But now George Best, widely regarded as the greatest footballer ever, is set to lay bare the grimmest details of his 25-year battle with the bottle in a hard-hitting campaign to highlight the destructive effects of alcohol.
The soccer legend will speak frankly about his long struggle with alcoholism as part of an effort to raise money for research into drink-related liver damage, the condition which nearly killed him earlier this year. That near-death experience has brought about a huge change in Best, who has pledged to raise awareness about a disease which he warns can damage anyone in society 'whether you're a down-and-out or a genius'.
'I guarantee you there's no one who doesn't know someone who has had a problem, either directly or indirectly, through alcohol. Unfortunately it's there. It's easily available. It's a serious, serious problem,' Best said. 'It's a terrible illness, not only for people who drink too much, as I obviously did, but also for young kids who suffer from failure of the liver.'
The 54-year-old ex-Manchester United star, who is now teetotal, will join forces with Professor Roger Williams, the doctor who nursed him back to health after he collapsed last March, in a bid to raise £150,000 to fund a three-year study into alcohol's impact on the liver. The money will pay for research at the Institute of Hepatology at University College Hospital in London run by Williams, a leading liver specialist.
Where Best once made light of his condition, now he wants to warn about the dangers of 'a terrible illness' and help other problem drinkers. He began drinking heavily when he retired in 1974 in a vain bid to replace the 'buzz' he got from playing. Perhaps his most embarrassing alcohol-related moment came in 1990 when BBC chatshow host Terry Wogan cut short a live interview with a visibly drunk Best who was slurring and swearing.
Williams said Best's decision to speak out could radically change attitudes towards alcoholism and fund work which could lead to improvements in patients suffering liver failure.
'There hasn't been much research done into liver disease because of the stigma of alcoholism and it has been hard to raise funds,' said Williams. 'But I hope that with George being so open about his condition, that will help to put a better perspective on an illness that needs better treatment. It's a great tribute to George that he's doing this.'
Best and Williams plan to speak at a series of fundraising dinners. The first is likely to be next spring at Old Trafford, where Best used to play. A United spokesman said: 'The club has received a request to help with the initiative and is happy to consider ways of supporting the appeal. Anything that George is involved with is important to us too, because he remains a legend among our supporters.'
Best says that when he was rushed to London's Cromwell Hospital last March, yellow with jaundice, his liver was 'just about gone. It's still not right. I was pretty bad. I was lucky. I got involved with a wonderful man, Roger Williams. He basically told me that if I had another drink, that was it'. Best admits he could easily have died then. 'Every day is a bonus [now]', he says.
The star, who now divides his time between working for Sky TV and living quietly in his native Northern Ireland, is glad alcoholism 'has been recognised by the medical profession as an illness. Not so long ago, if you said alcohol, you were treated a little bit like a leper. They thought someone who drank too much was a drunk. But that's not the way it is. It doesn't have any bounds, alcohol. It doesn't matter whether you're a down-and-out or a genius.'
Dr Domhnall MacAuley, editor of the British Journal of Sports Medicine , said: 'George's decision to talk about his condition could challenge the pub mentality of British football and help young players who want to stay away from alcohol to do so.
'My only fear is that he may fall off the wagon, as he did before. That would be a heavy blow to this excellent initiative. You never beat alcoholism. You control it one day at a time.'Best admits he has had 'one slip' since March - two glasses of champagne which made him feel 'really ill' - but says new drugs have helped to eliminate his craving for drink.
Photo courtesy of Lisa Law Productions
In Loving Memory
MICHAEL JAMES DICK
AKA Michael Clarke
June 3, 1946 to December 19, 1993
Still missing your smile, your eyes, your touch, and hearing the sound of your voice saying, "Just remember, I love you." You will remain forever in my heart, in the memories of your families and friends, in the music you created with The Byrds, and in your paintings.
You loved Christmas more than any other time of the year. How perfect that God would call you "Home" for Christmas with His Son Jesus. The Christ of Christmas and our Savior and Lord. It was too soon for those who love you, but you are forever in our hearts. We miss you, dear Michael.
Your Mother Suzy and Sisters, Judi and Debbie, and Son, Zachary
Michael James Dick was born in Spokane, Washington, and it was no surprise that he was both musically and artistically talented, having a father who was an artist and a mother who was a musician.
At the age of 17 he left home hitch-hiking to California to fulfill his dream of becoming a rock star. In 1963 he met Chris Hillman, Gene Clark, David Crosby and Roger McGuinn, and he changed his name to Michael Clarke when they formed the Byrds. The rest is history.
Following the success of the Byrds hits, "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Turn, Turn, Turn," and "Eight Miles High," Michael decided to go into semi-retirement and moved to Hawaii. It was there on the island of Maui that he met and married his first wife, Robin, and they had a son, Zachary. Michael couldn't stay away from music and came out of retirement to join the Flying Burrito Brothers. Following his short stay with that band, he and his friend Rick Roberts formed Firefall, the group that produced the hit songs "You Are The Woman I've Always Dreamed Of" and "Just Remember I Love You." Five years later Michael left to play drums with the Jerry Jeff Walker band.
In 1984 Michael and his dear friend Gene Clark decided to reactivate the Byrds and began touring the nation. In 1991 all of the original members of the Byrds were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and it was shortly after that Gene Clark died. The band continued touring together until a month before Michael's death and on December 31st, 1993 they played a tribute concert to Michael in Tierra Verde, Florida not far from his home on Treasure Island, Florida.
In October 1992 Michael's artwork was exhibited for the first time at the opening of "Image Makers Rock 'n' Roll Art Expo." This exhibition of original artworks created by famous musicians is currently still touring the nation. You can view some of Michael's paintings on the internet by visiting the website www.starshipinternet.com/imai.
Michael died before the completion of the book "MUSICIANS AS ARTISTS" by Dick Gautier and Jim McMullan, in which his artwork is featured. When asked by Dick to tell his story in the book, Michael wrote "In between hotels, motels, clubs, theaters, restaurants, cabs, limos, planes, divorces, and lawsuits I like to paint. After all, it saves on psychiatrist's bills and keeps me, for the most part, from curling up in a fetal position.
I like to paint outside on the bay or by the ocean (and catch supper at the same time). The land and seascapes inspire me to be a part of nature, to be with the breeze, the overwhelming sky, the burning sun, the chain saws, leaf-blowers, and police sirens. I find that biting gnats, attack seagulls, and lightning enhance the environment. (Infinitely safer than touring, trust me.)
I love to paint the desert. I love the colors and to watch life thriving despite itself.
Writing has always been a fantasy of mine but music and painting come first.
My father was an artist and my mother was, and still is, a fine jazz piano player. So I guess it was meant to be. My grandmother played piano at the old movie houses for the silents.
But what all this has to do with me I don't know just yet."
[Quotation from Musician's As Artists by Dick Gautier and Jim McMullan.]
Michael's legacy is not only in his music and art, but in his wish to share the details of his tragic and untimely death from cirrosis of the liver at the age of 47 as the result of an addiction to alcohol which started at the age of 14.
It was his dying wish to go on national television so that all the children across the nation could see what happens to you when you start abusing alcohol in your teens. He said, "I want to tell them to say no to alcohol, it's the most deadly drug of all! I want to tell them to get high on life through music and art."
I co-founded this organization as a way to fulfill my promise to Michael to get his lifesaving message to all kids to prevent them from suffering the way he did.Susan Paul
Dear Young Friends,
You don't know me, but I am in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame. I was the drummer for "The Byrds." We were almost as popular as "The Beatles." Back in the 60's everyone knew who we were. Your parents will remember, I was a famous rock 'n roll superstar. My band performed for millions all over the world. Our songs, "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Eight Miles High" and "Turn, Turn, Turn" are still played constantly on the radio. Our concerts were often sold out. I made a lot of money and had everything going for me including a problem I want to share with you. I was a drunk. Alcohol killed me on December 19,1993 when I was only 47 years old. It's embarrassing to have to share with you my stupidity that resulted in my death. But you need to know that what happened to me can happen to you. Honest to God, it can. Dying of alcoholism is not an easy death. You have a right to know the truth. Really, you need to know the whole truth.
When I died I weighed only about 75 pounds. I had been a great looking teen and handsome man who was 6'2" and my normal weight was 175 pounds. I was a real lady's man and women loved me when I was healthy, but right before I died I was a horrible mess. My face was unrecognizable to my family and friends. You would have shuddered from the sight of me, I looked like a walking skeleton. I was so weak, I couldn't even smile.
The "Ed Sullivan Performance, 1965"
I started drinking alcohol when I was 14 years old and until two weeks before I died, I could hardly remember ever being sober again. Sometimes when I was drunk I was mean. I am sure some of my friends could no longer stand me. I am lucky I did not kill anyone driving drunk and wind up in prison. For years, I would drink a 2 litre bottle of vodka almost every day and while I was performing I would drink beer on stage in between songs. When I was young I did not care about what would happen when I got older and just kept drinking, but believe me, when you grow up you want to live a full life. I know I did, but I robbed myself of about 30 years that I could have had fun with my fame and money and I cheated my son out of having his father. Please believe me when I say, "I wish I had never taken the first drink. I wish I was alive today."
I got hooked, that's right hooked on alcohol. It is addictive just like crack cocaine and many people like myself find it impossible to stop. We are called "alcoholics." And for people who start and get hooked and cannot stop, it is a fatal disease and can lead to other serious problems like teenage pregnancy, child abuse, crime and premature accidental death. For a young person alcohol is an illegal drug. Alcohol is more harmful than all the other illegal drugs combined. I know you can get it easily; I did. But don't be stupid like me. Too many beers or other alcoholic beverages can ruin your life. If you get hooked you may not finish school and get a good job, you may lose your health and friends and family. I did other drugs too, but none like alcohol. Alcohol is so addictive that I warn you if you get hooked you may not be able to stop by yourself or even if you get help. It is that powerful.
Right before I died, my liver disintegrated inside my body. You could see pieces of it breaking off in my guts with a special type of x-ray picture taken called a sonogram. When I died my liver was the size of a dime. My pancreas and kidneys were also affected by my drinking. Because I destroyed my liver with alcohol, my wastes had no way to leave my body and as a result my testicles swelled up to the size of a basketball. You can't even imagine how painful they were. It was like someone took a sledge hammer and hit them about 1000 times and wouldn't stop. My chest, stomach and legs swelled up so huge I was the size of a summa wrestler. I could hardly move. My eyes turned yellow and my skin was discolored from the toxic wastes in my body. I had to go to the hospital so the doctors could drain the poisonous fluid from my abdomen to keep me from exploding. They inserted a catheter into my bladder through my urethra to draw off the urine into a plastic bag attached to my leg with an elastic strap. I screamed with the pain. I lost all my dignity and there was nothing more they could do to save me, so they sent me home to face death.
All of my vital organs stopped functioning and my body started to shrivel from the inside. The pain was so unbearable that even the morphine they gave me didn't help. I couldn't eat and I felt nauseated all the time. They gave me suppositories for the nausea but they did no good at all. I knew I was soon going to die. Believe me when the end comes, it is not like you think. I didn't want to go. Two weeks later I died. Before I died I made my soulmate, Susan Paul, promise me to get this message to you. Please, please I say to you with tears in my eyes, say no to alcohol the worst drug of all and if you already have a problem with it, plead with your parents, your doctor or friends to get you help.
If you are drinking at your age you are abusing alcohol. Let me warn you that you face a crisis in your life. You might live to be 47 like me and then die a nightmarish death like I did, or you could be killed or disfigured today in an alcohol related crash. And if you drink too much alcohol in one sitting, alcohol poisoning will shut down your breathing and you will die.
Alcohol is a bad drug and a bad trip. Please think about what I have told you. Look what it did to me. It could happen to you too. So if you drink, stop! If you can't stop do everything in your power to get help. If you haven't started drinking yet, don't even take the first drink. My first drink eventually killed me. I don't want to see what happened to me happen to any of you. Trust me, you don't want to suffer like I did, really, it's no joke.
God Bless you all,
With all my love,
This last photo of Michael was taken by his mother, Suzy Dick, just hours before his death. It was Michael's wish to let all children across the nation see what happened to him as the result of developing an addiction to alcohol as a teenager. He hoped that this might help them make the right choice and say no to alcohol.
What you just read is true. Michael asked me to share his tragedy with you. This letter from the grave was written by investigative reporter Sandy Golden, who is the Leader of the Campaign for Alcohol Free Kids. Nothing will bring Michael back, but you can use his death to protect your life. That was his wish. Make the right choice with your life and say no to alcohol, the most lethal drug of all.
"Miss Wheelchair Florida 1999"
National Spokesperson for Alcohol Free Kids
Hint: She owned a NASCAR racing team and has been seen by millions on TV. She is sometimes seen with some of the biggest country music artists in the business.
When Christina was 19 years old, she became distraught when she broke up with her boyfriend. Christina decided to go out drinking with her 26-year-old girlfriend to lift up her spirits. Although it was against the law for Christina to drink alcohol or for the bar to sell her alcoholic beverages, she had no problem getting served and consequently got drunk. They never even asked for her ID despite the fact she did not look to be 21. When she was ready to leave, knowing that she had too much to drink to drive safely, she asked two friends to please drive her and her girlfriend home. They turned her down. Even though she knew about 40 people at the bar, not one person would help her. Because everyone was having too good a time getting drunk to worry about Christina.
So Christina took her girlfriend, who also had too much to drink, and put the front seat of her car down into a reclining position and strapped her in with a seat belt. Christina then got behind the wheel, did not put her own seat belt on and took off down the road. She was speeding when she hit a pothole and lost control of her car. Her life changed in a matter of seconds.
Her car flipped end over end eight times before it came to a stop in a field. The car was demolished. Christina was seriously injured. She woke up at the scene of the wreck looking into the eyes of a state trooper. "I knew it was bad, but I didn't know how bad until three weeks later when I read that I was now a "quadriplegic" on a card at the foot of my hospital bed." No one had told her that she was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of her life.
She was in intensive care for over two weeks and then spent eight months in a rehabilitation hospital. Her girlfriend who was in the car with her was not seriously hurt and only visited Christina one time in the hospital, and then to this day has never spoken to Christina again.
Now Christina's closest friend is her mother. Her mom has to give her "total care." That means that her mother has to brush her hair, put on her makeup, bath her, help her brush her teeth, feed her and do everything else most people take for granted.
"I'm not bitter towards other people," Christina says. "I take responsibility for what happened to me, but at the same time everyone reading this needs to understand the importance of my message as the National Spokesperson for Alcohol Free Kids. It is my dream as the winner of the "Miss Wheelchair Florida Pageant" for 1999 to use my position to encourage the youth of America not to drink because it is illegal and dangerous, and not to drink and then drive because it can be deadly. I'm going to do my best to earn the national title "Miss Wheelchair 2000" so that I can reach even more of our nation's youth with my message. The lesson I learned is that alcohol is the most dangerous drug of all."
Here is my message:
Murdered by a
December 22, 1995
The only answer to a child's
The drunk driver, 35-year-old Karl Irving Nelson, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.251 percent or three times the legal limit. A passenger in his car, Mark Fuqua, a father of three, was also killed in the wreck. Nelson was convicted on December 13, 1996 of two counts of DUI manslaughter and five other lesser included felony counts. He will be sentenced on January 14, 1996 and faces 49 years in prison.
This is a warning to other parents. The death of our daughter Stephanie Nicola by a drunk driver could happen to your child. We must face the truth: drunk driving is totally out of control in our communities. Deaths from drunk driving are up substantially in Florida and nationally. Drunk driving is a form or murder. It is a leading cause of death of our children.
We must do more to prevent drunk driving tragedies. We need our elected leaders to ignore the large campaign contributions and pressure from alcohol and beer industry interests and take all action necessary to shut down drunk driving so that fewer families will be forced to suffer the loss of an innocent loved one or child.
Nothing will bring our beloved Stephanie back or ease the pain we feel. No punishment of a drunk driver will console or lessen the deep wounding grief our surviving daughter Danielle is enduring and will endure for the rest of her life. She misses her sister greatly and is having difficulty dealing with the death of her sister.
The murder of our daughter was preventable and it could have happened to anyone's child. Needless deaths caused by drunk drivers will continue to happen until we demand and obtain real reform. We must all work together to stop this insanity called drunk driving.
My family is not going to let this matter drop. Danielle has been named a co-poster child of the Campaign Against Drunk Driving, CADD, and they are mounting an immediate national petition, telephone and letter writing campaign to get an appointment with First Lady Hillary Clinton asking her to meet with our family, the Scalici family, and Sandy Golden, leader of CADD. Eight year old Sean Scalici is the other co-poster child of CADD and his mother died last Christmas morning after being struck by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve. Golden is an expert on drunk driving and has devised a national solution that makes sense.We need to tell Mrs. Clinton of the need for the President to immediately intervene in the drunk driving issue and for him to call for comprehensive tough new federal legislation mandating national uniform standards for all states and communities to follow. CADD is already working to obtain a Congressional hearing on this issue, but that process is too slow. Children's lives are at stake, we need fast action.
Little Laura Lamb is permanently paralyzed from the neck down.
She wasn't born that way. A drunk driver crippled Laura when she was only 5 months old.
It happened November 10, 1979, on a winding two-lane Maryland highway. Laura and her mother, Cindi, were driving to the grocery store that fateful Saturday afternoon. As Cindi approached the crest of a small hill, she found herself on a collision course with a car coming from the opposite direction.
There was a terrible crash. Within a matter of seconds Laura's spinal cord was crushed, forever beyond repair. She will never have any feeling in her body from the top of her shoulders down. And she will be bedridden or confined to a wheel chair for the rest of her life.
Despite all her problems, Laura smiles. She's a bright and alert 2-year old.
The man who crashed into Cindi Lamb's car was out of his mind from drinking. He was repeat offender out on probation with a string of drunk-driving convictions. He had no license, no insurance.
I first met Laura as she lay flat on her back in the children's intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore. The doctors hadn't expected her to live. But now after a six-month stay she was being prepared to go home. I was there with a television news crew to do a story about her. She was living proof of what an irresponsible person can do to a human life.
Lying there in that hospital bed, she looked so helpless. Right then and there I fell in love with that grievously injured little child.
There was a tube stuck through a small hole in her neck to help her breathe, but it kept her from making any sounds. She was too young to talk anyway. But she looked up at me, staring me right in the eyes. And she wouldn't look away. Her sparkling eyes held a message for me. From deep within they seemed to say- "Why did this happen to me? What is it all about? Who is to blame?