Bill Johnson, The First American Downhiller to Win Olympic Gold, Takes Himself Off Life Support

Bill Johnson, The First American Downhiller to Win Olympic Gold, Takes Himself Off Life Support


Bill Johnson, The First American Downhiller to Win Olympic Gold, Takes Himself Off Life Support


The first American man to win Olympic Alpine gold, Bill Johnson, has taken himself off life support. Johnson suffers from an infection that has attacked all his major organs. His mother said in an interview that “He has no quality of life from this point on and never will,”.

She sent a note to family and friends saying “the doctor was very frank with him, and Bill knew exactly what he wanted. He shed a few tears, which was a very hard thing to see.”

Johnson won gold at the 1984 Winter Olympic in Sarajevo. He tried to make a comeback in 2000 but crashed in a practice run at 60 miles per hour, sending him into a coma for three weeks.


Post-Olympic slide

After two more World Cup downhill victories in Aspen and Whistler in March 1984, Johnson was at the top of his sport. With four downhill wins in just two months, he was an Olympic champion and finished third in the downhill season standings.

But after the 1984 season, his best results were two 7th place finishes: at Wengen in January 1985 and at Whistler in March 1986. Due to injuries to his left knee and back which required surgery, and more significantly, sagging results, Johnson was left off the U.S. team for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, unable to defend his gold medal. By the end of the decade, he was done as a serious competitor; his final World Cup downhill race took place in Aspen in March 1989.

Johnson’s Olympic career was the subject of a 1985 TV movie called Going for the Gold: The Bill Johnson Story, featuring future ER actor Anthony Edwards in the title role.

Comeback attempt

Johnson’s personal life suffered as well, when his 13-month-old son drowned in a hot tub in 1992. At age 40, his marriage ended in divorce, and he was bankrupt and living in his class A motorhome when he mounted an improbable comeback bid for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The comeback ended abruptly on March 22, 2001, when Johnson crashed horribly during a training run prior to the downhill race of the 2001 U.S. Alpine Championships, held at The Big Mountain near Whitefish, Montana. He sustained serious injury to the left side of his brain, nearly bit off his tongue, and was comatose for three weeks.

In 2010, Johnson lived in Zigzag, near Mount Hood, and remained brain-damaged and in need of constant care, mostly from his mother. He lived on disability became slightly more functional, though his speech and memory are permanently impaired.

By February 2012, Johnson resided in an assisted living facility in Gresham. His health had slowly declined because of mini strokes. Johnson had a major stroke in 2010, resulting in slurred speech. He can’t sit up on his own, his left eyelid doesn’t open, and only his left hand is operational.

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