, in 2007, sold the company. Today there are more than a dozen Don Cherry’s Sports Grill eateries from Newfoundland to British Columbia.
Cherry has used his celebrity status to promote a number of companies. He put his name and face on Cherry Blue Pet Insurance and he was once the TV spokesman for the Quiznos chain of sub shops. Cherry is currently seen on TV promoting Dominion Lending Centre. “I know suits. I know dogs. And of course I know hockey. But I don’t know mortgages,” he says in the ad.
In 2004, the CBC show The Greatest Canadian named him the 7th greatest Canadian, behind the father of medicare Tommy Douglas, runner Terry Fox, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, insulin inventor Sir Frederick Banting, environmentalist David Suzuki and former prime minister Lester B. Pearson.
Of the Top 10, Cherry is one of only three who are still alive — and he’s the only one who hasn’t been awarded an Order of Canada.
In 1997, Cherry had a guest role on the TV series Goosebumps. He played — you guessed it — a coach. He also had a recurring role as Jake Nelson in the series Power Play and appeared in Martin Short’s TV movie Long Story Short in 2011. Cherry has lent his voice to several TV projects include the animated Zeroman with Ryan Reynolds and the wildlife special The Great Polar Bear Adventure.
Cherry’s life is so interesting, it took two mini-series to tell it. In 2010’s Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story and 2012’s Wrath of Grapes: The Don Cherry Story II, the famous coach was portrayed by Jared Keeso, who went on to star in last year’s feature Elysium and currently stars as Ben Chartier in the series 19-2.
At the 2010 swearing in ceremony for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Cherry called cyclists and certain journalists “pinkos” and described Ford as “honest” and “truthful.” He added: “What you see is what you get. He’s no phony. He’s going to be the greatest mayor this city has ever seen, as far as I’m concerned, and put that in your pipes, you left-wing kooks.”
Three years later, when Ford finally admitted to smoking crack in one of his “drunken stupors,” Cherry told Sportsnet 590 The Fan he felt “let down” by the mayor. “Yes, I am disappointed. I think as a mayor, if he could just cut out all the rest of the stuff.”
In 1993, Cherry recorded “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Techno” with Canadian dance act BKS. More than half-a-million copies of the video were sold but it was named the worst of the year by MuchMusic.
Cherry also appeared (with the Trailer Park Boys) in the video for The Tragically Hip’s “The Darkest One.” He is seen delivering fried chicken.
Cherry has called Russians “quitters,” taken shots at French Canadians and questioned Canada’s decision not to join the war in Iraq — the latter prompting more than 1,500 complaints to the CBC. Say what you will, but Cherry…well, will say what he will. Here are a few gems:
On fighting in hockey: “It’s always been a part of the game. The fans love fighting. The players don’t mind. The coaches like the fights. What’s the big deal? Anybody who says they don’t like fighting in the NHL have to be out of their minds.”
On the Canadian Football League: “The best thing about this game, there’s no Russians or Swedes playing.”
On seeing New York Islanders player Zigmund Palffy kiss teammate Travis Green on the lips after scoring against the New Jersey Devils: “I know those guys who wear visors are sweeties, but that’s a little too much.”
On watching Oilers defenseman Randy Gregg, a doctor, miss an open net: “How would you like that guy operating on you with those hands?”
On Bloc Quebecois complaints about the number of Canadian flags at the 2008 Olympics in Nagano: “They don’t like the Canadian flag. You know it’s funny, they don’t want the Canadian flag but they want our money.”
On two Russian skiers who tested positive for a banned substance at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City: “I’ve been trying to tell you for so long about the Russians. What kind of people they are and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism.”
On female reporters in the locker room: “I don’t believe women should be in the male dressing room. I don’t feel women are equal. I feel they’re above us. I think they’re on a pedestal and they should not be walking in when naked guys are walking in. And some guys take advantage of it and I don’t think (they) should be.”
On Eric Lindros’ refusal to play for the Quebec Nordiques: “They don’t want our signs . . . they don’t want our language and then they can’t understand why an 18-year-old kid from Ontario doesn’t want to go there. Get with it.”
On then-assistant coach of the Winnipeg Jets, Alpo Suhonen, in 1989: “Alpo? Isn’t that a dog food?”
On Canadian aid to Haiti: “You know, I am one of those guys, like most people in Canada, we like to help the countries all over the world. But sometimes it makes you wonder. We’ve got a guy dying in Toronto waiting 3 hours for an ambulance. We got people waiting 7, 8, 10 hours, if they’re lucky, in a waiting room with one doctor for a zillion people. We nickel and dime our doctors, nurses and veterans plus a million other services. Yet we can send almost 50 million to Haiti. Maybe it’s just me. But Canada gave Haiti 49.5 million dollars last year. Are we nuts?”
Cherry’s unique suits are currently custom-made by The Coop in Toronto (his previous tailor, Frank Cosco, passed away in 2007) using as much as five yards of material Cherry hand-picks at Fabricland.
Cherry is unabashedly proud of Canada and the country’s armed forces. In 2007 he was made a Dominion Command Honourary Life Member of the Royal Canadian Legion and, a year later, he was awarded the Canadian Forces Medallion for Distinguished Service for his “unwavering support.”
In 2011, Cherry turned down an Honourary Degree from the Royal Military College of Canada after some members of the faculty protested.