ESPN Report Details Roy Halladay’s Battle with Anxiety and Substance Abuse

Jesse Pantuosco
May 27, 2020 - 3:27 pm
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The life of former Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, including the tragic plane crash that led to his death in 2017, is the subject of an upcoming E:60 debuting Friday night on ESPN. A new report from John Barr, Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera delves further into Halladay’s off-field demons including troubling details of his substance abuse, which facilitated two rehab stints following his retirement in 2013.

Halladay, who grew up in suburban Denver prior to joining the Blue Jays as a first-round pick in 1995, first encountered substance abuse issues early in his career when teammates worried about his heavy drinking on road trips (earning him the nickname “Minibar”). After being demoted to Single-A in the midst of a dismal 2000 season, Halladay struggled with depression, even expressing suicidal thoughts to his wife Brandy. The two-time Cy Young winner insisted his persistent drinking was simply a case of him “enjoying his newfound freedom” after being brought up in a strict Mormon household, but teammates, including close friend Chris Carpenter, sensed Halladay’s pain.

“Personally and mentally, it crushed ‘Doc,” said Carpenter of Halladay’s demotion in 2000. According to Brandy, Halladay was also burdened by a lifelong fear of “disappointing others” and “deeply rooted social anxiety.” After receiving counseling for his anxiety and alcohol dependence (at the Blue Jays’ urging), Halladay’s career eventually recovered, leading to a slew of All-Star appearances and a pair of no-hitters including a perfect game—just the second in team history—for the Phillies in 2010.

Halladay’s anxiety reportedly spiked when he joined the Phillies, who had gone to consecutive World Series upon his arrival in December of 2009. The right-hander, who “dreaded” his interactions with the media and required public appearances, experienced severe anxiety on days he pitched, routinely throwing up before games.

The 2019 Cooperstown inductee pitched through near constant injuries late in his Phillies tenure (he played his final two seasons with a broken back) but refused to tap out, becoming increasingly reliant on painkillers (obtained illegally through a Florida doctor who supplied “pills for cash”) while his career unraveled.

“He couldn't stop playing. In his mind, he had to keep playing no matter what he was doing to himself physically," Brandy told ESPN, acknowledging the tension in their marriage late in his career. “I just wanted my husband. I wanted him healthy."

As much as he tried to hide it, many of Halladay’s teammates were cognizant of his struggle, noticing the star pitcher’s “glassy-eyed” appearance, profuse sweating and slow, “labored” speaking.

“He'd be in his locker and I was right next to him and I tried to talk to him. You felt like he wasn't there," said teammate Kyle Kendrick, who noticed a change in Halladay as his drug abuse became more apparent. "You could tell that he was hurting and he was trying to feel better. It was just terrible to see.”

After an intervention, Halladay, who was bedridden for weeks while going through withdrawals, agreed to attend drug rehab late in 2013. Terrified of his addiction going public, Halladay bolted only a few weeks into his rehab stint after seeing a patient sneak a cell phone into the facility. Halladay returned to rehab early in 2015, admitting the truth to his sons, who were 14 and 10 at the time. “They sat us down and told us, this is the deal," said Braden, now a pitcher at Penn State. "Honestly, there was a little bit of relief."

The 16-year major-league veteran struggled to find purpose in his post-playing days, tipping the scales at 300 pounds before taking up flying and coaching Braden at Calvary Christian Academy in Fort Lauderdale. Halladay’s father, Roy Sr., described him as a capable pilot with “excellent stick and rudder controls” but also acknowledged his son was prone to taking unnecessary risks. Brandy was a passenger weeks before Halladay’s death when he piloted his recently purchased Icon A5 under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge in Tampa, flying well below the recommended 500-foot clearance. On the day of his fatal crash, Brandy remembered her husband seeming uncharacteristically “scattered” and "a little bit sad.”

“His intention wasn't to take these pills,” said Brandy, who attended weekly marriage counseling with Halladay up until his death. “He still wanted to be a good person. I think that's the hardest part is I know what was in his heart. I know what he wanted. He just couldn't do it. And that's the heartbreaking part."

Halladay’s life and career will be explored in greater detail in “Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story,” which airs Friday at 7 PM ET on ESPN.

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