TORONTO - Among the legions of music fans touched by Michael Burgess's powerful voice is retired NHL player Darryl Sittler.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs captain said Tuesday that he got to know the late theatre star through charity events and hockey tours with other retired players, and added that Burgess was an ardent sports fan who would join the old-timers on the ice ? in addition to singing the opening anthem and belting out tunes during intermissions.
Burgess died Monday after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was 70.
Sittler said they grew especially close when his wife Wendy was diagnosed with cancer.
Burgess, who became a theatre star through his turn as Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables," gave Wendy some of his CDs and DVDs. His song "I Love You Forever" became a favourite.
While remembering Burgess's talent and friendship, Sittler recalled the day his wife died:
"It was Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. It was Oct. 6, 2001. It was a Saturday afternoon. And we had brought her from hospice to the house ?she wanted to live her last few days, hours, at the house. So we didn't know how long she was going to last. But she was there.
"And we were sitting, laying beside her ? my three kids and myself in her room. And I went and I put that song on, that Michael Burgess song, 'I Love You Forever.' It started to play and I came back and Wendy took a couple breaths and that's how she passed away. And that song continued to play.
"It was very emotional but it was ... so peaceful. Nice, kind of how it all ended.... You don't know how the final ending is going to be, whether it's going to be violent. You don't know. And I was always thinking about that: How is the final ending going to be with Wendy?
"Well, it ended up being this beautiful, peaceful way with Michael Burgess's song, playing the song that she loved most."