The hockey world once feared the fists of Bob Probert, then grew to pity his train-wreck lifestyle before celebrating his recovery as family man and ambassador of the game.
On Monday, it was mourning his death at age 45 after suffering a heart attack aboard a pleasure boat on Lake St. Clair.
The 45-year-old father of four had no vital signs when other passengers radioed for help and docked at Lakeshore, Ont., east of Windsor. EMS attempts to revive him en route to hospital were unsuccessful.
"Sometimes the people you are most scared of turn out to be the nicest," said tearful Senator Jacques Demers, Probert's long time coach with the Detroit Red Wings, who suspended and reinstated the NHL's No. 1 enforcer many times during his off-ice troubles.
"He came through a lot and we went through a lot together."
Demers was recovering from intestinal surgery in an Ottawa Hospital when he returned QMI's phone call, having not heard of Probert's passing.
"This is terrible. You feel so much for his wife Dani and (four) children," Demers said.
Probert's father-in-law, Dan Parkinson, said at a news conference Monday night that Probert had complained of "severe chest pain" around 2 p.m. before collapsing.
"This was totally unexpected," Parkinson said. "Bob lost the fight of his life this afternoon."
An autopsy will be performed on Tuesday to determine the official cause of death.
Probert made headlines for scraps with the law, car crashes, alcohol, substance abuse, for his time in an NHL-supervised treatment centre and his inability to cross the border to his native Windsor or play road games in Canada.
Yet those who coached him and played against him remain in awe of how he could fight and contribute on offence.
Probert sits fifth in NHL penalty minutes with 3,300.
He retired in 2002 after 16 seasons, during which he also had 384 points.
"Just think that he played 935 games," said broadcaster Harry Neale, who was briefly the young Probert's coach in Detroit.
"I would tell him, 'Try and play at least a shift before you do the other stuff'. But he was good enough to both play and be the tough guy. A lot of players want to be like him, but they can't play the game even five minutes a night."
Probert boxed his way to the top in the late 1980s and then had to take on the toughest challengers in the business -- such as Tie Domi, Marty McSorley and Kris King. There were mock Red Cross T-shirts sold around Joe Louis Arena that said 'Give Blood, Fight Probie'.
"When I got traded to Detroit I was so happy I didn't have to fight him or Joey Kocur anymore," King said.
"I was on the ice the night of one big fight against Domi. There were about as many punches thrown in that one as I'd taken in my whole career.
"But the thing was, Bob was just as valuable on the ice for Detroit."
Probert played in an all-star game and in almost 100 playoff matches.
"He had his demons, but he faced them and you had to cheer for people like that," King added.
In the past eight years, Probert devoted himself to his family (he was saving his puck from the last goal at Maple Leaf Gardens to give to his son Jack) and to speaking engagements on behalf of the NHL Alumni.
He also accompanied the ex-players on a few trips to Afghanistan to visit Canadian Forces personnel.
"All the troops loved the tough guys over there and Bobby spent more time with them than anyone," said Alumni executive director Mark Napier.
"He'd gone through our Life After Hockey program, got himself cleaned up and was very supportive of what we were trying to do. He loved public speaking and telling his story. His honesty would come out, which was essentially 'don't do what I did'. "