By Greg Carannante
City & Shore Magazine
You wouldn’t know it from Terry Bradshaw’s … let’s just say … “colorful” TV and movie persona, but the resident cut-up on Fox NFL Sunday has been seriously depressed.
The legendary Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback opened up about his condition after being clinically diagnosed in the late ’90s, and his story of surviving its depths informed his speech at the Broward College Speaker Series in Fort Lauderdale on March 11.
“Depression is a physical illness,” Bradshaw, 70, told USA Today after his diagnosis. “The beauty of it is that there are medications that work. Look at me. I’m always happy-go-lucky, and people look at me and find it shocking that I could be depressed.”
But don’t get the wrong impression. His speech here was far from a depressing affair. Animated by his larger-than-life personality, Bradshaw was a dynamic, engaging and humorous motivational speaker, who evoked at least a couple of head-scratching, “I-can’t-believe-he-said-that” moments.
One of his Fox co-hosts, Jimmy Johnson, says Bradshaw’s “ol’ redneck” rep is just “schtick,” adding that his usual retort is that “he’s so dumb he has to have somebody else fly his private plane.”
“I have more fun than anybody, ’cause I have no idea when my light comes on what I’m about to say,” he pronounced proudly in a 2015 Reagan Foundation speech, explaining the contrast between him and his well-prepared fellow football analysts.
In his Speaker Series talk, entitled “Why Not Your Best?”, Bradshaw talked about how the power of positive thinking helped him to deal with the pain, sacrifice, competition and adversity that’s punctuated his life and attain success he never dreamed possible.
The pinnacle of that success was indisputably on the gridiron, where the Louisiana boy parlayed a record-setting college career at Louisiana Tech into being the first pick in the 1970 NFL draft, ultimately leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to four Super Bowl victories — one of only two quarterbacks to win as many as four championships in four tries. (Joe Montana was the other.)
Bradshaw’s bazooka of an arm is the stuff of NFL legend, not the least for being the one that launched the “Immaculate Reception” pass to Franco Harris in 1972, one of the most famous plays in the sports history. But if there’s one statistic that speaks to the somewhat confounding nature of the man, it’s this: He ended his 14-year career with only two more touchdowns than interceptions, 212-210.
Also impressive is how the Hall-of-Famer has been able to transcend the sport and even the more predictable path of player-turned-analyst — a three-time Emmy-winning one at that, with a star of his own on the Hollywood Walk of Fame — and enjoy success as an actor, author and singer.
His most recent leading role in the NBC comedy series Better Late Than Never has him globe-trotting with William Shatner, Henry Winkler, George Foreman and Jeff Dye. Other Hollywood credits include roles or cameos in such TV shows as Everybody Loves Raymond, Married … With Children and Modern Family, and such movies as Hooper, The Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit II, all with Burt Reynolds.
However, his most notable film role was starring as Matthew McConaughey’s father in 2006’s Failure to Launch, in which his nude scene earned him exposure — rear exposure, that is — and the notoriety of an entire segment of roasting from Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. No offense taken, apparently — Bradshaw made over 50 appearances on the show.
Bradshaw is also the author or co-author of five books — including New York Times best-sellers It’s Only A Game and Keep It Simple, and his somewhat premature 1989 autobiography, Looking Deep — and recorded six albums of country/western and gospel music that landed a few tunes on the charts, like his Top 20 cover of I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry and The Last Word in Lonesome Is Me.
The titles of these songs may have held more than a little resonance for their singer, who suffered from bouts of frequent crying and other symptoms of anxiety, which he admitted after elbow injuries caused him to retire from football in 1984, and which he detailed candidly in the 2004 USA Today interview.
“I could not bounce back from my [third] divorce — emotionally. The anxiety attacks were frequent and extensive. I couldn’t stop crying. And if I wasn’t crying, I was angry, bitter, hateful and mean-spirited. It just got crazy. It’s hard for me to put into words the horrific feeling of being depressed. I was drinking a lot, and … I wasn’t sure if I was going to drink myself to death.”
“Stigma is incredibly powerful,” said Bradshaw, who is married to his fourth wife, Tammy, and has three children. “There’s something about depression that seems to say, ‘I’m a tremendous failure’ or ‘I’m the biggest wuss there is.'”
That’s a startling admission coming from one of football’s great heroes, yet Bradshaw said it took all the courage he could muster to admit he was depressed and seek treatment.
“I want to tell people that it’s OK to be depressed — you’re not alone — and I want them to know that if you’re clinically depressed, there’s a solution for you.”
Award-winning actor and best-selling author Hill Harper will be the next speaker in the Broward College Speaker Series, April 24 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets available online at BrowardCollegeSpeakerSeries.com.
PHOTO: Terry Bradshaw and Sun Sentinel Sports columnist Dave Hyde March 11 at the Broward College Speaker Series. (Downtown Photo)