So sad! It’s still January and already 2016 has brought us so many celebrity losses, and now we have yet another one with the passing of skier Bill Johnson, who brought the U.S. its first ever gold in the Olympic Downhill event, and after battling a long illness. He was only 55.
Add another famous name to the dark start of 2016, with the news that Olympic champion Bill Johnson has passed away. He paved the way for the American skiing program at a time when U.S. athletes were a non-factor in the sport. His thrilling downhill run at the 1984 Sarajevo winter games surpassed all others to bring home the gold medal for America.
Bill was just 23 years-old when he took home the glory in skiing’s fastest discipline, and the U.S. would go another 10 years before seeing the feat repeated by Tommy Moe. Until Bill came along, the only athletes to earn gold in the event were from the Alps countries like Switzerland, Austria and Italy. Bill completed the descent of Mount Bjelasnica in 1 minute, 45.59 seconds to beat Switzerland’s Peter Mueller by 0.27 second.
Unfortunately after the 1984 season, his skiing career seriously declined and he never earned the “millions” he thought his remarkable Olympic victory would bring him. Knee and back surgeries kept him from defending his medal at the 1988 Calgary Games and he retired from the sport in 1990. Get “Ski To Die: The Bill Johnson Story” by clicking here.
After he left skiing his personal life was all downhill. He lost his 13-month-old son, Ryan, in 1992 when the toddler drowned in a hot tub. By age 40 he was both divorced and bankrupt, living out of a motor home. He decided to mount an unlikely comeback in skiing and make the team for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter games. Unfortunately, that came to a tragic end on March 22, 2001, when he crashed during a training run in Montana that left him with serious brain damage for the rest of his life. He suffered a series of mini-strokes in the past decade and his health continued to deteriorate over the years. He passed away at a Gresham, OR care facility.
Our thoughts go out to Bill’s family and friends.