According to a new biography, the late Walter Payton – a legendary Chicago Bears running back nicknamed “Sweetness” by fans and teammates alike – was addicted to painkillers throughout and after his playing career, engaged in many extramarital affairs, fought depression and considered suicide just before his death from bile duct cancer in 1999.
The book, titled “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” is the two and a half year project of Jeff Pearlman, a former “Sports Illustrated” senior writer, who claims to have interviewed nearly 700 hundred people during its making.
In an excerpt from the book over at SI.com, Pearlman details Payton’s addiction to pain meds, writing:
“The burden of loneliness and his marriage weren’t Payton’s only problems. As a player he had numbed his maladies with pills and liquids, usually supplied by the Bears. Payton popped Darvon robotically during his playing days, says [his agent 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.”
“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.”
According to the book, in 1988 Payton visited dentist offices complaining of tooth pain. He secured several prescriptions for morphine but raised red flags with at least one pharmacist, who called police. Payton was visited by officers but received only a warning.
Despite stories of depression and personal chaos, the book also recounts Payton’s courageous side. Knowing he was going to die, Payton spent his final months hosting former Bears.
“I was there with about 30 other guys,” former Bears offensive lineman Jimbo Covert explained, recalling Payton’s grace under dire circumstances. “Walter took time to go around to everybody personally and grab him and say, ‘What are you doing?’ — just getting the down low on how you’d been. Can you imagine how strong a person he had to have been to do that? He knew he was going to die.”
When asked if he worried about facing a backlash for tarnishing the image of a deceased man, Pearlman said:
“I sure do. It hurts me that this will hurt his kids. It really does because Jarrett and Brittney are wonderful, engaging, fun, caring people and they’re really uplifting figures in the Chicago landscape … That said, I set out to write a definitive biography — period. When people would ask, ‘Well, is this going to be positive?’ I’d say, ‘Not positive, not negative — definitive.’”
Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life Of Walter Payton is slated to hit bookstore shelves on October 4th.