CALGARY — Six years after Graham James was jailed for sexually abusing two young hockey players, former Calgary Flames star Theoren Fleury jammed a loaded gun into his mouth and decided to end his life, according to new revelations in his book, which goes on sale Wednesday.
The troubled winger, who claims James molested him from the age of 14, had been suspended by the National Hockey League for violating the substance abuse program and decided he was done with hockey.
In Playing With Fire, the book he co-wrote with Calgary author Kirstie McLellan-Day, Fleury describes how guilt, shame and his addiction to drugs and alcohol brought him to his lowest point.
“I went hard at it for three months. Just mounds of coke and lemon Stoli and strangers who followed me home from strip clubs. I basically stopped eating and sleeping. I wanted to die, but my body was too resilient. Finally, I bought a gun from a pawnshop and decided to blow my brains out. I was 36 years old,” writes Fleury.
“I grabbed the bullet, loaded the gun and jammed it in my mouth. I don’t know — maybe if I’d had it ready and didn’t have to take the time to put the bullet in the chamber, I might have gone through with it. But once the barrel was rattling off my teeth and my finger was on the trigger, I’d cooled off just enough to hesitate.
“It’s not as if I’d felt this sudden urge to live. I still felt like shit and wished I were dead. I think that’s why, after I ran outside and chucked the gun into the desert, I was screaming at the universe like a madman. But it was the easy way out, and I had never taken the easy way out. Besides, killing myself was just too scary.”
Fleury returned to the Calgary Flames this fall to launch a comeback bid at the age of 41. Sober for four years and in great shape, the winger didn’t make the team and eventually retired as a Flame. But it was the latest chapter in Fleury’s roller-coaster life, which took another dramatic turn last week when excerpts of his new book revealed claims that he was sexually molested by James, who was convicted in 1997 of assaulting two of his former players.
Other excerpts from the tell-all book, published by HarperCollins, reveal that:
• Fleury was just “trying to survive” when he was part of the group that brought James to Calgary to coach the Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. “We were doing what we’d been taught to do in hockey since we were eleven, listen to the coach and shut up.”
• James was devastated when he was fired by the Hitmen. “It was a heavy scene. Graham cried a lot. He told (Hitmen part-owner) Chuck (Matson) he loved hockey and his players. He said the game was all he had in life and he couldn’t figure out why people were taking it away from him . . . Believe it or not, there were parents who hated Chuck for that decision. Hated him!”
• Fleury believes he is one of many players James assaulted. “I can tell you this: Sheldon (Kennedy) and I are not the only ones Graham messed with. I’m quite sure there are others, probably many, who are still not ready to talk.”
• James called Fleury after Kennedy went public with his story. “I said, ‘You know what, man? Don’t ever call me again. I’m glad it’s finally over. You deserve everything that you are getting. Have fun in jail.’ ”
• Fleury hopes his story will encourage victims of abuse to come forward. “If you are a kid who was in the situation I was in, and somebody older is using you for sex, call for help. You can call the police or you can search kids’ help lines on the Internet. Seriously, you are not alone. Pick up the phone.”