80s | Movies | Pop Culture
Remember Sloth From "The Goonies?" The Man Behind The Mask Lived A Very Tragic Life
The 80s adventure film The Goonies was one of my favorites while growing up.
Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner's cult-classic about a group of outcasts in search for a treasure to save their neighborhood incorporated a lot of things that I did as a kid, like making my own toys and riding my bike around the neighborhood, but it also touched on things that I fantasized about as a kid, including teaming up with my friends and going on an adventure sans adults.
The characters were also really lovable and memorable, especially the gentle chocolate and ice cream-loving giant named Sloth. When we first meet him, he is chained in a room and tortured, and it was later revealed that it was his own family, including his brothers Francis and Jake and their evil mother Agatha "Mama" Fratelli that were behind it.
Thanks to the Goonies, Sloth was able to escape captivity, and we assume he ends up living happily ever after. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the man behind the mask.
John Matuszak a.k.a The Tooz, the actor who brought Sloth to life, had a rocky road to fame, but even with his success as a football star and actor, not a lot changed.
A Troubled Football Star
Matuszak developed a love for football at a young age, and his large stature encouraged him to pursue a career playing the game. Standing at six-foot-seven and weighing 280 pounds, the Wisconsin-born athlete was drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1973.
Three years later, he was traded to the Oakland Raiders, where he made a name for himself as a defensive end. He helped the team win the Super Bowl twice before an injury forced him to retire from the sport in the early 80s and take up acting.
However, at the time, what many fans did not realize was that Matuszak was battling an addiction to prescription drugs, which he started taking to manage back pain. He was also an alcoholic.
“He just couldn’t control himself,” said former Raiders employee Mike Ornstein. “He just couldn’t have one drink. He thought his body was so large, it would absorb it. His drink was triple Crown Royal with a beer backer. The man lived a hard life.”
A near-death experience
Before retiring from football, The Tooz almost died after he downed two sleeping pills while extremely drunk. He was rushed to a hospital after his coach found him unresponsive. Following his recovery, he was dropped from his team at the time, the Kansas City Chiefs.
Still, he couldn't stop treating himself to what Washington Redskins coach George Allen called a diet of "Vodka and Valium, the breakfast of champions."
In his autobiography, "Cruisin' With The Tooz," Matuszak revealed that his addiction has landed him in jail many times, and nearly cost him his life on numerous occasions. He was involved in six different collisions, and has been convicted for a number of crimes, including drunk driving, drug possession, and concealing weapons.
An attempt to change
“I’ve hit damn near bottom,” Matuszak wrote in his book. “I don’t ever want to go back.”
He earned the sympathy of the public by discussing his issues, and reassured fans that he would be seeking help. He tried his best to distance himself from the bad reputation that followed him, even checking into rehab a few times.
Sadly, he never fully completed the programs. Those who were close to him claim that his substance abuse was brought on by his troubled childhood.
Matuszak had hoped that taking up roles in certain films and television shows, like The Goonies and North Dallas Forty, would help his image, but he thought wrong. Filmmakers started to typecast him as a bully or goon, as evident during his appearances in Caveman, The Ice Pirates, and Miami Vice.
Sadly, instead of helping him get better, Hollywood seemed to have worsened his struggle.
A Tragic end
Matuszak died in June 1989, and autopsy results revealed that he had fatal doses of propoxyphene in his system, along with traces of cocaine and Tylenol. However, it was an enlarged heart that actually caused his demise.
While his life was plagued with hardships, he still managed to leave a mark in the world of football and entertainment that won't soon be erased.