New biography claims Walter Payton abused drugs


The late Walter Payton, whom many regard as the best running back in league history, is the subject of a new biography by Jeff Pearlman.  And Pearlman claims in the book that, after retiring from pro football, Payton abused drugs.

Specifically, Payton allegedly took Tylenol and Vicodin, kept nitrous oxide in his garage, and obtained Ritalin from a friend.  The book also claims that Payton attracted suspicion from pharmacists and police when trying to have a dentist’s prescription for morphine filled.

Pearlman quotes Payton’s agent, Bud Holmes, as as saying that “Walter was pounding his body with medication.”

The book, titled Sweetness:  The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton, will be released on October 4.  An excerpt appears in this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated.

84 responses to “New biography claims Walter Payton abused drugs

  1. Blasphemy. That author better stay the f out of Chicago and keep his picture out of the book.

    What kind of person slanders someone so beloved and kind as WP, especially post-humously?

  2. What retired football player doesn’t take massive amounts of painkillers? Are there any? Hell, I played in high school and college and just destroyed my body. Pro players have to face absurd pain daily.

  3. Wow- after taking the pounding he did in the NFL he needed pills to relieve the pain… what a revelation. Seriously- what is the benefit of knowing this… God- let sleeping dogs lie

  4. No, seriously, TYLENOL and VICODIN? What a druggie! That’s basically what every single person who has the most minor surgery in the world is prescribed.

    Seems highly questionable to me to rip a dead man for something that lame.

  5. A shame to hear something like this come out about a guy who was a true legend and great guy in general.

  6. Why trash a guy who was so good to so many and played his sport with so much passion for his team and his fans.

    This author should be Tared and feathered then kicked in the Nut’s

    Some low life’s will do anything for a Buck !!

  7. The problems a guy MIGHT have had during his life after football is of no consequence to me and I have no interest in reading any book or SI excerpts that are only going to darken the image of a football legend. It’s just another scumbag trying to profit by writing salacious material about a man many people respect.

  8. What an as****. Drudging up or fabricating a ridiculous story after one of the greatest people NFL history has passed away just to sell a few books. Can’t wait to see what Karma has in store for this jerk. There is plenty of truths to fill a great book about Walter Payton.I’m not a Bears fan but if I ever saw this guy he will definitely need some Vicodin when I got through with him.

  9. Wow who would have a thought that someone that played as tough as WP for well over a decade at the position that wear u down the most would need pain killers daily after retirement….I know I’m rambling but that author is a f@akin idiot….smh

  10. What a sleazy headline. It leads one to assume heroine or cocaine, yet when you actually read the article it turns out he’s taking exactly what you would expect an ex pro athlete to take…PAINKILLERS! What a shocker!

  11. Why write this about a legend of the league? Tylenol and Vicoden? Who hasnt taken these after a simple visit to the dentist let alone years and years of running the ball like no other in the NFL…? The author is just an ass and would be best served to not do any book signings in Chicago….

  12. Speaking as a die hard Packer fan, this story angers me. Honestly, what is the point of coming out with this B.S. on one of the all time greats of this game? That being said, if there is any man that deserved to medicate himself between games it’s Walter Payton. Until McMahon got to Chicago, the Bears had 3 offensive plays in their playbook–Walter left, Walter middle, Walter right.

  13. Not surprising, given the overall situation. If Walter had some pain problems after he retired, it should not subtract from his achievements on the field and his (by all accounts) good character overall.

  14. Perlman is a dirt-digger more than a journalist or author. We know already that this man has no integrity. He should be a tabloid writer and nothing more.

  15. I thought he was going to say WP was On serious drugs, this isn’t even a headline, aside from the fact that every NFL retiree takes some sort of pain reliever. Now you understand why Barry sanders retired when he did!

  16. Truth hurts sometimes…if youve seen him run, sacrificing his body on every not surprised, in fact i think most players after their careers do the same. Matt Birk says it takes him almost an hour just to get outta bed Mondays after a game. No thanks ill just enjoy watching the game.

  17. Whether or not the allegations that Payton self-medicated are true or not — Walter Payton was the absolute no-question-about-it epitome of class.

    No one, NO ONE, played with more heart.

    And it’s pretty damned hard to have a lot of respect for someone who’d try to profit by intentionally tarnishing Payton’s name.

    Not real cool – not cool at all.

    One Member of Steeler Nation

  18. This has been happening to true American legends in the new age assault of the history books…please spare me your tears about a football player….the fact that he was a drug addled psycho takes nothing away from his on field accomplishments…

  19. Terrible attempt to tarnish the name of a legend. Please nobody buy this guys book.

    Trashing the dead (truth or not) fir sensationalize is the lowest form of media

  20. 1. unfair headline

    2. who among us hasn’t seen this (or worse) with friends, family, or themselves?

    An amazing story would be a RB who didn’t develop an issue with painkillers

  21. I hate posthumous biographies. And with the way “alternative lifestyle” types like to go back and twist the SIMPLEST thing into meaning a guy was gay, I’m sure there will be some supposed first-hand account that says he was gay because of his voice or his nickname (rolling eyes).

  22. I used to pop horse tranquilizers after high school football games. My doctor told me it could lead to short term memory loss, but I never experienced anything like that. Walter was the greatest running back to ever play the game. The beating he took was unmatched. I took a similar beating in my high school days, but after games I would pop horse tranquilizer pills. My doctor told me it could lead to short term memory loss, but I never experienced anything like that.

  23. Hate to say it…. but there are many rumors of “foul play” when it comes to Payton….

    There were strong rumors of Walter being “connected” to the Chicago Outfit… Anybody that knows anything about Chicago knows the effect of the mafia on the city, especially in the 80s.. If you do not, then you are simply blind or naive….

    Just because he was a great football player does not mean he was a perfect person…. Celebrities are people too… They make mistakes like everyone else…..

    Bottom line: Walter Payton was payed a lot of money to play a game and because of his career choice, people have every right to know the truth about him…..

  24. But what part of his fervor and vaunted recklessness WHILE playing were amphetamines and painkillers? Imagine if Adrian Peterson was on speed at game time? All-Week?

    Honest questions though, what did they test for in his day? And how thoroughly?

  25. i swore i would not comment any longer on pft because i was being censored but i HAVE to make an exception. i am a recovering opiate addict and i know what constant pain does to your mind. if walter payton fell prey to the dragon god knows his bumps and bruises were without a doubt alot worse than mine. rest in peace walter. i do know how you must have felt.
    you will always be remembered as nothing but a class act and a world class athelete.

  26. This guy Peralman is shameless what Walter went threw you never know and this guy trying to expose him as this double life pill poppin druggie everyone has skeletons in there closet what he did in his personal life is his business all that matters to me is how he did on Sunday’s and he was the BEST!

  27. This is a perfect example why a lot of people don’t like “journalists”. They whine that they’re just trying to get the story out there and improve society or give information that people wouldn’t otherwise have access to, but seriously, this guy probably had a nice budget and a staff to do some serious dirt-digging, and he decides to write a hit job on Walter freakin Payton?!

    All the crap going on in the country he could investigate and write a book aboout and THIS is what he comes up with? What a piece of trash. If his sources told him Walter used to run a meth-lab, or kept a stable of 12yr old girls for his amusement, that’s one thing, but this was a guy with a lot of demons in a lot of pain, and quite frankly it’s nobody’s business.

    the “reporter” will probably say he wrote to help people in similar situations, but he’ll be full of crap. Scumbag.

  28. It’s real simple just don’t buy the book. The person who puts this out is doing so to make money. Maybe Payton did take painkillers maybe he didn’t, don’t care. As a Skins fan, who watched him play his last game against us, I grew up knowing he was a stand up guy.

    He played hard and his body paid the price as he got older, end of story. So to seriously undermine this dude, and the crap he’s trying to smear over guy who did things he’ll never accomplish, simply don’t buy the book.

  29. Some “author” trying to make a buck. Every athlete/celeb fans love is flawed. Doesn’t mean they aren’t great at what they do. Walter Payton was, is, and always will be THE MAN. I could care less what some tell all book says.

    RIP Sweetness

  30. These claims don’t diminish what Walter Payton did on the football field. And if these allegations are true they might very well be linked to tremendous physical ailments caused from a long NFL career.

    I’m neither shocked nor outraged, I simply want to know if these things have any merit.

  31. @tominmilwaukee
    Shut your pie hole, WTF would you know about any supposed “mob” influence from that hotbed of criminal activity that is Wisconsin? Dont be such a hillrod

  32. Pearlman is actually a pretty good writer. Read his book on the Cowboys dynasty of the 90s. He said he wanted to write a book on a cleaner guy after he wrote a Clemens book and was disappointed to find this stuff out. In the end, what he found out about Payton isn’t that different than what many other athletes have done – other than we thought he was better than that.

  33. I think this guy is the same douche bag that wrote a smear book on the cowboys of the 90’s. Whether things are true or not how miserable must a person be to look for the bad in everyone and write about it and what a coward to write it after death.

  34. It’s always better to have the truth out there. Maybe the publicizing of Walter’s struggle will help other retired players come forward and seek help for their addictions to pain medicines — an addiction that is totally understandable given what their bodies went through in the NFL.

    I will be curious to see if book addresses the rumors that Walter was gay.

  35. Note to future sports stars beware of the sports media’s NEW MATH.

    99,999 acts of charity and kindness = zilch

    1 act of stupidity, selfishness, or just being a human with flaws = huge black cloud over your entire career

  36. The thing I find amazing, is that there actually people on here who see this as massive slur on Payton’s character.

    He was stand-up guy, who contributed massively to his team and community. Yet despite it hurting no one else, the fact that he developed a need for painkillers is somehow seen as shameful and demeaning. Something that shouldn’t be mentioned, Payton’s nasty secret.

    I couldn’t care what he ingested, whether it was crack, cocaine, smack, vicodin, chocolate or caramel creams. Did he hurt anyone, no. Did he help others, yes.

    The guy had a long, long career at the most physically punishing position in all of sport. The fact that he took a lot of painkillers shouldn’t be hidden away. Nor should it be a surprise. It is not embarrassing or shameful, for him at least.

    The only shame I can see in this situation is our expectation that our superstar athletes are some kind of supermen: that there are no consequences for the big hits we love to see. Worse, there still appears to be moral agenda on what someone puts in their mouth, irrespective of how they lead their lives.

  37. It sounds like 95 percent of the book is positive but Pearlman is a very thorough author. I think I read he interviewed 500 or more people for his Barry Bonds book.

    Bears fans here are coming across the way irrational Red Sox or Yankee jerkoffs usually sound.

    Just pretend for a moment Jeff Pearlman is your lifelong best friend. And he say says to you after interviewing hundreds of people and spending months writing, “Walter’s former agent told me he used drugs.”
    Would you say…You can’t write that..he was my hero..I had a poster on my wall…..If so, you need to wake up and not idolize people as if they’re somehow mythical.

  38. I think the painkillers are normal for athletes and have seen that story so many times i just gloss over it . now the parts about the extra-marital affairs and such can make this a good read. How they had to keep the mistress and wife separated at the hall of Fame induction will be good.

  39. You don’t keep kicking a man when he’s down, and you don’t attack a man’s character (if he was a man of high moral character) after he’s dead.

    That’s the rules…or they should be.

    I began watching football in ’85, the year the Bears won the Super Bowl, and I became a big fan of Walter Payton in the process. I still remember where I was when I heard he’d passed. I don’t care what the rumors are about him, he is dead and he cannot defend himself, and all this does is stir up trouble and put his wife and kids in a bad situation trying to defend their father’s honor when it is quite possible that they do not know if the allegations are true or false.

    Stop it. Just stop it. Stop trying to sell a book by slandering a person who cannot defend themselves. He is gone, and has been for over 10 years. Any secret that was known but not revealed until more than 10 years after his death should stay a secret.

    The world and the American public make me sick because they eat this crap up. They make people who sleep with famous people famous. They create shows like Atlanta Housewives and other shows like it, when (I hear, I have never watch the show) most of the characters were never married to player. You aren’t a housewife, you are an ex-girlfriend, a baby mama. And the American public sucks it up. Alcoholic/Drug addict ne’er do wells like Snooki is famous and on the cover of Rolling Stone. For what?

    It makes me sick. I will never read this book. Not in passing. Not even open the cover, but so many of the world and American public who have made idiots like Snooki famous will and it is flat out disgusting.

  40. Come on now you write a book about the best RB ever and you have to put salacious material to sell it? If true is it a surprise he needed all those drugs considering what he died from. Apparently your still not safe from rumors when you die. Neither is your family. What a shame to know you can’t be left in PEACE. Well no matter he’s still SWEETNESS to me.

  41. “I think this guy is the same douche bag that wrote a smear book on the cowboys of the 90′s. Whether things are true or not how miserable must a person be to look for the bad in everyone and write about it and what a coward to write it after death.”

    You know he got his stories for the Cowboy book from those Cowboy players, right? I think the point to be taken from these books and others is that you can respect the athlete, but don’t have high expectations of these guys as people.

  42. Sounds like a desperate author short on cash trying to make a name for himself.

    If Payton had problems dealing with phyical pain after he retired, that would surprise no one. To try to get rich off the back of a legend is deplorable beyond words. I doubt this author even bothered to speak with Payton’s family before releasing this.

    As a Viking fan, I’ve never cared for the Bears, but Walter Payton was the RB I ever saw play the game. He was smaller than most great backs (only 205 lbs, while most were 10-20 lbs heavier) and yet he ran like Adrian Peterson runs today. He was a complete class act throughout his entire career.

    This author is dumping garbage on a legend’s grave. If Payton’s family wants to discuss his issues after football that’s a different matter. But for Pearlman to do this? Just awful…..

  43. Oh, and by the way PFT, your headline is meant to suggest the idea that Payton was using illegal drugs. That’s cheap; I’ve come to expect better than that from you.

    You might try replacing the word ‘drugs’ with ‘painkillers’.

  44. . In February 1999, Payton announced that he had a rare autoimmune liver disease known as primary sclerosing cholangitis, which may have led to his cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer). He spent his final months as an advocate for organ transplants, appearing in many commercials to encourage others to donate organs, although by the time his first appeal was recorded, his illness was already too far advanced for transplantation to have been a viable option.

    A retired HOF running back who got sick, tried to ease his pain. Did this jackass writer ever think to wonder why he maybe took pain killers?

  45. @FWIPPEL:

    If a person obtains a legal drug illegally, then that drug is an illegal drug, stupid.

    I’m shocked that this is a suprise to so many people. Why else would his liver quit?

    Do any of you know some of the most common drugs that damage the liver?

    1. Tylenol—Whoops
    2. Methylphenidate AKA Rittalin- Whoops
    3. Hydrocodone–Whoops (Vicodin= mix of hydro and tylenol so I think the “writer” of this article is being redundant)

  46. I don’t expect this to be a bestseller. However is the entire book trashing Payton? It’s not exactly new ground for a biographer to include this kind of stuff in their books. Payton deserves the pedestal he is placed on, and if any fans of his change their feelings about him based on him making the same human mistakes millions of others make everyday, then those fans can take a flying leap off the Sears Tower.

  47. Walter passed away as a Football idol to many people, and was an ambassador off the field. I don’t understand why these guys wait until someone has passed away to put these allegations out. The guy is not here to defend himself, let the guy rest in peace. I feel bad for his family, that someone who does not know him intimately is making money off this garbage.

    As a fan you still recognize the greats, and Walter Payton was unbelievable, and its a shame he passed so young.

  48. Picking on the Dead? Really? Cashing in on a story no one can corroborate? Pick on someone alive please, why taint Sweetness he left on a high note!

  49. Misleading headline. I thought it was going to claim the guy was on coke or heroin.

    Like it’s any surprise Walter or any ex-NFL player, particularly a RB, would take painkillers. As much as that guy abused linebackers and defensive backs, I’m sure his body took a pretty good punishment itself. Greatest player of all time.

  50. vdogg says: Sep 28, 2011 11:57 PM

    Shut your pie hole, WTF would you know about any supposed “mob” influence from that hotbed of criminal activity that is Wisconsin? Dont be such a hillrod
    Read a couple books by creditable sources and you would be amazed what one can learn…

    As far as being from the “hotbead of criminal activity that is Wisconsin”, i grew up about 60 miles north of Chicago in the city of Milwaukee… Those two cities are connected more closely than one would think… So no, despite popular belief, not everyone from Wisconsin goes cow tipping and is unaware of their surroundings…..

    Honestly, i am not trying to have an “e-fight”.. But judging from your response, i would be wasting my time going any further with this discussion…. As you clearly showed your ignorance….

  51. Someone may have already touched on what I’m about to say, but I don’t feel like reading every post. Bottom line is that many people want their heroes to be just that, heroes, and with that there is an issue dealing with the fact that their heroes may in fact be human. I had the pleasure of meeting Walter on several occasions and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with the author of his soon to be released bio. Neither of them is a bad person. We all deal with issues differently, and the author is not out to belittle Walter or take advantage of his short comings. He is, believe it or not, one of his biggest fans. If anything, we should be seeing what a “burden” it is to be placed on a pedestal and proclaimed a role model and hero to so many. Walter will always be a hero and the way he handled himself in his last days should tell us the type of person he really was. He’s not the first person to use pain killers, or have a mistress, or think suicide. He just happens to be someone that many thought was invincible and he did his best to be sure that we always thought that about him. No need to kill the messenger who is merely telling a story as it was told to him, and no need to assume that Walter was actually a terrible person.

    RIP, Walter.

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