If indeed the end is near for Bill Johnson, who nearly 30 years ago brashly predicted that he would win the Olympic downhill in Sarajevo, and then went out and did it, it has to be said that he is, to the last, as always, being true to himself, with spirit and soul.
Johnson, now 53, had been hospitalized in Oregon with a severe infection. He elected to “shut himself down,” his mother, DB Johnson-Cooper, said Tuesday in a telephone interview, removing himself Sunday from all life-support systems.
Johnson went into the hospital June 29, spending 11 days in intensive care. Doctors “gave him multiple antibiotics and quite frankly have run out of ideas of what to do,” his mother said. He’s due to go back now to Gresham Regency Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where he has been living since suffering a major stroke three years ago. She said she was making hospice plans.
“He has no quality of life from this point on and never will,” she said, adding, “It’s a tough one.”
In 1984, Bill Johnson was a genuine badass. He said he was going to win the Olympic downhill, and did, by 27-hundredths of a second, over Switzerland’s Peter Müller. That made him the first American to win gold in an Alpine event. Sports Illustrated put him on the cover — “Flat out for glory,” it said.
As Bruce Springsteen once wrote about glory days, however, they pass you by, and in Johnson’s case — though the telling of what happened after Sarajevo has been told many times and in many ways, it nonetheless remains so, so sad.
In 1992, Johnson’s toddler son, Ryan, just 13 months old, drowned in their home’s hot tub. The door to the room housing the tub had been left open by a friend.
By 1999, his wife had left him. She took their two other boys.
The next year, he decided to try a comeback. He thought he might win back his ex-wife. He had the words “Ski to die” tattooed on his arm.
Near Whitefish, Mont., on a stretch of mountain called Corkscrew, he caught an edge and crashed, at 60 mph, into the safety netting. For three weeks, he lay in a coma.
He was never really right afterwards and in 2010 suffered the major stroke.
Now — this huge infection and the decision to take himself off life support.
In a note sent Sunday to family and friends, DB wrote, “The doctor was very frank with him and Bill knew exactly what he wanted. He shed a few tears, which was a very hard thing to see.”
On the telephone Tuesday, she said, “He has no physical use of any part of his body. He has difficulty even raising his head. His mind is still very keen but his body has literally shut down.”
She said, “It’s very sad, very sad. He is having a hard time.”