For fans of the Detroit Red Wings who were fortunate enough to be able to see Bob Probert suit up in person, they’ll tell the many stories of his legendary fights and of his reputation as one of the toughest men to have ever skated in the NHL.
But off the ice, it wasn’t always smooth skating for Probert. Though he was known for the use of his fists, he also became known for battles with inner demons, as well as run-ins with the law; his sudden passing in July of 2010 at the age of 45 stunned the hockey world.
An intimate look at Probert’s life through previously unseen home movies, as well as interviews from legendary hockey figures, is set to be released in select theaters after a film festival run this spring. “Tough Guy: The Bob Probert Story” is the latest work of documentarian Geordie Day, whose films have been seen around the world.
Q: What was the inspiration for this project?
So, back in 2016, I directed a documentary on Clint Malarchuk, the goaltender for the Buffalo Sabres who nearly was killed after a skate blade severed his neck in the late 1980s. The film was about his struggles with mental illness. Additionally, my mom writes a lot of hockey biographies, and she had written Bob’s with him. All of the taped interviews for that book, we used in our documentary
While her and Bob were working on the book, they were doing hours of taped interviews about his famous scandals and fights. She’s been sitting on the tapes and recordings for years. I thought it would be cool to have Bob’s story, kind of like the Amy Winehouse documentary and use as much archival film as possible and tell us his story through his career, so that people could empathize with him and through the documentary they could go along with him.
Q: There are plenty of high profile interviews you did for this documentary, including from Steve Yzerman, Joe Kocur, Chris Chelios, and others. Did you find they were eager to take part in this film?
They’re busy guys, so scheduling wasn’t the easiest thing. They made it happen, and I think that’s a testament to (Bob’s wife) Dani Probert and the respect that all the guys have for her. A lot were doing for Bob as well. The interviews I’d credit to the respect that all the players have for Bob and Dani.
Q: Is there any effect that you’re hoping this documentary will have on today’s NHL enforcers?
We didn’t go into it wanting to make it an advocacy film; I don’t land on either side of the argument and I don’t think the film does either. It’s just a film about Bob and his life and the issues he faced. We all deal with them too, and it’s about his struggles and what is family and friends and teammates struggled the most with. If a current NHL enforcer sees it, there is a correlation between enforcers and drinking/drug use. If guys can watch the documentary and can gain perspective on their own situation, I think that’d be great.
Q: Do you think that Bob’s career would have been different had he not struggled with substance abuse?
Good question and we try to tackle that in the documentary. A lot of people see he had an All-Star season in 1987 and 1988 and he could be a powerhouse out there. If it weren’t for drugs and alcohol and if it weren’t getting caught at the border with cocaine, who knows what would happen? He could have been an All-Star for years to come. Others say his meanness and toughness had something to do with the fact that he was drinking and doing drugs. You never know. I’d be more inclined to think without it, he’d probably have had an even better carer than he did. But it’s impossible to say.
Q: What else can people expect to see in this project?
I think Bob has this larger than life persona, and part of being probably the best enforcer ever – or at least the most dominant. All the scandals he was involved in and always on the front page and media for his addiction issues. I think we tried to juxtapose that with the Bob seen in home video footage and his own perspective, so you can realize this wasn’t a badass rock star hockey player who didn’t care about anyone. He cared a lot of people and they loved him, and just like everyone else he struggled with demons, so hopefully people can see it and see the best of Bob.