Walter Payton battled drugs, suicidal thoughts, new book says
Hall of Fame running back Walter Payton abused painkillers after he retired, contemplated suicide and struggled with depression, according to "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," a new book by longtime sportswriter Jeff Pearlman.
Pearlman says Payton used a cocktail of Tylenol and Vicodin, mainly for the physical pain that he felt after retiring from the NFL in 1987 as the league’s leading rusher.
Without football, he became deeply depressed.
‘‘Payton found himself burdened by a realization that had struck thousands of ex-athletes before him: I am bored out of my mind,’’ Pearlman writes. ‘‘When strangers asked, he talked about how thrilled he was to be free of the burdens of football.... The words were pure fantasy. He would miss it desperately. ‘He went from an abnormal existence as an athlete to a normal one,’ says [daughter] Brittney, now 26. ‘How does anyone do that?’’’
The book says he kept tanks of nitrous oxide in his garage. His longtime agent, Bud Holmes, and his executive assistant, Ginny Quirk, said they received suicide calls at all hours of the night in the mid-'90s.
At the 1993 Hall of Fame induction, Quirk said Payton brought both his wife, Connie, and his mistress.
"The introduction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is supposed to be the greatest moment in his life," Quirk says. "And in truth, it was probably the worst. Four full days, and Lita and Connie were like two ships passing in the night. If Connie was scheduled to come late, I'd make sure Lita was there early. If Connie was there early, Lita would be there late. I can't describe the horror of that trip."
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Mike Ditka, Payton’s former coach, was upset by the revelations.
‘‘It’s pathetic, and I don’t want to talk about it,’’ he said.
Payton died from a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer in 1999. The book goes on sale Oct. 4.
-- Melissa Rohlin
Photo: Walter Payton. Credit: Mike Eliason / Associated Press
The Associated Press contributed to this report.