Stop the laughter. Lower the smiles. Shawn Burr is dead. It doesn’t seem possible. He was here just a minute ago, laughing in the Red Wings’ locker room. He was here just a minute ago, cracking wise about his big butt, saying things like “I have the perfect body … for a mailman.” He was here just a minute ago, his hair dyed red and white, digging into corners, scraping for the puck, jumping into group hugs after game-winning goals and crying like a nursery schooler when the seasons ended too soon.
Here he was just a minute ago.
Wasn’t that a minute ago?
Stop the laughter. Shawn Burr can’t be dead. There were too many friends to tease, too many jokes to butcher, too much food to eat. He lived so joyously that, a couple of years ago, when he discovered red spots on his tongue and he grew tired and sweaty and finally a doctor told him it was cancer, acute myeloid leukemia, in which abnormal white cells attack normal cells with a vengeance – even then, you never believed it would beat him.
“Knowing me,” he predicted, “I’ll be the first person to gain weight during chemotherapy.”
He eventually underwent a dangerous bone marrow transplant operation, came through it and beat the cancer back. But the procedure took a strange toll. It left him confused, short on memory, moody, not himself. He became reclusive, prone to sudden temper. He didn’t want to be seen that way and for his final months he was rarely seen by anyone outside his family.
And then Monday came. Shawn Burr, who, as a child, once pulled himself out of his crib and walked down the stairs to where his parents were entertaining because “I wanted to be where the action was,” somehow tripped at the top of a staircase in his home in St. Clair, climbing up to take a shower, and he stumbled down badly and suffered massive brain trauma.
He died around 7 p.m. He was 47.
Stop the laughter.
A man made for hockey
Shawn Burr can’t be gone. He was too alive to die. He loved the game. He loved the Wings. He once said if he couldn’t be a hockey player he’d “probably sit around wishing I could be a hockey player.” For the record, his first team was the Kitchener Rangers, his last the Manitoba Moose, and in between he played 11 NHL seasons for Detroit, three for Tampa Bay and two for San Jose, got to one Stanley Cup final, played in 91 playoff games, had 181 goals, 259 assists and over 1,000 penalty minutes – and never stopped making people laugh.
His teammates adored him. They called him Burrzie or Skippy or even just Shawn, because he was one of a kind. How many other guys dye their hair the team colors because they can’t grow a playoff beard? How many players sweat so profusely they lose 12 pounds in a single game? How many men roomed with a young Sergei Fedorov and tried to teach him English by showing him cartoons, until one day Sergei kept saying, “I need love … I need love” and Shawn said, “I can’t help you with that” – until Fedorov pointed to a pair of gloves.
Dead? He can’t be dead.
Stop the laughter.
An ending too soon
He leaves behind a wife, Amanda, two daughters, loving family members, countless fans and stunned former teammates, who’d been rooting for him to pull through. He’d been president of the Wings Alumni Association, raised all kinds of money for charity, never said no to an autograph and left a barrel full of quotes.
Like his solution to the women-in-the-locker-room issue: “I think we should all take our clothes off.”
Or a recent wisecrack when confined to a cancer wing of a hospital: “Hey, in this ward I’ve got more hair than anybody.”
He had a boy’s face and a boy’s haircut and he lived every minute, but in life, as in hockey, sometimes you don’t get enough minutes. I learned the news an hour ago, and as I sat down to write, I felt like melted ice.
Stop the laughter. Shawn Burr is gone. He was a light, but that light is out. I know no one lives forever. But this just feels unfair.