Walter Payton, Chicago Bears running back, is described in Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, which is set to be released on October 4.
The book, written by Jeff Pearlman, contributor to Sports Illustrated, alleges the American football player constantly made drug abuse when he was playing and after his retirement, he had affairs and felt into a depression that almost led him to suicide.
The author said he worked on the book two and a half years and interviewed 678 people. Sweetness narrates Walter Payton‘s life, from his childhood in Mississippi, his college years at Jackson State, his NFL career (13 years) and his life after his career ended in 1987, to his death at 45 from cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) in 1999.
Walter Payton had primary sclerosing cholangitis, a rare and deadly autoimmune liver disease liver disease, and some of his painkillers abuse might be related to this illness.
“Payton popped Darvon robotically during his playing days—says [Bud] Holmes, “I’d see him walk out of the locker room with jars of painkillers, and he’d eat them like they were a snack”—and also lathered his body with dimethyl sulfoxide, a topical analgesic commonly used to treat horses. Now that he was retired, the self-medicating only intensified. Payton habitually ingested a cocktail of Tylenol and Vicodin. […] in 1988, Payton visited a handful of dental offices, complaining of severe tooth pain. He received several prescriptions for morphine and hit up a handful of drugstores to have them filled. When one of the pharmacists noticed the activity, he contacted the police, who arrived at Payton’s house and discussed the situation.” read an excerpt published in Sports Illustrated.
The painkiller Darvon is an opioid narcotic used to treat mild to moderate pain was first approved in the 1950s and It has been pulled by the market. Walter Payton also obtained Ritalin from a friend whose son was prescribed pills.
Walter Payton used nitrous oxide prior and after retirement.
“Back when Payton drove his own RV to Bears training camp, he used to load the rear of the vehicle with tanks of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas. At nights and during breaks in the action, players sneaked into Payton’s trailer, loaded the nitrous oxide into balloons, then carried them around while taking hits. The goofy laughter could be heard throughout the training facility.”
After his rigorous fitness regime during his playing career (running up and down a steep hill repeatedly) once he retired, he started drinking beer and eating tons of junk food. Wendy’s gave Payton a card granting a free lifetime supply of hamburgers at the fast food chain, Payton dumped 10 sugar packs into each cup of coffee and enjoyed pork rinds with hot sauce.
Walter Payton’s both estranged wife (Connie) and girlfriend (Lita) attended his Hall of Fame, wife in the front row and mistress in the second.
“Shortly after he learned he’d been voted into the Hall of Fame, Payton spoke with Lita Gonzalez [not her real name], a New Jersey-based flight attendant with whom he’d been in a tempestuous relationship since they’d met at the Michael Spinks-Mike Tyson heavyweight title fight in Atlantic City in 1988. […] “She was insisting she be seated in the front row,” says Tucker. “We said, ‘Lita, are you insane? We’re marketing this man as a family-friendly spokesperson. His whole image is based around decency. You will ruin him.“
Holmes and Payton’s executive assistant, Ginny Quirk, recall receiving suicidal calls at all hours during the mid-1990s. The threats came after fights with Connie or Lita or when he worried about finances. Payton refused to see a therapist.
Payton said he imagined murdering those around him, then killing himself and he ended the letter to an unnamed friend by admitting that he needed help but that he had nowhere to turn. The excerpts do not indicate doctors think Payton suffered brain damage while playing, affecting his mental state.
Andre Agassi also in his recent autobiography detailed his previously unknown drug use.
Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton contains both fact and fiction said Walter Payton’s family.
“Walter, like all of us, wasn’t perfect. The challenges he faced were well known to those of us who loved and lived with him. He was a great father to Jarrett and Brittney and held a special place in the football world and the Chicago community. Recent disclosures — some true, some untrue — do not change this. I’m saddened that anyone would attempt to profit from these stories, many told by people with little credibility,” read a statement signed by Connie Payton and family.
“When we take the field each Sunday, we represent the great players like Walter who helped build the rich tradition of our organization. Nothing will change our feelings for a man we have the deepest respect for and miss having around Halas Hall to this day,” said The Chicago Bears.
“There’s something important about learning that even the greatest among us have their burdens. Whether you’re a Hall of Fame running back or a guy moving cement, we all have issues. No one lives up to the pedestal. . . . The goal is to find out who he was and how he lived. I’m very defensive about that. You want to write an honest and accurate biography,” Jeff Pearlman said.
The book includes also brighter stories about Walter Payton.
Walter often insisted on first playing catch with kids who asked him for autographs and then offer them words of inspiration. Walter Payton also delighted a cancer-ridden youngster on a flight.
He was graceful on the field and he was strong when facing terminal cancer. Walter Payton grew up in segregated Mississippi and calmed racial tensions there with his on-field heroics.
Quirk tells Pearlman that, after he appeared thin and gaunt at a 1999 news conference announcing his son’s decision to attend Miami University, many people asked her if he was dying of AIDS.
Walter Payton had been diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis at the Mayo Clinic in December 1998. He gathered his family in the basement of their South Barrington home, told them about diagnosis and said a liver transplant would solve the problem. He told his fans about his diagnosis three days after his son’s press conference.
Payton reached out to his children as he was dying. Walter Payton, who also kept a home in West Dundee, had moved back into the South Barrington home in July 1999 and took turns staying in Jarrett’s and Brittney’s rooms.
“At the time I didn’t get it, but now I think it’s so cool he wanted to share himself with us,” Jarrett says in the book.
Walter Payton was born in July 25, 1954 and died on November 1, 1999 from terminal cancer, he married Connie Norwood in 1976.
Walter Payton was known around the NFL as Sweetness. He was a nine-time Pro Bowl selectee. He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1993. He started his professional career with the Bears in 1975. Walter Payton (34) won two NFL Most Valuable Player Awards, and won Super Bowl XX with the 1985 Chicago Bears. Walter Payton rushed for 16,726 yards and scored 110 touchdowns. He became the first African American to break a record that was held only by whites in the NFL during modern football (1955–present). He caught 492 passes for 4,538 yards and 15 touchdowns, set team records, most career rushing yards, receptions, touchdowns.
Although his cancer was in a stage that did not benefit from liver transplant, he spent his final months as an advocate for organ transplants.
Don Yaeger worked with him during the last weeks of his life to create his autobiography, Never Die Easy, the title was his motto which he attributed to Bob Hill, his coach at Jackson State (2000).
NFL named its Man of the Year Award after him, the Walter Payton Award, the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
Walter Payton’s Roundhouse in West Dundee is an entertainment center and includes authentic memorabilia at the Walter Payton Museum.
Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton trailer
Walter Payton biography, the cancer diagnosis (video)
Walter Payton Don Yaeger Never Die Easy (video)