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Don Cherry: A 'straight talking' success

He was a better hockey coach than a player, and a better commentator than a coach. But as Don Cherry's career gained momentum, so did the controversy. Brash, outspoken and flamboyant, Cherry has the biggest mouth in hockey. It's a quality that Canadians either love, love to hate, or just hate. From his time on ice to his time on air, Don Cherry's unrestrained commentary has often landed him in hot water.

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Don Cherry's career has always been full of bumps: A few years before NHL coaching, he found it difficult landing even a construction job, and had to work as a painter for $2 an hour. Cherry does much better on TV than he ever did as an NHL coach. After failed attempts at head coaching, he heads up Coach's Corner on Hockey Night in Canada, as well as hosting his own TV show Grapevine. The outspoken Cherry attributes the bumps -- and the successes -- to his frankness.

In this CBC Radio clip, Cherry discusses the rough years, how he refused to wear commentators' blazers and his "straight talk broadcast analysis." 
• In 1980, Cherry made a guest appearance on Hockey Night in Canada. His outspoken ferocity and humour appealed to the hockey-loving viewers, and earned him a continuing role on his Coach's Corner segment of the broadcast.

• A series of successes followed. In 1982, Cherry launched his TV show, Grapevine.

Grapevine was set in a fictional bar of the same name. In a 1982 Starweek article, Cherry said the setting was meant to put his guests, like hockey great Phil Esposito, at ease: "I'm just sittin' in the bar, having a beer, and, uh, shootin' the breeze with them."

• In 1991, SportsChannel bought the U.S. rights to Grapevine, airing the show at 7 p.m., before playoff games.

• In its first run, Grapevine was a syndicated show, airing for 24 weeks on Wednesday nights.

• Cherry opened a chain of "real" Grapevine restaurant bars. By 1998, he owned 14 across the country.

• By 1991, Cherry's nationally syndicated radio show Grapeline was reaching 92 radio stations across Canada. Cherry also wrote a syndicated newspaper column.

• Brian Williams appeared on Grapeline with Cherry.

• As discussed in this radio clip, Cherry's wardrobe -- of bright plaids, bold pinstripes and shocking colour -- is almost as overstated as his commentary. In a 2002 Globe and Mail article, Cherry told writer Tralee Pearce, "I consider my style that of the men of the 1930s where men had an elegant style, tight suits tight collars, lots of jewelry, a clean sharp image. I must admit my style has been called foppish, but I like it.  I also heard on the radio the other day that I looked like a gay because everything was so clean and neat and all jewelry. Love it!"

• In 1994, Cherry said the Royal Shirt Company in Toronto custom made his shirts with collars and cuffs larger (about 3.5 inches) than the standard size. Cherry has also said people often send him ties as presents.

• In a 1998 Globe and Mail interview with Jan Wong, Cherry said his daughter-in-law hand-washed his shirts. Cherry was afraid his collars would shrink at the dry cleaners. His daughter-in-law always stretched the collars while they were damp to prevent shrinkage.

• Cherry's shirts filled one of four closets in his house shared with wife Rose. The other three were for his suits, and half of one closet was for Rose's clothes.
Medium: Radio
Program: Prime Time
Broadcast Date: Jan. 20, 1987
Guest(s): Don Cherry
Host: Jonn Kares
Duration: 9:49

Last updated: August 27, 2013

Page consulted on January 23, 2015

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