15 Facts in Honor of Wayne Gretzky's 53rd Birthday

Alamy
Alamy

There has arguably never been a more dominant player in any sport than hockey's Wayne Gretzky. Nicknamed “The Great One,” Gretzky had a mix of preternatural ability, instinct, and charm that won him the respect of players and fans alike over his 21-year career in the National Hockey League. Today is his 53rd birthday; here are a few things you should know about The Great One.

1. Gretzky is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season.

NHL rules state that whenever a player scores a goal he is awarded a personal point; he also earns a point when he assists on a goal. Add these up and you get a player's total number of points. It may sound simple, but Gretzky achieved the absolutely unfathomable feat of 200 points in a season, and not just once, but four seasons in a row (1981-1982, 1983-1984, 1984-1985, and 1985-1986). Unsurprisingly, Gretzky is the leading point scorer in NHL history with 2857 points. The second place point scorer, his former Oilers and Rangers teammate Mark Messier, trails his tally with 1887.

2. He was good from the start.

In the first five years of his peewee hockey career, playing for his hometown team, the Brantford Nadrofsky Steelers, the young Gretzky notched an impressive 369 goals, which is made even more impressive by the fact that he had done it by the time he was 10. In a Toronto Telegram article, the young Gretzky stated his favorite player was Mr. Hockey himself, Detroit Red Wings legend Gordie Howe.

3. He first wore his famous number 99 when he was 16 years old.

At the time, Gretzky was playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, a team in the Ontario Hockey League for players from the ages of 15 to 20. Number 9, the number he wore to honor his favorite player Gordie Howe, was already taken, so he eventually had to settle on number 99.

4. His number is the only number in the NHL that is retired league-wide.

Usually, teams will only retire the numbers of their own stars following long, distinguished careers, which means that no one else on that team could ever wear that number from then on. Patrick Roy, arguably the best goalie to ever play the game, has his number 33 retired for his stints on both the Montreal Canadiens and Colorado Avalanche. The great Bobby Orr has his iconic number 4 retired from the Boston Bruins. And yet no one had their number retired from every team—until Gretzky, whose number 99 was retired league-wide at the 2000 All Star Game because of The Great One’s indelible contributions to hockey. The only other sports player to have his number completely retired league-wide is legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson, which gives some perspective to the reputation of Gretzky as a player and as a person.

5. Gretzky’s professional debut wasn’t in the NHL.

In 1978, the World Hockey Association (a main competitor of the NHL that eventually folded) courted many young stars, taking advantage of the NHL’s now-defunct rule that no one under the age of 20 could be drafted or signed to a contract. Nelson Skalbania, owner of the WHA's Indianapolis Racers, signed 17-year-old Gretzky to a 7-year, $1.75 million contract on June 12, 1978. Gretzky played only eight games for the Racers before the team went bankrupt and he was sent to the Edmonton Oilers (then part of the WHA). The WHA folded one year later and the Oilers joined the NHL in 1979.

6. Gretzky made 50 (and more) in 50.

It’s extraordinary when a player can score more than 50 goals in a season, but how about doing it in their first 50 games! In his second season for the Oilers, Gretzky scored and surpassed the coveted 50 goals in 50 games mark, previously achieved by Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard in the 1944-1945 season and New York Islanders winger Mike Bossy in the 1980-1981 season. Gretzky’s achievement is even more impressive when you factor in that he scored his 50 goals within his first 39 games of the season. Gretzky finished that season with 92 goals—an NHL record—and would hit the 50 in 50 mark twice more in the following two seasons with the Oilers.

7. Gretzky is literally the most valuable, most valuable player.

Each year the NHL awards the Hart Trophy to its most valuable player, and Gretzky has won the award a record nine times in his career. He was so valuable, in fact, that he won the trophy a record eight consecutive times with the Oilers from the 1979-1980 season to the 1986-1987 season. Pittsburgh Penguins great Mario Lemieux would break the streak and win the Hart in 1987-1988, but Gretzky nabbed it once more in 1988-1989. He has been named MVP more times than any player in the other three major North American sports leagues (including the NBA, NFL, and MLB).

8. Canadians treated him like royalty.

When Gretzky tied the knot with his girlfriend Janet Jones—whom he met while he was a celebrity judge on a dance contest show called Dance Fever—people of Edmonton went crazy, and dubbed the event “The Royal Wedding.” Thousands of Edmontonians lined the streets that led the over 600 wedding guests to St. Joseph’s Basilica, where the couple were wed in a lavish ceremony. Music was played by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra; Jones’ wedding ring allegedly cost $250,000, and her dress $40,000; rumor has it that Gretzky even ordered crates of champagne costing $3000 a bottle. The Great One spared no expense. 

9. He has an unofficial rule named after him.

In the '80s, Gretzky and his fellow Edmonton Oilers teammates—including future Hall of Famers Mark Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, and Grant Fuhr—were so dominant that they won the Stanley Cup four times in five years from 1984 to 1988. Part of that success was due to their on-ice command of four-on-four situations, where minor penalties given to both teams would put a player from each team in the penalty box. Because Gretzky and the Oilers were so good in small numbers on the ice, the NHL enacted the “Gretzky Rule,” forcing teams to play at full strength despite the called penalties. The rule has since been revoked, but lives on in spirit in overtime when teams play at four-on-four strength to potentially garner faster goals.

10. When he was traded, the Canadian government got involved.

In the annals of hockey history it is simply known as “The Trade,” but to many people there wasn’t anything simple about it. On August 9, 1988, three months after winning the Stanley Cup with the Oilers, Gretzky was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. It was a blow to Canadians, and such a big deal that Nelson Riis, a member of the Canadian parliament and New Democratic Party House Leader, formally demanded in the Canadian House of Commons that Prime Minister Brian Mulroney block the trade from happening. Unfortunately there was nothing the Canadian government could do about it, and the trade—which involved Gretzky and teammates Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski for players Jimmy Carson and Martin Gelinas, $15 million in cash, and first round draft picks in 1989, 1991, and 1993—was approved by the NHL.

11. Hockey wasn’t the only sport Gretzky was involved in.

Though hockey was the only sport he personally played at the professional level, Gretzky was one of the owners of the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. Whether it was a mere hobby or a savvy business venture, Gretzky became a minority owner of the football team in 1991 along with controversial Los Angeles Kings owner Bruce McNall and actor John Candy. Gretzky’s name was even etched into the Grey Cup—the CFL’s Championship trophy—following the team’s championship victory in the first year of his ownership.

12. He fought crime with Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson … in a Saturday morning cartoon.

In 1991, NBC broadcast a Saturday morning cartoon called Pro Stars featuring Gretzky, basketball great Michael Jordan, and baseball player Bo Jackson as a superhero team of athletes who helped kids fight crime. Gretzky himself appeared alongside Jordan and Jackson in pre-recorded live-action introductions for each episode.

13. He was a Captain or Alternate Captain all his life, until he played for the New York Rangers.

After being traded to the St. Louis Blues for a one-year stint in the 1995-1996 season, The Great One moved east and made his debut with the Broadway Blueshirts starting in 1996 ... but he was missing something. Throughout his entire career, from Edmonton to Los Angeles to St. Louis, Gretzky wore the captain’s “C” on his sweater—but not in the Big Apple. That distinction belonged to his former Oilers teammate Mark Messier, who led the team as its captain with alternates Brian Leetch and Adam Graves. Sometimes being the Great One doesn’t come with perks.

14. Two National Anthems were changed—if only once—for him.

All good things, as they say, must come to an end, and the illustrious career of Wayne Douglas Gretzky came to an end in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on April 18, 1999. Though the game was between two American teams, both the American and Canadian National Anthems were played to honor Gretzky. But instead of the regular lyrics to the Canadian anthem, singer Bryan Adams sang “We’re gonna miss you Wayne Gretzky” instead of “We stand on guard for thee.”  For the Star Spangled Banner, longtime anthem performer for the Rangers John Amirante sang “O’er the land of Wayne Gretzky” in place of “O’er the land of the free.”

15. He is among ten players to have the standard waiting period waived for immediate induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Gretzky’s retirement in 1999 was such a big event that the Hockey Hall of Fame opened up a 2300 square foot collection of Gretzky memorabilia when he was inducted. Objects in the collection included the skates he wore in his final game and the goal into which he scored his 802nd goal—a league record at the time.

14 Famous People Who Survived the 1918 Flu Pandemic

National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Over a century ago, a deadly flu pandemic swept across the globe. The first cases of the so-called Spanish Flu—named because that’s where early news reports of the disease originated, though research has put its actual origin anywhere from China to Kansas to France—are traditionally dated to Kansas in March 1918. The disease ultimately infected some 500 million people, and estimates put the death toll anywhere from 20 to 50 million. The people on this list contracted the deadly flu and lived to tell the tale.

1. Walt Disney

Walt Disney sitting in a chair.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

If Walt Disney hadn’t contracted the flu, we might never have had Mickey Mouse. Even though he was only 16 at the time, Disney lied about his birth year to sign up for the Red Cross Ambulance Corps at the tail end of WWI. Then he got sick. By the time he was ready to ship out, the war was over.

2. Mary Pickford

A close-up photo of silent film star Mary Pickford smiling.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star was at the height of her fame when she fell ill; thankfully, Pickford’s bout with the flu was uneventful, but as the disease spread, many movie theaters were forced to close. Irritated theater owners in Los Angeles, claiming they had been singled out, petitioned for all other places that people gathered together (except for grocery stores, meat markets, and drug stores) to be forced to close as well. While stores were not forced to close, schools were and public gatherings were banned.

3. David Lloyd George

David Lloyd George sitting outside with his dog and reading a newspaper.
Ernest H. Mills // Getty Images

Weeks before the end of World War I, Lloyd, Prime Minister of the UK at the time, came very close to dying of the flu. He was confined to his bed for nine days, had to wear a respirator, and was accompanied by a doctor for over a month. Because it was thought that news of the Prime Minister’s illness would hurt the morale of the British people and “encourage the enemy,” his condition was kept mostly hidden from the press.

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of a young Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

In 1918, Franklin D. Roosevelt was the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and had been in Europe for two months before contracting the flu on the boat home. The New York Times described his illness as “a slight attack of pneumonia caused by Spanish influenza.” Roosevelt convalesced at his mother’s New York City home until he was well enough to head back to Washington, D.C.

5. Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson circa 1912.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

Considering Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States and he was dealing with the end of WWI, early 1919 was a seriously inconvenient time to get sick. Not only did he get the flu, but he fell ill so violently and so quickly that his doctors were sure he had been poisoned. When Wilson was well enough to rejoin the “Big Three” negotiations a few days later, people commented on how weak and out of it he seemed.

6. Wilhelm II

Wilhelm II in his uniform.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the German Kaiser was undoubtedly upset to get sick himself, he had reason to be happy about the flu epidemic, or so he thought. One of his military generals insisted—despite the fact that the surgeon general disagreed—that the illness would decimate the French troops, while leaving the Germans mostly unharmed. Since Germany needed a miracle to win the war, the flu must have seemed like a godsend. In the end, it ravaged all armies pretty much equally, and Germany surrendered.

7. John J. Pershing

John J. Pershing in uniform sitting on a horse.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

While the great American general got sick himself, the flu gave him a much larger problem. His troops were dying at a faster rate from illness than from bullets. Soon there were more than 16,000 cases among U.S. troops in Europe alone. Pershing was forced to ask the government for more than 30 mobile hospitals and 1500 nurses in just over a week.

8. Haile Selassie I

Haile Selassie sitting in a chair drinking tea.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The future emperor of Ethiopia was one of the first Ethiopians to contract the disease. His country was woefully unprepared for the epidemic: There were only four doctors in the capital available to treat patients. Selassie survived, but it's unknown how many people the flu killed in Ethiopia; it killed 7 percent of the population of neighboring British Somaliland.

9. Leo Szilard

A black and white photo of Leo Szilard in a suit and tie.
Department of Energy, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You may not have heard of him, but the atomic scientist Leo Szilard might have saved the world. While he survived the flu during WWI (he was supposedly cured by spending time in a humid room, the standard treatment for respiratory illness at the time), what he should be remembered for is his foresight before WWII. When he and other physicists were discovering different aspects of nuclear fission, he persuaded his colleagues to keep quiet about it, so that the Nazis wouldn’t get any closer to making an atomic bomb.

10. Katherine Anne Porter

Author Katherine Anne Porter sitting in a chair wearing a hat with a bow on it.
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

The author turned her experience with sickness in 1918 into a short novel called Pale Horse, Pale Rider. The story is told by a woman with the flu who is tended to by a young soldier. While she recovers, he contracts the disease and dies.

11. Alfonso XIII

The King of Spain working at his desk.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Alfonso was the King of Spain when the “Spanish” flu hit, and he was not immune to its outbreak. The flu was no worse in Spain than anywhere else, but unlike most journalists in other countries—who were under wartime censorship—the Spanish media actually covered the pandemic, leading to an unfair association that persists to this day.

12. Edvard Munch

A portrait of Edvard Munch standing in the snow.
Nasjonalbiblioteket, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Munch, the artist behind The Scream, had an apparent obsession with sickness and death long before he came down with the flu—he painted many works on the subject. But the flu obviously affected him especially: He painted a few self-portraits of both his illness and shortly after his recovery.

13. Lillian Gish

A portrait of Lillian Gish.
General Photographic Agency // Getty Images

The silent film star started feeling sick during a costume fitting and collapsed with a 104-degree fever when she got home. Fortunately, she could afford a doctor and two nurses to attend to her around the clock. While she recovered, it wasn’t all good news. Gish complained later, “The only disagreeable thing was that it left me with flannel nightgowns—have to wear them all winter—horrible things.”

14. Clementine Churchill

Clementine Churchill speaks at a microphone.
Arthur Tanner/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

While Winston was in France in 1919, the Churchill household—including his wife Clementine and their nanny Isabelle, who was looking after their young daughter Marigold—contracted the flu. According to Churchill’s daughter Mary Soames, Isabelle grew delirious and took Marigold from her cot despite being sick herself. Clementine grabbed the child and was anxious for days about Marigold’s condition. Isabelle died of the flu, but Clementine and Marigold survived. (Sadly, Marigold would die from a bacterial infection that developed into sepsis in 1921.)

During World War II, Clementine served as a close adviser to Winston. She was also the “Chairman” of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund, which raised 8 million pounds during WWII and resulted in her being awarded the Soviet Order of the Red Banner of Labor, being made a Dame, and being given a 19th century glass fruit bowl from Stalin. Churchill’s Chief Staff Officer, General Hastings “Pug” Ismay, would later comment that without Clementine the “history of Winston Churchill and of the world would have been a very different story.”

7 Timeless Facts About Paul Rudd

Rich Fury, Getty Images
Rich Fury, Getty Images

Younger fans may know Paul Rudd as Ant-Man, one of the newest members of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, the actor has been a Hollywood mainstay for half his life.

Rudd's breakout role came in 1995’s Clueless, where he played Josh, Alicia Silverstone's charming love interest in Amy Heckerling's beloved spin on Jane Austen's Emma. In the 2000s, Rudd became better known for his comedic work when he starred in movies like Wet Hot American Summer (2001), Anchorman (2004), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Knocked Up (2007), and I Love You, Man (2009).

It wasn’t until 2015 that Rudd stepped into the ever-growing world of superhero movies when he was cast as Scott Lang, a.k.a. Ant-Man, and became part of the MCU.

Rudd has proven he can take on any part, serious or goofy. More amazingly, he never seems to age. But in honor of (what is allegedly) his 51st birthday on April 6, here are some things you might not have known about the star.

1. Paul Rudd is technically Paul Rudnitzky.

Though Paul Rudd was born in Passaic, New Jersey, both of his parents hail from London—his father was from Edgware and his mother from Surbiton. Both of his parents were descendants of Jewish immigrants who moved to England from from Russia and Poland. Rudd’s last name was actually Rudnitzky, but it was changed by his grandfather.

2. Paul Rudd's parents are second cousins.

In a 2017 episode of Finding Your Roots, Rudd learned that his parents were actually second cousins. Rudd responded to the discovery in typical comedic fashion: "Which explains why I have six nipples." He also wondered what that meant for his own family. "Does this make my son also my uncle?," he asked.

3. Paul Rudd loved comic books as a kid.

While Rudd did read Marvel Comics as a kid, he preferred Archie Comics and other funny stories. His English cousins would send him British comics, too, like Beano and Dandy, which he loved.

4. Paul Rudd wanted to play Christian in Clueless. And Murray.

Clueless would have been a completely different movie if Rudd had been cast as the suave Christian instead of the cute older step-brother-turned-love-interest Josh. But before he was cast as Cher’s beau, he initially wanted the role of the “ringa ding kid” Christian.

"I thought Justin Walker’s character, Christian, was a really good part," Rudd told Entertainment Weekly in 2012. "It was a cool idea, something I’d never seen in a movie before—the cool gay kid. And then I asked to read for Donald Faison's part, because I thought he was kind of a funny hip-hop wannabe. I didn’t realize that the character was African-American.”

5. Paul Rudd idolizes Paul Newman.

In a 2008 interview for Role Models, which he both co-wrote and starred in, Rudd was asked about his real-life role model. He answered Paul Newman, saying he admired the legendary actor because he gave a lot to the world before leaving it.

6. Before Paul Rudd was Ant-Man, he wanted to be Adam Ant.

In a 2011 interview with Grantland, Rudd talked about his teenage obsession with '80s English rocker Adam Ant. "Puberty hit me like a Mack truck, and my hair went from straight to curly overnight," Rudd explained. "But it was an easier pill to swallow because Adam Ant had curly hair. I used to ask my mom to try and shave my head on the sides to give me a receding hairline because Adam Ant had one. I didn’t know what a receding hairline was. I just thought he looked cool. She said, 'Absolutely not,' but I was used to that."

Ant wasn't the only musician Rudd tried to emulate. "[My mom] also shot me down when I asked if I could bleach just the top of my head like Howard Jones. Any other kid would’ve been like, 'F*** you, mom! I’m bleaching my hair.' I was too nice," he said.

7. Romeo + Juliet wasn’t Paul Rudd's first go as a Shakespearean actor.

Yet another one of Rudd's iconic '90s roles was in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, but it was far from the actor's first brush with Shakespeare. Rudd spent three years studying Jacobean theater in Oxford, England, and starred in a production of Twelfth Night. He was described by his director, Sir Nicholas Hytner, as having “emotional and intellectual volatility.” Hytner’s praise was a big deal, considering he was the director of London's National Theatre from 2003 until 2015.

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