Bill Wirtz (William Wadsworth Wirtz)

Bill Wirtz

Bill Wirtz (via his stake in the Wirtz Corporation) was most notable as owner of the Chicago Blackhawks; Wirtz Realty, a large real estate owner in Chicago; and Judge & Dolph Ltd., a major liquor distributor selling over 33 percent of all liquor in Illinois. Wirtz Corp. also has interests in banking and insurance, and co-owned the United Center with Jerry Reinsdorf. Crain’s Chicago Business in 2004 estimated the company’s 2003 revenues as US$1.3 billion. Overall, it is estimated that Bill Wirtz’s personal holdings (including stock in several companies, including Alberto-Culver and Firstar Bank) were worth about US$3 to $4 billion. Bill Wirtz sold the Holiday on Ice and Ice Follies for $12 million to Irvin & Kenneth Feld Productions in 1979. Bill Wirtz was the team president of the Blackhawks for 41 years and served as Chairman of the Board of Governors of the NHL for 18, helping to merge the NHL and the World Hockey Association during the 1970s. As owner of the Blackhawks, Wirtz had a reputation for stubbornness and frugality, earning the nickname “Dollar” Bill. He was vilified by Blackhawks fans for forbidding home games to be televised unless they were picked up by national broadcasters, which only happened when the Blackhawks made the playoffs. As Wirtz explained it, broadcasting regular-season home games was unfair to season-ticket holders. For a short time during the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons, Wirtz introduced Hawkvision, a pay-per-view service that operated in conjunction with Chicago’s local SportsChannel outfit, which cost $29.95 per month and broadcast Blackhawks home games.

Bill Wirtz was also blamed for allowing Bobby Hull to leave the Blackhawks and the NHL for the World Hockey Association (although his father, Arthur Wirtz, was actually responsible for that decision). Wirtz was further blamed for the loss of both Dominik Hašek and Ed Belfour, for trading Denis Savard in 1990, for the trade of Chris Chelios to Detroit (in actuality, Chelios had asked to be traded and gave approval to then-General Manager Bob Murray when told Detroit was the most interested team), for the trading of Jeremy Roenick, and for the 1967 trade of Phil Esposito. Wirtz was also blamed for the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup drought, which was the second longest in NHL history and the longest in team history. Under the ownership of Wirtz, the Chicago Blackhawks were named by ESPN in 2004 as the worst franchise in sports. In 2002, ESPN ranked Wirtz as the third greediest owner in all of sports. In spite of his vocal critics, Wirtz was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977 and the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985. He was considered by many (including former Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon, retired hockey star Stan Mikita, and former Blackhawk Martin Lapointe) to be a generous and fiercely loyal man. In 1993, he established Blackhawk Charities which has donated millions of dollars to the Boys and Girls Clubs and the Amateur Hockey Association of Illinois, among other groups.

Bill Wirtz also served on the Olympic Committees for both the 1980 and 1984 Winter Olympics. In 1955, Wirtz married Joan Roney. They had five children: two sons, Rocky Wirtz and Peter Wirtz; and three daughters, Gail Wirtz Costello, Karey Wirtz Fix, and Alyson Wirtz. Joan died in 1983, the same year his father died.  In 1987, he married Alice Wirtz. Wirtz died at Evanston Hospital on September 26, 2007, following a brief battle with cancer. His son Peter Wirtz was named the new owner of the Blackhawks the following day; Peter Wirtz eventually passed responsibility to his brother Rocky. Services were held at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. During a tribute and moment of silence for Bill Wirtz during the Blackhawks’ home opener on October 6, 2007, the crowd booed the proceedings.

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Born

  • October, 05, 1929
  • USA
  • Chicago, Illinois

Died

  • September, 26, 2007
  • USA
  • Evanston, Illinois

Cause of Death

  • cancer

Cemetery

  • Ivanhoe Cemetery
  • Mundelein, Illinois
  • USA

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