Walter Payton's premature passing forced a rethinking of his autobiography that completely sidesteps the self-importance that dominates sports memoirs in general. Never Die Easy
isn't a traditional autobiography at all. It's an oral history disguised as autobiography that relates the saga of the most exquisite running back in NFL history through an interweaving of Payton's words and the words of those who knew him, with necessary transitions and narrative bridged by his collaborator. The result is an appealing hybrid that mirrors Payton's quiet modesty. "He had not just been a great football player," writes Yaeger, "he had been a role model in an age when role models were in short supply."
The Payton that emerges is a man of great skill, decency, passion, and charity: a man beloved. Naturally, there's lots of football in Never Die Easy--the title comes from a saying of Payton's college coach--with eyewitness testimony provided by the likes of Mike Ditka, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, Franco Harris, Matt Suhey, and even Jim Brown, whose career rushing record Payton leaped over. But there is also lots of family: the voices of his wife, children, brother, and sister are heard.
But mostly, there is Walter Payton. It's his own unmistakably high-pitched voice that resonates throughout; he sets down the melody and the others harmonize. Payton was certainly astute about the game and his abilities, forthcoming both in triumph and failure--his unsuccessful attempt at winning the NFL franchise in St. Louis was a terrible post-career blow--and utterly decent. How many other superstar athletes could say, convincingly, "Too many of us only take. We don't give." Payton gave to the end--a man who died for want of an organ was willing and eager to donate his own. It was the ultimate testimony of his refined, unforgettable Sweetness. Never Die Easy offers a fair, honest, appreciative taste. --Jeff Silverman
From Publishers Weekly
It's a testament to Payton's greatness as a man that nearly half his autobiography can be devoted to what he achieved after his career. "Sweetness" may hold the NFL's career rushing record, and he may have been one of the toughest, hardest-working players ever, but he was also devoted to keeping spirits high around him, even when facing the end of his own life, and committed to helping needy children. He was so important to others that many immediately took up the latter task when he was dyingAand tens of thousands more sent him their prayers and sympathy. (Payton died of liver cancer in November 1999.) With a protagonist like this, Payton's book isn't your standard sports bio. Nor is it traditional in structure. Because Payton died before his autobiography was completed, his interviews have been supplemented by the stories and thoughts of family and friends, with sports biographer Yaeger providing the connective tissue. More an oral history than an autobiography, the book sometimes suffers for it. Payton's career is dealt with summarily; frequently, stories are repeated, if from different perspectives, and Payton's many remarkable qualities are each noted many times over. The five eulogies from his funeral all elaborate on the same points: his skills and his humility. Payton had an abundance of each. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.