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Namath: Drinking kicked my butt for long time

Providing a rare glimpse into his legendary life, Joe Namath reveals in a new book how he almost drank himself to death in his post-playing days.

The former New York Jets star says he drank excessively because a voice in his head told him to. To combat the urge, Namath came up with a name for the voice: Slick.

"Every now and then Slick whispers, but having a name for him makes me listen to him differently. And, health-wise, I'd probably be dead by now if I hadn't stopped drinking," Namath says in the book, "All the Way: My Life in Four Quarters."

Few athletes over the past half-century have garnered as much publicity as Namath, a flamboyant quarterback who became a cultural icon. He never has shied away from the spotlight, but he hasn't shared much in print. The book, released Tuesday, is his first autobiography in 50 years, according to his publicist.

It recounts in vivid detail the Jets' historic win over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, which Namath famously guaranteed. He weaves in his life story, providing stories about his life away from football -- his playboy image, his concern about post-football brain trauma and his battle with alcohol.

Namath, 75, recalls his infamous sideline interview in 2003 with ESPN's Suzy Kolber, during which he told the sideline reporter he wanted to kiss her. In the book, he calls that moment a turning point in his life.

"I saw it as a blessing in disguise," says Namath, who admitted to being drunk during the interview. "I had embarrassed my friends and family and could not escape that feeling. I haven't had a drink since.

"That shame is where I found my strength to deal with the addiction. With the help of my recovery, I learned that I had used my divorce as an excuse to go back to drinking. That knowledge made me a stronger individual."

At the behest of his then-wife, Deborah, Namath says he saw a psychologist in Brentwood, California, because of his drinking. But after each session, he says, he'd stop at a liquor store and buy a pint of vodka.

"I thought I could get away with that, but she could smell it," he says.

They were divorced in 2000, which exacerbated the problem, Namath says.

"The drinking was what would kick my butt for a long time," he says. "I believe any of us can be brought to our knees whether from physical or emotional pain. Over the years, I learned how fragile we humans can be. Emotionally, I used that as an excuse to start drinking again. ... I would drink all day sometimes."

Namath was a legendary lady's man in his playing days, frequenting clubs across Manhattan. Although he doesn't kiss and tell in the book, he gives some insight into his nocturnal habits. He says he typically stayed out until 3 a.m. on weekdays during the season, thankful that coach Weeb Ewbank held late practices.

"I was in my early 20s when this fame hit, living in one of the sexiest cities in the world," he says. "So it felt natural to turn toward it and not shy away. I enjoyed the company of ladies and, man, were there a lot of places servicing the singles crowd."

Namath, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985, also touches on the concussion issue, saying he suffered "at least a handful" during his career.

He says he became concerned about his own health after witnessing the "heartbreaking" decline of former Jets teammate Dave Herman, who is battling traumatic brain issues. That, combined with the suicides of former NFL players Dave Duerson and Junior Seau, prompted Namath to undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida.

"I don't know where I would be today without taking those [hyperbaric] dives because there is absolutely no doubt about the improvement," he says.