TORONTO — Theo Fleury suffered silently, alone with his pain until he could take it no more and tried to drink it all away.
When the hurt returned the cycle would repeat, and as the years went on he began to lose more and more control. By the time the former NHL star disappeared from the public eye some five years ago, most fans could only remember the sad and peculiar sideshow he had become, not the tiny-but-dazzling dynamo on the ice he had been for over a decade.
Sober four years and enjoying a stability in his life he never before had, Fleury now wants to set the record straight. His autobiography Playing With Fire, released Wednesday, answers many of the questions people had about his at-times maniacal behaviour. By exposing his demons — most notably the sexual assaults he says he was subjected to by former junior hockey coach Graham James and the substance abuse it led to — the 41-year-old Fleury has found relief.
“The only way you can get any kind of recovery in this process is to tell somebody, you’ve got to get it out there,” Fleury said. “I felt with four years sobriety under my belt that I would be able to handle it and stay strong and get the message out there.
“I wanted people to understand why everything kind of went off the rails towards the end.”
Fleury made a spectacular debut with the Calgary Flames in 1989, a five-foot-six bundle of speed and energy pinballing off the big men around him with eye-popping skill and relentless determination.
He helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup that year and went on to record 455 goals and 633 assists in 1,084 games. But he says he was haunted by abuse recounted in his autobiography in cringe-inducing detail.
James was convicted in January 1997 of more than 350 incidents of sexual abuse involving Sheldon Kennedy and an unidentified Swift Current teammate, and was sentenced to 42 months in prison.
James has not commented publicly on Fleury’s charges since the hockey player’s account hit the headlines.
Fleury sat on the sidelines as the original trial played out, unable to tell his story.
“I wasn’t ready to deal with Graham James at that time,” he said. “I wasn’t mature enough. That’s why I didn’t come forward, because I wasn’t ready. I think I would have caused more harm to myself if I would have come out at that time, as opposed to what I’m doing today. Today I’m way more stable, I’m way more aware of who I am and what I would like to accomplish from this whole thing.”
Asked it that included filing a complaint against James with police, Fleury said it was under consideration.
“I have a team of people and we’ve talked about it,” he said. “It’s in its process and you will all know when that happens. I’m not going to make any rash decisions, it’s a complicated issue and we want to make sure we have everything in place when it comes time to do that.”
Fleury said he doesn’t have “any feelings either way” towards James and isn’t sure where his former coach is. He feels he’s equipped to live with the two years of abuse he suffered as a teenager.
“I went through my therapy and psycho-therapy and everything that comes along with that to get to a place in my life where it doesn’t have as much bite as it used to,” Fleury said, “That allows me to me move on with my life, and finally get some peace.”
Getting to that point was far from simple.