MONTREAL (AP) - It is hard to imagine a classier hockey player, on and off the ice, than Jean Beliveau.
A supremely skilled center who spent 20 seasons with the Montreal Canadiens during his Hall of Fame career, Beliveau died Tuesday at 83. The team confirmed his death.
One of the most beloved players in Canadiens history, Beliveau also was a popular ambassador for the sport. He scored 507 goals, won 10 Stanley Cup championships and was captain for 10 seasons before his retirement in 1971. After that, he moved seamlessly into an executive position with the club.
Beliveau was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972. He won two NHL MVP awards and has his name engraved on the Cup a record 17 times, counting the seven titles Montreal won while he was in the front office.
Montreal Canadiens great Jean Beliveau dead at 83
MONTREAL, QC - MAY 1: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens pours champagne into the Stanley Cup Trophy after the Canadiens defeated the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 4-0 in Game 7 of the 1965 Stanley Cup Finals on May 1, 1965 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
CANADA - APRIL 27: Weary Jean Beliveau smiles wanly as he prepare for hockey action. Montreal Canadiens are worried about captain's work this season Ã» and so is he. Nobody has to tell me I'm not playing well, Beliveau says. I don't seem to have stamina any more. When you are not plying well, it is not fun any more, he adds. (Photo by Frank Lennon/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens' Henri Richard, center, who scored the game-winning goal, peers into the Stanley Cup held by team captain Jean Beliveau, left, and NHL Commissioner Clarence Campbell in Chicago, Ill., Tuesday night, May 18, 1971. Montreal defeated the Chicago Black Hawks 3-1 in the seventh game of the NHL playoffs to take the 1970-1971 title. (AP Photo)
Montreal Canadiens' Henri Richard, who scored the winning goal to give Montreal the Stanley Cup championship, takes a sip of champagne from the cup with team captain Jean Beliveau in the background, May 5, 1966 in Detroit, Michigan. (AP Photo)
The Montreal Canadiens celebrate their Stanley Cup win over the Detroit Red Wings in Detroit, Mich., Thursday night, May 5, 1966. Montreal won 3-2 in overtime play to retain their championship title. Coach Toe Blake is at left, wearing suit. Team captain Jean Beliveau is at center, above the cup. (AP Photo)
Maurice Richard, left, and Jean Beliveau, of the Canadiens smile happily in the dressing room with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Boston Bruins 5-3 at the Boston Garden, April 21, 1958. (AP Photo)
Montreal center Jean Beliveau attempts to push one into the net but is held by Detroits right wing Tony Leswick in the second period of hockey game in Detroit, Michigan, Dec. 19, 1954. (AP Photo)
MONTREAL, CANADA - MARCH 27: A commemorative statue of Jean Beliveau stands outside the Centennial Plaza at the Bell Center prior to the game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Florida Panthers on March 27, 2012 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images)
MONTREAL- APRIL 19: A photo of the banners commemorating the retired jerseys of Jacque Plante, Bernard Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau hanging in the Bell Centre prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 19, 2010 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Capitals defeated the Canadiens 5-1 and now lead the series 2-1. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
MONTREAL- DECEMBER 4: Former Montreal Canadien Jean Beliveau speaks to fans during the Centennial Celebration ceremonies prior to the NHL game between the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins on December 4, 2009 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Bruins 5-1. (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Hockey great, Jean Beliveau poses with his dog Kiwi, in his Longueuil, Quebec home on October 16, 2003. Beliveau is celebrating 50 yrs with the Canadiens. Sports. (Christinne Muschi/ Toronto Star). (Photo by Christinne Muschi/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
May 12, 2009 -JEAN BELIVEAU-Habs legend Jean Beliveau receives an honorary degree from Ryerson University Tuesday May 12, 2009. Taking part in the ceremonial hooding of Jean Beliveau is Ryerson President Sheldon Levy. Toronto Star/Tara Walton (Photo by Tara Walton/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - JANUARY 25: (L-R) Eastern Conference All-Star captain Alex Kovalev #27 of the Montreal Canadiens, NHL legend Jean Beliveau, NHL legend Bob Gainey and Western Conference All-Star captain Joe Thornton #97 of the San Jose Sharks participate in the ceremonial dropping of the puck at center ice during the 2009 NHL All-Star game at the Bell Centre on January 25, 2009 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
MONTREAL - JANUARY 8: Jean Beliveau, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens, salutes the crowd prior to a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs as the teams salute their Original Six rivalry at the Bell Centre on January 8, 2009 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)
2004 Season: Jean Beliveau celebrates goal against Terry Sawchuk. John Ferguson in front And Player Jean Beliveau. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - MAY 16: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens puts his arms around teammates goalie Ken Dryden #29 and Frank Mahovlich #27 following their victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the 1971 Stanley Cup Finals on May 16, 1971 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 8: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens scores on goalie Ed Johnston #1 of the Boston Bruins as Dallas Smith #20, Derek Sanderson #16 and Bobby Orr #4 look on during Game 2 of the 1971 Quarter Finals on April 8, 1971 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - 1971: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens battles with Bobby Hull #9 of the Chicago Blackhawks at the Montreal Forum circa 1971 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Melchior DiGiacomo/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - DECEMBER 9: Bobby Hull #9 of the Chicago Blackhawks is chased by Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens during their game on December 9, 1968 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 24: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens argues with the referee during an NHL game against the New York Rangers on October 24, 1965 at the Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens team captain Jean Beliveau holds the Stanley Cup trophy after his team's 3-2 victory over the Chicago Black Hawks in the NHL playoff game in Chicago, Ill., Tuesday night, May 18, 1971. (AP Photo)
MONTREAL, QC - MAY 1: Former Canadien Maurice Richard congratulates Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens on winning the Stanley Cup Trophy and the Conn Smythe Trophy during the celebration in the locker room after defeating the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the 1965 Stanley Cup Finals on May 1, 1965 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 9: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens passes the puck during Game 2 of the 1960 Stanley Cup Finals on April 9, 1960 at the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
Canadian ice hockey player Jean Beliveau sits on the floor in his home and cuts out news stories about his career to paste into a large scrapbook in front of him, December 1952. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Canadian ice hockey player Jean Beliveau autographs hockey sticks for children at an unidentified banquet event, December 1952. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Canadian ice hockey player Jean Beliveau autographs photographs as he sits at a desk in his home, December 1952. The books on the top of the desk are all from the Collection Marabout, a semi-monthly series of paperbacks books (mostly fiction). (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Canadian ice hockey player Jean Beliveau of the Quebec Aces skates with the puck during practice in the Quebec Coliseum (later known as the Colisee Pepsi), Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, December 1952. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Close-up of Canadian ice hockey player Jean Beliveau of the Quebec Aces, December 1952. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Ice Hockey player Jean Beliveau, cigar in mouh, reading a book in his bed. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Ice Hockey player Jean Believeau, greeting children at an outdoor skating rink causing much attention. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Ice Hockey player Jean Believeau, in hockey uniform. (Photo by Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
1950S: Jean Beliveau #4 of the Montreal Canadiens poses for an action portrait circa 1950's. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)
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"Meeting him is not like meeting other stars from the old days," said Beliveau's former linemate, Gilles Tremblay, who died last week at age 75. "When people see Bobby Hull, they say: 'Hi Bobby.' When they meet Big Jean, it's always: 'Hi, Mr. Beliveau.' He commands respect."
Canadiens fans who revered Beliveau were given a scare in 2000 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but after losing 30 pounds during treatment and enduring "the worst period of my life," he recovered. Soon, he was back in his familiar spot attending nearly every home game with his wife Elise in the seats among the fans.
He also survived a stroke in 2012.
When the Canadiens opened Centennial Plaza at the Bell Centre as part of the team's 100th anniversary, their four greatest players were honored with statues: Maurice Richard, Howie Morenz, Guy Lafleur and Beliveau.
"Like millions of hockey fans who followed the life and the career of Jean Beliveau, the Canadiens today mourn the passing of a man whose contribution to the development of our sport and our society was unmeasurable," team owner Geoff Molson said in a statement. "Jean Beliveau was a great leader, a gentleman and arguably the greatest ambassador our game has ever known."
Molson said the club will work closely with Beliveau's family "to organize the ceremonies that will take place in the coming days."
Montreal's next home game is Tuesday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Beliveau embodied all the attributes of the Montreal dynasty teams of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s: talent, flair, intelligence and success.
"A great person, a great hockey player and a real gentleman off the ice," said Boston Bruins Hall of Famer John Bucyk. "He was very well-respected around the league. ... He was always the top centerman in the National Hockey League for many years."
Such was his spotless image that Beliveau turned down an offer from Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in the 1980s to sit in the Senate. Beliveau also refused an offer extended by Prime Minister Jean Chretien in 1994 to become Canada's governor general.
Even the crafty handling of his first professional contract in the early 1950s, when he landed a comparatively enormous salary that averaged more than $20,000 as an unproven rookie, didn't tarnish his public appeal.
A resigned general manager Frank Selke Sr., when asked what it took to sign Beliveau, simply said: "All I did was open up the Forum vault and say: 'Help yourself, Jean.'"
The signing had been ordered by the Canadiens owners, who had bought the entire Quebec Senior Hockey League to secure the rights to the quiet center for the Quebec Aces.
Until shortly before his death, Beliveau would spend time before and after every home game signing autographs and talking to anyone who approached. For those he knew, there was always a smile and a handshake.
"An unbelievable man. When you talk about class, it has Jean Beliveau written all over it," said Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, who coached the Canadiens for three seasons. "I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know him."
Beliveau, the eldest of seven children, was born on Aug. 31, 1931, in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, but moved to Victoriaville when he was 3. He learned to control the puck on a crowded backyard rink and by the time he was a teenager, the Beliveau legend was growing.
When Victoriaville's junior team folded, he moved to Quebec City and began filling rinks around the province. When he moved up to the senior Aces, he was said to be earning $20,000 in salary and endorsements on what officially was an amateur team.
The Canadiens signed Beliveau, nicknamed "Le Gros Bill," to a $110,000, five-year contract, including a large signing bonus, to lure him from Quebec, a city he loved and that adored him in return.
Beliveau had short stints with the Canadiens for two consecutive years before joining the club for good in 1953-54. He carried tremendous pressure into the NHL, both for his amateur scoring feats and his salary, which was topped only by the high-scoring Richard.
Beliveau became a fixture in the middle of the great Montreal teams, winning a record five straight championships from 1956-60.
"A true legend has passed away," Canadiens forward Brandon Prust tweeted Tuesday night. "Honored to say I wore the same colors as the man."
At 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, Beliveau combined strength, a long reach, a soft touch on the puck and remarkable vision on the ice.
Donnie Marshall, a checking forward for the Canadiens in the 1950s and '60s, said even Beliveau's teammates were in awe of his skill.
"It was such a pleasure to watch him play and handle the puck," Marshall said. "He was so graceful on the ice."
Beliveau took over the captaincy in 1961 on a team rebuilding for another run of Cups under coach Hector (Toe) Blake. Beliveau won his second Hart Trophy in 1964, when a new Canadiens dynasty arose to take four Cups in a five-year span.
After the 1969-70 season, in which an aging Beliveau had only 19 goals, general manager Sam Pollack talked his captain into playing one more season. Beliveau scored 25 goals - including his milestone 500th - and added 22 points in 20 playoff games as the Canadiens won another Stanley Cup, allowing their big center to retire, at 40, a winner.
In his career, Beliveau had 1,219 points in 1,125 games, plus 79 goals and 97 assists in 162 playoff matches. He was voted to the NHL's first All-Star team six times, and the second team four times.
In 2005, Beliveau made headlines when he sold off many of his hockey mementos, including his Stanley Cup ring from 1958-59; a replica of the Conn Smythe Trophy he won in 1965, the inaugural year for the playoff MVP award; his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ring; and the pucks he used to score his first and last NHL regular-season goals. The auction raised about $1 million.
Beliveau also ran a charitable foundation and sat on the board of directors of several companies.
He and Elise had one daughter, Helene, and granddaughters Mylene and Magalie.