Every decade or so, a great athlete is birthed into professional sports who fans feel can do no wrong. Former Bears running back Walter Payton was one of these athletes. However, a book to be released by Jeff Pearlman on Oct. 4 will reveal a dark side to the man once referred to as “Sweetness.”
Walter Payton died in November of 1999 to a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer after a Hall of Fame career in which he retired as the NFL’s leader in yards rushed, two MVP trophies and a Super Bowl ring. Despite being beloved by Chicagoans and most fans of football, Jeff Pearlman will reveal the Hall of Famer in his book, “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton” as a suicidal man who abused pain medication and had a crumbling family situation.
Excerpts of the book are scheduled to be printed in the Oct. 3 edition of Sports Illustrated.
“Walter would call me all the time saying he was about to kill himself, he was tired,” Payton’s longtime agent Bud Holmes said, according to SI.com. “He was angry. Nobody loved him. He wanted to be dead.”
Payton’s executive assistant Ginny Quirk further confirmed Holmes’ sentiments.
“He would call and say, ‘you won’t see me when you get to the office tomorrow,’ ” she said. ” ‘Enjoy life without me.’ “
In the book, Pearlman describes how Payton used pain killers during his playing days, which continued beyond his retirement and caused depression and a world of hurt to his family. Sources told Pearlman that Payton took a cocktail of Tylenol and vicodin and kept a tank of nitrous oxide in his garage.
“Walter was pounding his body with medication,” Holmes said. “I wish I knew how bad it was, but at the time I really didn’t.”
Walter’s wife doesn’t deny all of the accusations. She claims to have not been interviewed for the entire book and knew about Walter’s affairs and drug use, which was part of the reason they were living separate from each other since he had retired.
“Walter, like all of us, wasn’t perfect,” reads the statement from Payton’s wife Connie, his family and the Walter and Connie Payton Foundation. “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.”
While most of the accusations seem impossible for a man of his stature who was loved by everyone who watched him play, Quirk made it obvious that everything that glittered wasn’t gold. Even though Payton and his wife were still married, the Hall of Famer was seeing another woman for five years when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
“The introduction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is supposed to be the greatest moment in his life,” said Quirk, who was charged with keeping the women apart. “And in truth, it was probably the worst. … Four full days, and Lita (not the real name of Payton’s mistress) 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.”
Despite Quirk trying to keep the women apart, they did end up meeting.
“I introduced the two of them, and they sat and talked for a quite a while,” Holmes said, according to the excerpt. “They were friendly, chatty. There was no hair pulling. It was very civil.”
According to Holmes, Connie asked for the meeting and said to the woman, “You can have him. He doesn’t want me or the children.”
Despite the stories attracting people to this book, Pearlman also reveals the courageous side of Payton who knew he was going to die and spent his last days hosting former Bears and making sure their lives were in order.
“I never heard him say, ‘Why me?’ ” fellow Hall of Famer Mike Singletary said, according to the book. “I know I would have been saying, ‘Why me? Why me? There are other guys out there killing people — why me?’ I never heard Walter say that.”