Horton film delivers an impact

This documentary explores how the pursuit of fame and wealth tore apart Horton and his family in a haze of booze and drugs, just as his business career was finally taking off.

The Globe and Mail
February 10, 2001

Horton film delivers an impact
David Shoalts

A documentary on the life of hockey great Tim Horton, his wife Lori and their four daughters delivers an impact on a couple of levels.

The Perfect Husband is directed by Daniel Gelfant and produced by Lynn Booth and Laurie Long of Make Believe Media Inc., of Vancouver. It will be shown at 7 p.m. Tuesday on CBC and repeated next Friday at 10 p.m. on CBC Newsworld.

As one of his daughters notes in the film, these days Tim Horton "is just a name to people now. Good doughnuts, good coffee." But for 24 years starting in 1950, Horton was one of the best to ever play in the National Hockey League, a rock-hard defenceman who could carry the puck the length of the ice or flatten anyone who came near the Leafs net.

As those who know a little of Horton's tragic story would suspect, the show's title is ironic. It was taken from a publicity film of the same name made when Horton was becoming a star defenceman for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 1950s.

The film showed Horton at home washing dishes with his wife Lori, probably the only time he performed that domestic chore. The reality, as told by Lori and two of her four daughters, is that family came third with Horton after his hockey career and attempts to launch a business career.

This documentary explores how the pursuit of fame and wealth tore apart Horton and his family in a haze of booze and drugs, just as his business career was finally taking off. The tale of their rise and fall is riveting in itself, but just as striking is the realization that life as a professional athlete has not changed much in the past 50 years.

Wives are still not encouraged to pursue their own careers. Families still place a distant third in many cases to the athlete's sport and the chase of the off-ice money that comes with it. Only now, the fallout from the pursuit is daily fodder for an omnipresent media.

The tale of Horton's penchant for breaking doors drives this home. As the years went by, Horton turned into a mean drunk who would spend most of his off-hours drinking with teammates. Lori turned to booze herself, and then amphetamines. There were many arguments and Tim broke many doors during them.

Yet news of his problems with booze did not surface until the night of Feb. 21, 1974, when Horton was playing for the Buffalo Sabres. He got drunk after a game in Toronto and was killed when he crashed his high-powered sports car.

Compare that with the furor a few months ago when Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy got into an argument with his wife. When he broke a bedroom door, she became frightened and called the
police, which resulted in the predictable headlines and convictions in the media.

When the district attorney's office in Denver recently dropped all charges, there was barely a ripple in the media.

The straight story of Horton's life has been the subject of a couple of books and would make a good mini-series. He was a child of the depression, from one of the poorest families in the poor Northern
Ontario town of Cochrane, and memories of poverty drove his chase for the good life.

By the time he died at the age of 44, business was finally going his way. In 1964, Horton teamed up with Ron Joyce, a former Hamilton police officer, to start the doughnut chain that bears his name and 10 years later they had 39 stores.

But a year after Horton died, Lori sold her share of the business plus the rights to the name to Joyce for $1-million and a Cadillac. And this is where the documentary loses its balance.

Under Joyce's direction, the Tim Hortons chain grew to be worth $1-billion today. Lori Horton sued Joyce, claiming that her addiction to booze and pills made her mentally incapable of making an informed decision about selling her interest. After a long and expensive legal battle that ate up all of her money, she lost.

The documentary makes much of the fact Horton's family has no share in the wealth. It also leaves the impression that Lori was somehow cheated out of her inheritance, which isn't fair to Joyce.

Joyce could probably make a strong argument that paying $1-million in 1975 for a half interest in 39 small shops was a fair price. He could also argue that two courts agreed with him. But he was not interviewed by the producers, nor did they say if any attempt had been made to do so.

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