Ex-Wings No. 1 pick Joe Murphy living homeless 'for many years'

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Joe Murphy played with the Red Wings from 1986-90.

Former Red Wings forward Joe Murphy has gone from NHL stardom and riches to being homeless in northern Ontario.

Murphy’s story was told in a documentary on Canadian sports network TSN on Wednesday, in an emotional account Murphy told to senior correspondent Rick Westhead and former NHL goalie Trevor Kidd.

“I’ve actually been living homeless in shelters across Ontario, in different areas, for many years now,” Murphy, 50, told TSN. “It hasn’t been easy.”

Attempts by The Detroit News in recent weeks to reach Murphy have been unsuccessful.

In the TSN report — Westhead and Kidd spent three days with Murphy for the documentary — Murphy said he is living in bushes in Kenora, which is approximately 130 miles east of Winnipeg.

Murphy, who was born in London, Ontario, played one season at Michigan State, 1985-86, and had 61 points in 35 games, helping the Spartans win the national championship.

He was then taken No. 1 overall in the 1986 NHL Entry Draft by the Red Wings. After being traded to Edmonton for Jimmy Carson, Murphy won the Stanley Cup with the Oilers in 1990.

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But gradually Murphy’s life barrelled out of control after concussions and substance abuse problems, eventually ending his career in 2001 with Washington.

Once out of hockey, Murphy found his way to Columbia and Peru, among other locations, before he found his way back to Canada.

Murphy said he has lived in dumpsters, sheds and on the sidewalk after having lost upwards of $20 million he made in his career.

“The money lost doesn’t make a bad person,” Murphy said. “Your life goes on.”

Residents of Kenora say Murphy is “not violent” and “doesn’t ask for anything," and he mainly tells stories or makes conversation with people who stop to talk with him.

Murphy says in the report he doesn’t tell anyone he’s a former NHL player because it might change their view of him.

Murphy said he reached out to the NHL at one point, but was “hung up on” because he wasn’t an active player.

“It affected me physically and mentally,” Murphy said of the emotional toll on him. “I just couldn’t function. But I still had to function. It was scary, like a heavy depression.”

Murphy's ex-wife, daughter, sister, former Red Wings' executive Neil Smith and former teammate Adam Graves are quoted in the story, along with several Kenora residents.

"It's devastating," said Cathy Pugliese, Murphy's sister. "He's my brother. What am I supposed to do? It makes me want to cry. He's a good human being. He doesn't deserve to be like this."