Rocky Wirtz in many ways was an ordinary guy who embraced family and friends


In so many ways, dynamic Blackhawks owner “Rocky” Wirtz, 70, was just a regular guy.

Publicly, Wirtz was a Chicago powerhouse, a business baron in his own right, an affable charmer, a “Rocky” in the ring, who died after a brief illness last Tuesday.

But privately, Rocky’s world was a suburban network of close pals who meant the world to him.

Rocky’s only son, Danny, described his father as “a passionate businessman committed to making Chicago a great place to live, work and visit,” in a statement released to the press. 

Then he added: “But his true love was for his family and close friends.”

Rocky’s private social network was just that: a cornucopia of parents whose kids played hockey with his son at Wilmette’s Loyola Academy, and a close cadre of beloved suburban dads which included a treasured schoolmate, Johnny Miller; a highly respected medical doctor, Jeff Vendor; a veterinarian, Kurt Miller; and their wives, Sandy and Bobbie and Julie. Even his PR guru, Guy Chipparoni, was one of his closest pals, the duo a living sitcom.

W. Rockwell Wirtz might have been the heir to a third-generation legacy, but he also was a guy with treasured buddies, a husband and father surrounded by a covey of children and grandchildren and, of course, an adored family dog house of beatified beagles, spoiled plump pups always on a diet who never had to go far in the house to find a dog bed.

A giant in the sports world, Rocky also loved to grow roses. “I think it had something to do with the memory of his mother,” said a family source. “Rocky was just a great guy.”

Rocky was also a talker and a walker, frequently spotted strolling through the suburb with wife Marilyn, chatting away. 

Years ago, I met Rocky and his young family via close friends, leading to evenings watching this suburban dad helm the backyard barbecue, becoming an occasional visitor listening to the chatter of kitchen-counter friends amid the levity of cocktail conversation. It was fun, not fancy. 

In later years, invitations to his home were to greet Rocky’s ultimate sports trophy, the Stanley Cup, located in his backyard for a brief photo op for friends and neighbors. 

The last time I chatted with Rocky Wirtz was on a ledge, sitting side by side on Winnetka’s War Veterans memorial on the village green, taking pressure off our surgically replaced knees while attending a 2021 summer memorial service honoring our close friend and dog guru, Dr. Kurt Miller, who had died in the winter of the COVID epidemic. 

We chatted about Kurt’s kindness and kitchen skills, his wife Marilyn’s snazzy shoes, the fact a photo of his late beagles Benito and Beatrice still hung on a wall in Dr. Kurt’s Winnetka’s Animal Hospital and the loss of a much-loved friend.

Condolences to Rocky’s wife and four children and extended family.

And calming head pats to Rocky and Marilyn’s cherished beagle pups, still waiting for their master to come home.

Tony Bennett’s gift …

Legendary singer Tony Bennett might have left us his magnificent version of America’s songbook when he died this month.

But he also left behind an unexpected gift for an old Chicago friend.

Alex Dana, the Rosebud eatery maven whose decadeslong Chicago career spanned the trajectory of his friendship with the legendary singer when he was a saloon singer at Chicago’s Palmer House, also was the beneficiary of Bennett’s artistic talents as a painter.

Tony Bennett’s portrait of Alex Dana.

Tony Bennett’s portrait of Alex Dana.

“Tony, who never drove a car in his life and never had a driver’s license, loved eating at Rosebud when he was in town and would always come by himself,” said Dana, who remembers the singer doodled on napkins at the table. “So imagine my surprise one evening when Tony told me to accompany him back to his suite at the Peninsula Hotel because he had a gift for me.

“When I got there, he began to set up this canvas thing, put a light on me, began to sketch me and then brought out his brushes. I was floored. A portrait by Tony Bennett! I knew a lot of famous people already owned his paintings, which he signed: Benedetto.

“It was one of my greatest moments. Imagine. I ate with Tony at Tribeca in New York with Robert De Niro and Paul Newman and Danny Aiello … but this special gift to me was the frosting on the cake of our beautiful friendship.

“I went to see him in New York when he sang with Lady Gaga on what became a final farewell. It was wonderful and sad at the same time. He was my friend.

“And the gift of my portrait from Tony Bennett went so deep.”

Sneedlings …

Down, dog! Later, alligator! President Joe Biden might have run afoul of the Secret Service agents bitten in the White House by his beloved German shepherd dogs. But in the danger category, President John Quincy Adams wins: He kept an alligator in the East Room of the White House. … Saturday birthdays: NFL quarterback Dak Prescott, 30, actress Genesis Rodriguez, 36, and singer Martina McBride, 57. … Sunday birthdays: actress Hilary Swank, 49, actress Vivica A. Fox, 59, and actor Laurence Fishburne, 62


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