"Cowboy" Bill Flett, an original King and one of the club's most popular players during the franchise's early years, died late Monday of organ failure at a hospital in Edmonton, Canada. He would have been 56 next week.
Flett, a rugged right wing who developed remarkable strength by roping calves as a young man, was chosen by the Kings in the 18th round of the 1967 expansion draft. He played for them through the 1971-72 season and recorded the first hat trick in club history Nov. 5, 1967. Known for his rugged play and his bushy, black beard, Flett was the Kings' top goal scorer with 26 in their first season. He finished second in team scoring to Eddie Joyal in each of the Kings' first two seasons and represented them at the 1971 All-Star game. He also played for Philadelphia, Toronto, Atlanta and Edmonton.
Flett was also known for his hard partying, which later took a toll on his professional life and his health. At the urging of Edmonton General Manager Glen Sather, Flett underwent treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford Clinic in Rancho Mirage, and former Edmonton teammate Wayne Gretzky helped him get work in the Canadian oil fields. He became a popular figure at Oiler alumni games, wearing cowboy boots with blades fitted into the bottoms, and when he died, Flett hadn't had a drink in six years.
Flett, who returned to Los Angeles two years ago for the Kings' 30th anniversary celebration, came through a liver transplant in May but his kidneys failed soon after. His condition had stabilized but he developed a staph infection and was on a respirator for three weeks before he died.
Flett is survived by his wife of 35 years, Doreen, and three children.