Jacques Demers spent 15 years in the NHL as a head coach and general manager and never knew how to read or write.

The colourful former bench boss of five different NHL teams has admitted that he is illiterate. The revelation comes in a biography in French released Wednesday called Jacques Demers En Toutes Lettres, which roughly translates as 'Jacques Demers From A To Z'.

Demers led the Montreal Canadiens to an unlikely Stanley Cup title in 1993. He also coached the Quebec Nordiques, the St. Louis Blues, the Detroit Red Wings, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

He was front and centre at a gala book launch at the Bell Centre restaurant in Montreal Wednesday. He revealed that the cause of his illiteracy was an impoverished childhood, where his father beat and psychologically abused him and his mother. Now he hopes children are treated with care and compassion.

"All I wanted from my father was to treat me with love," Demers said. "Not to beat me up when I did something wrong. Not to beat up my mom. It really hurt me because he took away my childhood.

"The other thing I wanted to say was that if I could not write or read, it was because I had so much of a problem with anxiety because of the things going on in the family. I couldn't go to sleep at night. I'd go to school and I couldn't learn anything.

"So the message is, leave the kids alone. Don't beat them up. They're defenceless. Don't beat up their mom in front of the kids. He was an alcoholic, but he also wasn't a very good person to do that."

The book contains 26 chapters, one for each letter of the alphabet. It was written by Journal de Montreal desk editor and former Canadiens beat writer Mario Leclerc.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Demers' problem is that he was able to hide it so well. Only a few people knew about it. In the book, Demers describes how he finessed his way through most of his dealings by getting secretaries and media relations people to pen his correspondence for him.

Even his wife Debbie only learned of his well-held secret after pestering him for days over unwritten cheques. Finally, the coach broke down and told her the secret.

In his hockey dealings, Demers used others' abilities to mask his own. As a general manager, he hired Cliff Fletcher and Jay Feaster to handle contacts.

"I never really was a GM," he said. "I hired Cliff Fletcher and Jay Feaster because I knew I couldn't do that.

"I could read a little bit but I can't write very well. I took to protecting myself. You put a wall around yourself. And when I was given the possibility of talking, I could speak well and I think that really saved me."

Asked why he went public with the news, Demers said, "because I'm free now. I'm liberated.

"I have no problem saying what I wanted to say. That's what I needed. I've been carrying this all my life. I succeeded, and I'm telling people 'you're capable of doing something in your life even if you have some big handicaps."'

with files from Canadian Press