LAKE FOREST, Ill. — According to a new book, Chicago Bears star Walter Payton abused painkillers in retirement and became suicidal.
In "Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton," author Jeff Pearlman says the Hall of Fame running back used a cocktail of Tylenol and Vicodin in retirement, kept tanks of nitrous oxide in his garage and even obtained Ritalin from a friend whose son was prescribed pills. Pearlman writes that Payton drew the suspicion of pharmacists and a warning from the police after visiting several drugstores to have a dentist's prescription for morphine filled.
Payton's longtime agent, Bud Holmes, is quoted as saying "Walter was pounding his body with medication."
The book goes on sale Oct. 4. An excerpt appears in this week's Sports Illustrated.
Holmes and Payton's executive assistant, Ginny Quirk, recall receiving suicidal calls at all hours during the mid-1990s, and Pearlman reports Payton was living apart from his wife Connie and having extramarital affairs after retirement. That created an awkward situation at his 1993 Hall of Fame induction, with Connie and his mistress attending.
Quirk is quoted as saying it was her job to keep them apart.
"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."
Payton spent all 13 seasons with the Bears and retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher after the 1987 season. He died from a rare liver disease and bile duct cancer in 1999.
In a statement, the Bears said Payton's "competitive spirit lives with us today."
"When we take the field each Sunday, we represent the great players like Walter who helped build the rich tradition of our organization," the organization said. "Nothing will change our feelings for a man we have the deepest respect for and miss having around Halas Hall to this day."