Basketball legend Magic Johnson ‘considered suicide’ after HIV diagnosis

Basketball legend Magic Johnson contemplated suicide after being diagnosed with HIV, it is claimed in a new documentary.

Johnson shocked the world in 1990 when he retired from professional basketball in the aftermath of his diagnosis. Calling an impromptu press conference, Johnson confirmed the news and walked away from the sport at the age of 32.

At the time, HIV was a relatively unknown illness, and was only discovered in Johnson after a routine pre-season medical exam. What was known, however, was that it was the virus which caused AIDS, the devastating illness which took the lives of countless people.

Transmission of HIV was still relatively unknown, but Johnson confirmed he had contracted it through unprotected sex. His wife, Cookie, was pregnant with the couple's first child at the time, and Johnson was quick to affirm that neither had the virus.

In the new documentary 'They Call Me Magic', the basketball legend admits he feared he was going to die after receiving the diagnosis. Johnson was in Salt Lake City at the time he got the call, but team doctor Dr Michael Mellman called him immediately and told him he was unable to play in that night's game, and that he had to fly home to Los Angeles.

He explains: "Once I got myself together it was like 'what does this mean? Am I gonna die?' [The doctor] said 'well, we don't quite know yet.' We were gonna have this fairytale life and now I get this devastating news, I'm sat here in this chair thinking 'oh my goodness, how am I gonna go home and tell her this?'. I knew that this was going to destroy her, and hurt her."

After getting the results, Johnson faced the heartbreak of having to tell Cookie about his diagnosis. He had alerted his wife to the fact he had to fly home, but hadn't told her the reason why. She explains: "I was home preparing to watch the game when the phone rang, it was Ervin. He said 'I'm on my way home, and I'll tell you why when I get there.' I knew it had to be serious if he wasn't playing in that game. It was an agonising wait."

Weeks later, after keeping the general public in the dark about the reason for his absence from the basketball court, the Lakers held a press conference and Johnson retired. For the first time in his life, Johnson had no career and was fearing for his health. And one of his close friends alleges in the documentary that he considered taking his own life.

"That was the worst time of my life, just waiting, waiting, thinking, thinking about my parents, my brothers, sisters, my son Andre, do I have to get my affairs in order? I thought I was facing death. I didn't sleep, I was just thinking 'is this the last time [Cookie] is gonna be in my arms?'"

The couple then drove over to see Lon Rosen, his agent at the time, who Johnson had asked to take care of his family if the worst should happen. Rosen explains: "Him and Cookie drove over, they pulled up and the door opens. Nothing but tears. What can you say? What can you do? Ervin said 'okay let's you and I go for a walk to the beach'. We started walking and he started talking.

"I told him if anything happens, take care of my family," Johnson said. Rosen continued: "[He said] I guess I've got to stop playing basketball, I don't know if I want to live, I might just end it."

Johnson acted as a huge spokesman in the fight against HIV and AIDS, starting the Magic Johnson Foundation, as well as joining President George Bush's administration's National Commission on AIDS. Johnson appeared on television with children who had been born with AIDS in a bid to raise awareness for the deadly disease.

In the documentary, Johnson is praised for his work for the HIV-positive community. President Bill Clinton, appearing in the documentary says: "Magic Johnson did more than anyone else to finally break the stigma, because everyone loved him. And they respected him because they could see he was still fighting."

Johnson still lives with HIV to this day, and has to take a daily dose of drugs from Glaxosmithkline in order to combat the illness. His wife, Cookie, admits she feels the fact Johnson is still alive and healthy is a miracle. She says: "Even though I'm praying every day for a miracle to happen, it hit me that the miracle did happen, because he's still here, he's still healthy. We're living a miracle."

They Call Me Magic debuts on Apple TV+ from April 22 nd

For emotional support, you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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