The Real Ogie: Wild Bill Goldthorpe
Big, bad Goldie

Legendary hockey brawler portrayed in the movie Slap Shot has softened - but only a tiny bit, ALLAN MAKI reports

Reprinted with permission of The Globe and Mail

By Allan Maki of Toronto's The Globe and Mail
Tuesday, July 30, 2002

He is running through the names, checking them off a list he compiled 31 years ago. They are names from the Charlottetown Islanders, a junior A hockey team that no longer exists. They are names he has never forgotten because they started it, he finished it and that's the way it had to be.

"They were older than we were and they beat us up good. So I said to them, 'With my last breath, when I become a pro hockey player I will get every one of you guys' -- and I did. I did 'em all. Kevin Devine. Garth McGregor. Al MacAdam. I fought 'em and I said, 'You tell those other guys I'm coming for them.' And when I was done, I always said, 'That's for the boys in Thunder Bay. T-bag Bay. The land of the tough guys.' "

You wait for a belly laugh, a chuckle, anything to suggest he is only kidding, that he didn't really hunt down every player from that Charlottetown team. But there is no laugh, only the stone-cold silence you'd expect from a man once dubbed the wildest, meanest, most unpredictable player in hockey.

This is the guy, people tell you, who once jumped out of a penalty box, skated after a linesman and, because the referee had grabbed his arms and pinned them back, did the next worst thing and bit the linesman on the leg. Then there was the time he jumped onto the ice and began beating up opposing players while dressed in shoes and street clothes. "I looked like a guy trying to water ski," he said. Again, no chuckle.

That he spent part of his pro career hunting down foes from his junior days is petty stuff when you consider the voice on the other end of the phone belongs to none other than Ogie Ogilthorpe. Not the actor who played the character in the 1977 movie Slap Shot, but the real Ogilthorpe -- Bill (Goldie) Goldthorpe, the impossibly Afro-haired hellion who was the inspiration for much of the film's wildest moments.

Take the scene where the hockey puck gets deflected high into the stands and KO's the organ player in the head. It's a variation on the night Goldthorpe, back in the penalty box, was so angry he picked up a water bottle and tried to toss it at a rival player except the bottle slipped out his hand and KO'd the penalty announcer standing nearby. ("San Diego penalty to No. 7, Bill Gold . . ." Thunk!)

Or how about the final scene where the actor playing Ogilthorpe skates onto the ice for the start of the championship game and the announcer says it's been a trying year for Ogie "what with the litigation, the notoriety, his subsequent deportation to Canada and that country's refusal to accept him?" Goldthorpe was arrested in Wisconsin after slugging it out with a teammate on the tarmac at the Green Bay airport. It took two Canadian immigration officials to escort him back into the country the next day.

"I tell people I played with the real Ogie Ogilthorpe and some of them don't believe me," said Marc Habscheid, the coach of Canada's national junior team, who spent a season with Goldthorpe in the American Hockey League. "We were with Moncton and I remember Halifax pounding us. The next game against them, Goldie's in the lineup and we're at our bench for the national anthem and Goldie says, 'Open the gate.' I said, 'They're playing the anthem.' He says, 'Open the gate.' So I open the gate and he goes onto the ice and stands in front of their bench and he talks to all their players. I don't think those Halifax guys threw a hit all game."

In his prime, Goldthorpe was as volatile as nitroglycerin. He'd blow up and fight if someone so much as looked at him funny, even if the game hadn't started, even if it meant going into the stands. It was all part of the rough-and-rumble 1970s, the golden era of bare-knuckle hockey.

Just the mention of Goldthorpe's name in the World Hockey Association was enough to scare the stripes off a referee's sweater and it was the same in the North American Hockey League, where he played against the Johnstown Jets and the likes of Dave Hanson and the Carlson brothers, Steve, Jeff and Jack, the Big Bopper.

The strange thing was Hanson and two of the Carlsons got to play characters similar to themselves in Slap Shot. They became the height of horn-rimmed hilarity. Twenty-five years later, they're still working their shtick in countless public appearances and in Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice, the sequel released this year. In fact, most everyone associated with the movie, including the star, Paul Newman, has benefited from its enduring popularity and can look back fondly -- but not Goldthorpe.

Instead, the movie that not just glorified hockey violence but made us laugh at it left Goldthorpe bitter. It took his game, his name, his blonde Afro, then asked Johnstown goal scorer Ned Dowd to play the part of Ogilthorpe. Why?

"First of all, my character, Ogie Ogilthorpe, was a compilation of several kinds of people, not Bill Goldthorpe per se," said Dowd, who served as a sounding board for his sister, who wrote the screenplay, and is now a Hollywood producer.

"I knew Bill. He's quite nice, a lovely guy. Is Bill Goldthorpe a part of that compilation? Yes. But to the best of my knowledge, there was never an offer made. I think the thing was we couldn't get a hold of Bill."

"Ned Dowd's full of crap," Goldthorpe snorts. "You want to know why I wasn't in the movie? They thought I was too wild and I'd beat up Paul Newman."

Would he have?

"No, but here's what happened: Newman's brother came and saw us play. I was with Binghamton. That night, there had been a fight in the stands in Johnstown and I got charged with assault. In the dressing room, I had a coke bottle and I was so angry I threw it at Paul Stewart [a teammate turned NHL referee] because he wouldn't shut up. The bottle hit the wall, and at that moment Newman's brother walked into the room and got Coke all over him. That was it. They thought I was an undesirable."

"A real criminal element," Newman says in the movie.

It was just the tip of the rap sheet. As rough as he was on the ice, off the ice Goldthorpe was like a bull on the streets of Pamplona. He wouldn't back down from a challenge because that's not how you do it if you're from the land of the tough guys, T-bag Bay.

"I think Goldie's proud of the role he played. He took care of his teammates and he was fiercely loyal," said George Gwozdecky, now the University of Denver hockey coach and a former teammate. "But there's no question he's not proud of some of the things he did off the ice. He'll admit he screwed up."

Eighteen of those screwups landed Goldthorpe in jail. A couple nearly scared the life out of him. One tore up his stomach, cost him chunks of his small intestine and left the real Ogie Ogilthorpe close to death.

He is telling you stories, enough to fill a book. In many cases he tells "the real story" instead of the much-rumoured version and in many cases he comes out looking worse. Eighteen years after he played his last pro hockey game, Goldie Goldthorpe is not about to turtle.

"Do I regret any of those off-ice incidents? All of them. I'm not going to whine. I did it because I didn't have discipline. I should never have drank. I wasn't a drunk but I drank and that didn't help. I didn't start every fight. I'd be in a town and someone would say, 'You're not that tough.' I was only 173 pounds and people couldn't believe I was Ogie Ogilthorpe. That's how a lot of things got started."

Many of them ended badly. In 1980 in San Diego, he was shot in the stomach while trying to rescue an ex-girlfriend. It was the ex-girlfriend's drug dealer who didn't like the way Goldthorpe got involved. So, bang! The bullet rearranged Goldthorpe's entrails and just missed his kidney. The paramedics who treated Goldthorpe said if he hadn't had such strong abdominal muscles he would have died.

Being a tough guy through and through came naturally to Goldthorpe. He was born in northern Ontario, in the railway town of Hornepayne. His father Alfred was as big as a boxcar and worked as an engineer for the CNR. His mother Pearl was a nurse's aide. When Alfred and Pearl got married their best man was Leo Boivin, an NHL tough guy in his day.

The Goldthorpes sent their son to Thunder Bay to play minor hockey and it wasn't long before he learned that he would have to fight for his respect. Goldthorpe lived with his aunt Eva Gannon in a house that still has a statue of the Virgin Mary in the attic window. The statue was placed there to keep the house holy. It didn't do much for Goldthorpe, the resident holy terror.

"Mrs. Gannon would say, 'I can see it in your eyes. You're bad,' " said Goldthorpe, whose temper once took out many of the front windows at his aunt's house and also made him a quick participant in a scrap.

Once, at a midget tournament in Dauphin, Man., Goldthorpe came to the aid of a man who was wrestling with a referee who had slugged a spectator. The man was Albert Cava, the legendary Thunder Bay coach who had travelled to Dauphin to see the young kids who would be moving up to the Port Arthur Marrs. The incident struck a chord between Goldthorpe and Cava. The coach loved the ferocity of his young forward while Goldthorpe loved the way his coach treated him.

"I was fair with him. I appreciated what he could do for our team," Cava said. "He was a helluva hockey player, the best penalty killer I've ever seen. He played every shift as if his life depended on it."

Goldthorpe was involved in dozens of donnybrooks with the Marrs, who later became the St. Paul (Minn.) Vulcans. In Smiths Falls, Ont., a fan slugged Vulcans defenceman Lee Fogolin Jr. while he was on the ice. Goldthorpe flew into the stands and, in the ensuing scuffle, broke a security officer's leg. The security man recognized Cava a month later and said not to worry, "I'm getting compensation. I've never had it so good."

"As a kid, I used to watch [Thunder Bay defenceman] John Schella and his buddies, guys who were older than me. They played poker and they played tough hockey," Goldthorpe said. "I was only 17 and I wanted to be like them."

As for needing a police escort to home games, it was sort of true. After getting into a fight one summer in Hornepayne, Goldthorpe was jailed, then allowed to finish his sentence in Thunder Bay. Gwozdecky would sign him out for practices and games, then return him at the appointed hour. (For the record: Goldthorpe had a summer job as a gravedigger.)

In 1973, two years after losing to Charlottetown and plotting his Rambo-like revenge, Goldthorpe was off to the pros. He had 20 goals and 26 assists his first season in the NAHL and that earned him a go with the WHA's Minnesota Fighting Saints. In 1977, he was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs' training camp and played well in scrimmages and exhibition games. The coaches said they wanted Goldthorpe to stick around but the team wasn't prepared to offer him a contract. Goldthorpe walked. After a brief tryout with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the NHL was finished with the wild man from Thunder Bay. Within seven years, all of hockey was done with him.

The trouble was there was still some trouble ahead.

He is talking about his scars because he has almost as many of them as he does stories. He says he needed 300 stitches to his left arm and hand after an encounter with a knife-wielding thug who had been beating up a woman. Goldthorpe had watched the attack from across a street before rushing in like the Marines. Had a buddy not applied a tourniquet to Goldthorpe's arm, he would have bled to death.

There are also scars on Goldthorpe's stomach and heart from his 1980 shooting. Alfred Goldthorpe spent 30 days in San Diego nursing his son back to health. A week after he returned to Thunder Bay, the 58-year-old engineer climbed aboard a train and died of a heart attack. His wife Pearl had died seven years earlier, a victim of cancer at 53.

Losing his dad so soon after almost dying himself was the double whammy that pinned Goldthorpe against the wall and got his attention. He went back to school and enrolled in accounting and computer programming. He got a construction job and is now a foreman in charge of building a 340-unit condominium in downtown San Diego. To keep busy, Goldthorpe lifts weights and competes in bodybuilding competitions. Life is good, except for one thing.

"The Slap Shot business bothers him," Gwozdecky insisted. "The Carlson brothers have lived off that movie ever since they made it. On the other hand, Goldie, who had more of a reputation, more of a legacy, more toughness and was depicted in the movie that way, never received a thing -- not even an acknowledgment."

For 15 years, Goldthorpe avoided the movie until finally he watched it. He thought it was okay. Recently, a friend came up with the idea of recognizing Goldthorpe's past by designing a special T-shirt. On the front of the shirt is a picture of a big-haired, angry Goldthorpe, a guy you wouldn't want to cross unless you had a tranquilizer gun -- to use on yourself. On the back is a list of 18 cities and dates topped by the words, 'The Bill Goldthorpe North American Jail Tour.' Goldthorpe loved the T-shirt so much he's been selling them by the box load and donating the money to charity.

"I've never hidden from what I did. All that stuff, it's just the way it worked out. It's not like I woke up in the morning and said, 'I'm going to jail tonight.' Everything that happened in that movie, it happened to me. All those guys, they made millions of dollars. I didn't get a dime. But when I meet guys who played the game, they all call me Ogie Ogilthorpe. They all say that. They know."

He pauses. The silence is stony cold.

"A buddy told me once, 'Goldie, you're going to be a bully in an old folks home.' "

It's a joke, a poke at his own expense. You can tell because, for the first time since he started talking, the tough guy on the other end of the line is laughing long and hard.

Reprinted with permission of The Globe and Mail