In 2002, Chicago Blackhawks General Manager Mike Smith and Head Coach Brian Sutter convinced their owner, Bill Wirtz, to shell out $8.5 million dollars for a 50 goal scorer. Theo Fleury brought with him to Chicago an Olympic Gold medal, a Stanley Cup, 1000 career points, and a load of baggage.
Fresh off a stint with the New York Rangers where Fleury had thirteen dirty drug tests, it didn't take long for Fleury to relapse again in Chicago. Just two days before the season opener, Fleury was suspended by the NHL for violating the league's substance abuse program again.
"Everything was kind of a mess at that point" Fleury recalled.
Two months later he returned to begin his Blackhawk career. But the stress to get into shape and perform loomed and he went missing. He left his posh Belmont Harbor condominium overlooking Lake Michigan, took a cab to the nearest liquor store, then gave the driver a couple hundred dollars to take him to the Cabrini Green housing projects in Chicago where he partied with drug dealers all night.
"I remember staring at those two guys and they kept saying 'You're crazy.' I was like, 'I just want to get high.' Basically at that point I was trying to kill myself."
Drug dealers, strippers, the homeless -- these were who Fleury surrounded himself with after games. These were the people he related most to.
"I was never afraid of anything."
Except the dark.
"I was afraid of the dark, still to this day I have trouble."
Fleury's erratic downward spiraling behavior fit the crime he says. Not his crime, but rather that of his Junior Hockey Coach Graham James. Fleury says James sexually abused him for two years beginning at the age of 14.
"Who am I gonna tell?" Fleury recalled thinking. James was an accomplished and well respected hockey coach, whom his parents trusted to take care of their son.
"There was nothing nobody could've done. Nobody could do anything," he said.
While former NHL player and junior hockey teammate Sheldon Kennedy came forward about his own abuse by James, Fleury kept his all inside, self-destructing his career.
A drunken brawl at a strip club in Columbus Ohio was the end of his playing days in Chicago and the National Hockey League altogether. Another night after partying all night, he held a gun to his head and was ready to pull the trigger. But didn't.
"September 18, 2005 I hit my knees in the bathroom and basically surrendered. I said, '(God) you only give as much as I can handle, well I'm full, I can't take anymore, don't give me anymore, take away this obsession.'"
Fleury claims the next morning he looked in the mirror and "it was gone".
"I shouldn't be here" he said on a recent book tour promoting his autobiography, "Playing With Fire".
"Once I made the decision to get out of the driver's seat and get in the passenger seat and realize there is a purpose to my life. When I drive I crash, when I'm not, my life is perfect."
These days he wakes up sober, 4 years and counting, and wakes up with his feet hitting the ground running. Fleury is devoted to helping others who have been victimized by sexual abuse, especially children.
"I've won Stanley Cups and gold medals, and what gives me a bigger kick now is reaching out and helping people. That feeling is 100 times better than what any Stanley Cup or Gold Medal could ever give."