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William Wadsworth "Dollar Bill" Wirtz (October 5 1929 – September 26 2007) was the chief executive officer and controlling shareholder of the family-owned Wirtz Corporation. He was best-known as the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks of the National Hockey League, who are part of Wirtz Corp's holdings. Wirtz also served as the Blackhawks' team president for over four decades.
He was born in Detroit and attended Brown University.
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. Wirtz had a lifelong love for hockey, and his team, the Chicago Blackhawks.
As owner of the Blackhawks, Wirtz had a reputation for stubbornness and frugality, and for that he earned the nickname "Dollar Bill" Wirtz. He was vilified by Blackhawks fans for forbidding Blackhawks home games to be shown on TV unless they were picked up by national broadcasters, which only happened when the Blackhawks made the playoffs. As he explained it, he felt that broadcasting regular home games was unfair to season-ticket holders. For a short time during the 1992 and 1993 seasons, Wirtz introduced Hawkvision, a pay TV service that operated in conjunction with Chicago's local SportsChannel outfit, which cost $29.95 per month and broadcast Blackhawks home games.
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 Robert Frederick 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 is the second longest in NHL history. Under the ownership of Wirtz, the Chicago Blackhawks were named by ESPN in 2004 as the worst franchise in sports.
Wirtz was also given the nickname "Dollar Bill" by Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Verdi as a sarcastic reference to his frugality in compensating his players. 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. Wirtz also won the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1978. 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. He was also famous for his philanthropy. 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.
Wirtz died at Evanston Hospital on September 26, 2007, following a brief battle with cancer. His son Peter Wirtz was initially named the new owner of the Blackhawks on September 27, 2007; Peter Wirtz passed the responsibility to his brother Rocky.
During a tribute and moment of silence for him during the Blackhawks home opener on October 8, 2007, the Chicago crowd displayed their displeasure with Wirtz's operation of the organization by booing the proceedings.
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