(CNN) — “Mr. Hockey” Gordie Howe, whose career spanned six decades and included four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, died Friday, his son, Marty Howe, told CNN. He was 88.
The Hockey Hall of Famer had had health struggles in recent years, suffering a stroke in 2014. A statement from the Howe family said he passed away peacefully Friday morning with his family by his side.
As a six-time league MVP, Howe arguably was one of the sport’s greatest players, scoring 801 goals in his 26 years in two stints in the National Hockey League.
“All hockey fans grieve the loss of the incomparable Gordie Howe,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.
“A remarkable athlete whose mastery of our sport was reflected by the longevity of his career and by his nickname, ‘Mr. Hockey,’ Gordie’s commitment to winning was matched only by his commitment to his teammates, to his friends, to the Red Wings, to the city of Detroit and — above all — to his family.”
In 1963, Howe became the NHL’s all-time leading scorer, a record Wayne Gretzky later broke. Gretzky idolized the older player, wearing No. 99 as a tribute to Howe, who wore No. 9.
Gretzky called in Friday to “The Dan Patrick Show,” saying Howe would be “sorely missed.”
“To me, he’s the greatest hockey player who ever played,” said Gretzky, who is known as “The Great One.”
A prolific scorer, Howe was feared and revered, famous for his flying elbows. But perhaps, biggest of all, he was an iconic name that a casual and non-hockey fan would know.
Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said Howe “embodied on and off the ice what it meant to be both a Red Wing and a Detroiter. He was tough, skilled, and consistently earned success at the highest level. His achievements are numerous and his accomplishments immeasurable. It is truly a blessing to have had him both in our organization and our city for so many years. He will be deeply missed.”
Howe signed his first professional contract at age 18 in 1946 with the Red Wings, where he spent 25 years and won Stanley Cups in 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955. In 1971, Howe announced his retirement and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame a year later. But two years after hanging up his skates, he returned to the ice for the Houston Aeros of the World Hockey Association. Remarkably, he played with his sons Marty and Mark.
In 1980, Howe retired for the second time at age 52 after playing for the Hartford Whalers. By the time of his retirement, Howe would own league records in assists, points and games played. To this day, he holds NHL records for most games played and seasons.
But Howe still wasn’t done with hockey. Seventeen years later, the 69-year-old put on his skates one more time to play for the International Hockey League’s Detroit Vipers.
“Gordie’s greatness travels far beyond mere statistics; it echoes in the words of veneration spoken by countless players who joined him in the Hockey Hall of Fame and considered him their hero,” Bettman said.
Howe, born March 31, 1928, was one of nine children. He met his wife, Colleen, in 1949. They were married for 55 years until her death in 2009.
Howe is survived by four children — Marty, Mark, Cathy and Murray — and nine grandchildren. Arrangements will be announced once they are finalized, the Howe family said.
“Gordie Howe was an incredible ambassador for the game of hockey,” Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He was as fierce and competitive as they come but away from the rink he was truly engaging and personable and always enjoyed his interaction with the fans. … We will miss Mr. Hockey, who was the greatest Red Wing of all time.”