Lady luck smiled once on Montreal's Lavigueur family, but misfortune was the clan's more steady companion.
The Lavigueurs are Canada's most infamous lottery winners. Their Cinderella story saw them pocket $7.6-million when their lost ticket was returned by an impoverished Good Samaritan in 1986. The tale made news around the world and fed the dreams of legions of lottery players in a province crazy about gambling.
But the Lavigueurs were also dogged by trouble. They became the butt of comedy sketches, were besieged by parasitic fortune-seekers and were dragged to court by a family member seeking a cut of the winnings. After the clan's mother died prematurely at the age of 37, they lost a 22-year-old sister to illness and this weekend, they bade adieu to the family patriarch.
Jean-Guy Lavigueur was the diminutive former labourer who bought the winning ticket and instantly turned his brood into Quebec's first jackpot millionaires. He died in hospital on Sunday after a struggle with emphysema, aged 65.
"I would rather have my entire family than all this money," his son, Yve, said in a recent interview before his father's death. "Money can't buy you health."
Yve's sister, Louise, died in 1991 because she was unable to get a donor for a heart and lung transplant. "If a heart and lungs could have been bought, we would have bought them. But we couldn't do anything for her."
Yve Lavigueur has just published a book about the family's roller-coaster fortunes. He said he did it to set the record straight about his father, who was often portrayed as a character from The Beverly Hillbillies, a Jed Clampett-type simpleton who preferred a bottle of Molson's to a magnum of champagne, and who didn't like to travel because he found the food too spicy.
Yve Lavigueur said his father was a fair-minded man who swiftly decided to give $1.2-million of his cash to William Murphy, the welfare recipient who found the winning ticket inside a wallet on the street and turned it in. (Mr. Murphy, a Vancouver native, had to return to the Lavigueurs' east-end flat twice because he couldn't make himself understood in English.)
"An English Canadian proved he was honest, and we proved we were grateful and honest," Yve Lavigueur said.
"Some people described my father as a drunk, a jerk, a guy from the wrong side of the tracks. Well, public opinion was wrong. He was a big man despite his small frame."
The Lavigueur family is still the object of public fascination in Quebec. Yesterday, Yve Lavigueur held a press conference carried live on television during which he appealed to the public to remember his father favourably. "He was a respectable person, who respected others," he said emotionally.
Yve Lavigueur said in the interview that becoming as rich as Croesus overnight didn't change the family, but it did transform the people around them. After moving into an opulent mini-chateau north of Montreal -- which was later purchased by the Hells Angels and recently burned to the ground -- the family moved back closer to their roots.
Jean-Guy Lavigueur was renting a modest apartment in Montreal before entering hospital. Yve Lavigueur lives in and manages a 1950s apartment block not far from the family's former $142-a-month flat. He knocks on tenants' doors each month to collect the rent.
He's still stopped on the street by people who want to touch his arm for good luck or by hustlers pitching a scheme. Last week, an entrepreneur asked him to invest in a project to print ads on the cardboard of toilet-paper rolls.
Yve doesn't own a car and he's no longer a millionaire. He recovered from a cocaine addiction that accompanied his postjackpot partying. But he isn't struggling financially.
"You have to create your own happiness. I was happy before, with $2 in my pocket. I lived happily for 18 years before winning the lottery," he said. "Whether you have millions or you're broke, you should be able to make your own happiness.
"Proof of that is that even millionaires commit suicide."
Still, Yve Lavigueur has maintained one family tradition -- buying lottery tickets.
During the interview, he pulled out a crumpled 6/49 ticket, a reminder that sometimes the dream of being a millionaire is more enticing than the reality.
"Everyone," he said, "has the right to dream."