LOS ANGELES — The vast majority of people count on their ability to speak for granted. It’s a natural ability that develops as we grow up, from infancy through childhood, and into becoming an adult. It’s rarely given a second thought, and probably not even a first one.
But for those with a speech impediment, just trying to utter a few words can be an embarrassing, frustrating struggle. That was a problem that plagued former Los Angeles Kings star right wing and former general manager Dave Taylor, who came to the Kings in 1977 with a serious stuttering problem. But just like the way he approached the game of hockey, he took what could be deemed the biggest challenge of his life head on, and although he says that stuttering is a problem that one never completely overcomes, he has controlled it.
Those who remember Taylor’s early years with the Kings might recall that he could barely utter a word during television interviews.
“I stuttered from when I was three or four years old,” he said. “As long as I could remember, I stuttered. I was afraid to speak in public.”
“In high school, I got called in after school, and there was a speech therapist there,” Taylor noted. “There were five or six of us, and we all stuttered in the school. The therapist talked with us, and gave us some tips, but I never really had any coaching or therapy.”
“When I came to L.A., I remember my first interview on Hockey Night in Canada,” Taylor recalled. “I couldn’t say anything. It was terrible.”
Legendary “Voice of the Kings,” retired Hall of Fame television play-by-play announcer Bob Miller remembered trying to interview Taylor early in his career.
“We would interview him, even early in his career, because he was often the number one star of the game,” he said. “I’d then get letters from fans saying, ‘you should be ashamed of yourself. You’re embarrassing Dave Taylor by putting him on the air.’ But Dave said to us, ‘Don’t stop asking me to go on because I won’t get over my stuttering if I stop doing interviews.’”
“One situation during the playoffs against Toronto in one of his first years…he was doing an interview with Dave Hodge of Hockey Night in Canada,” he added. “I looked down at the end of the first period with the Kings trailing, 3-0, and Dave Hodge is interviewing him. We thought, ‘Oh my gosh! He didn’t ask us how Dave is during an interview.’ We would’ve said that he has trouble with a microphone in front of him, and even when someone was just writing things down.”
“Later on, I saw Dave Hodge and I asked him how that interview went. He said, ‘Oh my God. The Kings were down, 3-0, and I asked him how they were going to get back into this game.’”
Miller went on to note that Hodge told him that Taylor could not get a single word out and that the only sound that came out of his mouth was as if he was hyperventilating. In fact, Miller noted that Hodge thought Taylor was having a heart attack.
In somewhat typical Hollywood fashion, character actor Larry Mann, a native of Toronto and a big Kings fan, gave Taylor what was, very likely, the biggest assist of his life.
“He saw my interview on Hockey Night in Canada,” said Taylor. “He arranged for me to see a speech therapist, and I went to this lady, Dr. Vivian Sheehan, who was in Santa Monica, twice a week. [Then-Kings owner] Dr. Jerry Buss and the Kings paid for all the therapy.”
“Dr. Sheehan and her husband had studied stuttering,” Taylor noted. “They understood the blockages that you get, the importance of hearing some sounds, and to try to slide into words so that you hear sounds first. They explained all these ways that could, sort of, control stuttering—how you breathe, the things about the sounds.”
“They invited me to UCLA, where there was a group stuttering therapy class,” he added. “There was a big table with 15 people sitting around it. One of the hardest things to do, for a person who stutters, is to say their own name. You know what your own name is, but there is pressure to get it out. One of the things we had to do is introduce ourselves, and it was almost comical. It took us a while to say our own names because everyone was stuttering and stammering. But it was a real eye-opener for me because when I was kid, it was easier for me just not to talk than to face it. But this gave me the opportunity to address it.”
Taylor quickly learned that he was not alone—that stuttering was not something to be embarrassed about. That bolstered his confidence, helping him face up to his speech impediment and fight through it.
“When I went in there, one guy was a lawyer, one woman was a receptionist—they were from all walks of life, and they all had this stuttering issue. I learned from Dr. Sheehan that one percent of the people have problems with stuttering. So it was something that you had to be more open with and let people hear you stutter. It’s no big deal. Some people wear glasses. You stutter. It’s just something you had to work around.”
Taylor indicated that although he has his stuttering under control, it isn’t a problem that he has overcome.
“[Group and individual therapy] helped me control it,” he said. “But at the end of the day, I don’t think you ever overcome it completely. I still have a hard time today when I have to speak in public. It’s something that I continue to work on.”
“I would never even order a pizza on the phone,” he added. “I’d always get my wife to do it. I can do it now, a lot easier than it was back then. One thing that was funny, when Larry Mann gave me Dr. Sheehan’s information, my wife made that call for me to make the appointment.”
Miller noted how much courage, dedication, and strength of character that it took for Taylor to gain control over his speech impediment.
“I told Dave that I admired the way he played, and the success he had in the NHL, but that I really admired the way he controlled his speech problem and could stand out, on the ice, as captain of this team in front of [16,005 people at the Forum] and speak without a hint of any problem,” he noted. “That continued in his job as general manager—he still had to make public appearances.”
“I’m sure he was laughed at and ridiculed, as a kid,” he added. “Then, your self-confidence suffers, and you don’t want to have to get up to talk in class, or anyplace else where you might have to speak. I’m really glad [he’s gained control over] that because it would have limited how successful he could’ve been.”
“As we found out, that’s the kind of guy Dave Taylor was. He was never going to give up. He wasn’t going to shy away from it. He was going to keep going until he conquered it, and I think that’s the way he approached the sport of hockey.”
The next installment of this series will look back at more of Taylor’s playing days, including his memories of the Miracle on Manchester on April 10, 1982, when the Kings were looking way up at a 5-0 deficit after two periods in Game 3 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series, only to come all the way back to win the game in overtime.
LEAD PHOTO: Former LA Kings star right wing and former general manager Dave Taylor, now the Vice President, Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues, is shown here drinking out of the Stanley Cup during his day with the Cup on July 11, 2019, after the Blues won the 2019 Stanley Cup Championship. Photo courtesy of the Dave Taylor Family Collection.
Frozen Royalty’s Dave Taylor Coverage
- Former GM Dave Taylor Started LA Kings Down Championship Road: Anze Kopitar
- Former LA Kings Great Dave Taylor On Becoming a Stanley Cup Champion
- LA Kings Legend Dave Taylor Learned About Hard Work with a Pick and a Hockey Stick
- Former LA Kings Great Dave Taylor Took the College Route To Reach the NHL
- Another Big Break Helped Dave Taylor Secure His Spot with the LA Kings
- Dave Taylor Was the Heart and Soul of the LA Kings Triple Crown Line
- Former LA Kings Star RW Dave Taylor: Sky-High Character On and Off the Ice
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