Walter Payton abused painkillers, had affairs, claims new biography

Walter Payton's family says of the recent disclosures about the football star: "Some [are] true, some [are] untrue"

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    The book by sports author Jeff Pearlman alleges the football Hall of Famer abused painkillers and threatened suicide.
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A new book on football star Walter Payton claims that the Hall of Fame inductee running back abused drugs, had affairs, and threatened to commit suicide.

Sports author Jeff Pearlman’s book, titled “Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton,” will be released next week. Payton’s family and teammates have already responded to the book’s allegations.

“Walter, like all of us, wasn’t perfect,” a statement issued and signed “Connie Payton and family” reads. “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.”

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Pearlman writes in the book that Payton, who died of bile duct cancer in 1999, ate painkillers like snacks and that his drug use could be traced to pain from knocks taken on the football field. The book says that the painkiller use only got worse after Payton retired, with the former running back using a combination of Tylenol and Vicodin. Pearlman also writes that Payton went to dentists claiming to have tooth pain so he could get prescriptions for morphine.

The book reports a story told by former executive assistant Ginny Quirk about the day that Payton was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Quirk says that both Payton's wife Connie and a girlfriend, identified only as Lita, attended the ceremony. Quirk says it was her job to keep them apart.

Pearlman also writes that Payton would threaten suicide when he was concerned about money or after fights with Connie or his girlfriend. Payton’s agent Bud Holmes is quoted in the book saying that Payton called him once saying he was about to kill himself and that Holmes went to his house, but that Payton was doing better by the time he got there and refused to see a therapist.

The Chicago Bears released a statement on the book, saying, “Nothing will change our feelings for a man we have the deepest respect for and miss having around Halas Hall to this day.”

Former teammate Tom Thayer said he was always impressed by Payton’s professional behavior when they met socially after they had both stopped playing for the Bears.

“When people get an understanding that there were difficulties in his life that he was facing each and every day and he still performed like a professional, it'll probably increase the respect they had for him,” Thayer told the Daily Herald, a newspaper based in Arlington Heights, Illinois. “But it's unfortunate that we have to defend him and he can't defend himself. It's an unfortunate portrayal of Walter, but it doesn't diminish my respect for him in the least.”

Pearlman said he didn’t set out to write a positive or negative book about the football star.

“It hurts me that this will hurt his kids,” he told Sports Illustrated. “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.”

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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