Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pat Summerall dies, both he and Roger Ebert had success after alcohol treatment

Sportscaster Pat Summerall died at age 82 April 16.  He's the second TV icon with an admitted alcohol problem to pass away this month.  Here's an article I produced this morning highlighting their successes in treatment and after.

Sportscaster Pat Summerall, who passed away April 16, and film critic Roger Ebert, who died April 4, both admitted having the disease of alcoholism. They both went to treatment and continued on to become two of the biggest names in their respective professions.

Journalist Ebert was a recovering alcoholic, having quit drinking in 1979. In an August 2009 blog post, he wrote about his recovery under the headline “My name is Roger and I'm an alcoholic.”  He wrote, “In August 1979, I took my last drink. It was about four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, the hot sun streaming through the windows of my little carriage house on Dickens. I put a glass of scotch and soda down on the living room table, went to bed, and pulled the blankets over my head. I couldn't take it any more.”

He was a member of the 12-step group Alcoholics Anonymous after treatment. “The problem with using will power, for me, was that it lasted only until my will persuaded me I could take another drink. Since the first A.A. meeting I attended, I have never wanted to. I know from the comments on an earlier blog that there are some who have problems with Alcoholics Anonymous. They don't like the spiritual side, or they think it's a "cult," or they'll do fine on their own, thank you very much. Don't go if you don't want to. It's there if you need it.”

Summerall was a kicker in the National Football League for 10 years before his broadcasting career, which he began in 1975. Summerall battled alcoholism throughout much of his life and wrote about it in his 2006 autobiography, “Pat Summerall: On and Off the Air.”

In 1990 Summerall was hospitalized with a bleeding ulcer that was aggravated by a toxic combination of painkillers and alcohol. He vowed to give up drinking and did for seven months before a relapse. He confessed that drinking “was no longer fun” at that point. As an athlete and TV personality, he loved being the last guy at the bar, telling the best stories, having the grandest time, but by 1992, he had to hide the drinking and deny the problem. He went to the Betty Ford Center to begin his recovery. "I sat at meetings where you have to introduce yourself and say your problem," he said. "Some people never got the courage to say it. It was tough to say, 'I'm Pat and I'm an alcoholic.' "

Years into his recovery, the damage to his body from his drinking years required a liver transplant in early 2004.

Both men went on to the most successful years of their careers following treatment for the  alcohol use disorder.

Three years sober, Ebert rose to national celebrity in 1982 with the syndicated television show "At The Movies With Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert." A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame came after sobriety, and Oprah Winfrey credits him with persuading her to syndicate "The Oprah Winfrey Show," which became the highest-rated talk show in American television history.

Summerall broadcast 16 Super Bowls on television with networks CBS and FOX, more than any other announcer and most came after sobriety in 1992. The National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame in 1994 and he was that year's recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award, bestowed by the Pro Football Hall of Fame "for exceptional contributions to radio and television in professional football." In 1999 he was inducted into the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame.

A theme in Ebert's blog on why he stopped drinking and took the step toward recovery is shared by Summerall and summarized in his book: "After a while I became more aware of what alcohol did to me and I wanted to live a hell of a lot longer." Summerall lived to age 82, 20 years into recovery. Ebert died at age 70, 32 years sober.

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Ebert's blog post (linked in the article) is pretty specific about his AA experience and is a good, quick read.  Success on the scale these two men enjoyed is not guaranteed after treatment... but at least they lived long enough to create and leave legacies.  AA isn't for everyone, nor is it the only choice for recovery, but many people find long-term sobriety more comfortable when AA is part of their regimen following in-patient or out-patient treatment.  The consensus among alcohol professionals is that no one can do it alone.