Roy Halladay documentary shows ace’s addiction, mental health struggles in hopes others seek help

There was a moment in Brandy Halladay’s Hall of Fame induction speech about her late husband Roy that signaled there was more than we knew to the story of his life and tragic death.

“I think that Roy would want everyone to know that people are not perfect,” she said in Cooperstown in July 2019. “We are all imperfect and flawed in one way or another. We all struggle but with hard work, humility and dedication, imperfect people can still have perfect moments.”

That moment — that brief allusion — is what motivated reporter/director John Barr and a production team from ESPN’s E:60 to dig further into what led to the death of Roy Halladay, the former Blue Jays and Phillies ace, in a 2017 plane crash. It’s the starting point for “Imperfect,” their hour-long documentary that debuts Friday at 7 p.m.

What they came away with was a portrait of a man who 10 years ago on Friday achieved one of MLB’s rare feats, a perfect game, but also struggled with addiction and mental health issues. A man whose talent on the baseball field led him to the Hall of Fame — even if he wasn’t alive to see it — but whose personal demons left him addicted to painkillers and looking for the therapeutic escape that seemingly only flying could give him.

“Most people knew him based on what he wanted them to think,” Brandy Halladay says early in the documentary, right after a highlight of her husband’s perfect game played. “Baseball is what he did. It’s not who he was.”

From there, we learn new details about Halladay’s two stints in rehab — one of which came in October 2013, the other right after his retirement in 2015. We learn about how Phillies teammates confronted him about his drug use in 2013 and how he struggled with anxiety so much that he would throw up before games and needed sleeping pills the nights before he pitched.

“Do you think he was an addict?” Barr asks Brandy Halladay in the documentary. 

She takes a breath so deep you can hear it and pauses.

“Yes.”

"Imperfect," which debuts Friday on ESPN, reveals Roy Halladay's struggles with mental health and addiction. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images)

Brandy Halladay speaks openly for the first time

Getting this glimpse of Roy Halladay required both the co-sign and cooperation of Brandy Halladay. She’d given brave and captivating speeches at Cooperstown and at Roy’s memorial, but she’d never opened up like this about his struggles.

“When we embarked on this,” Barr said, “we thought to ourselves that, frankly, we’re of the mind that if we couldn’t get Brandy to speak with us, we wouldn’t pursue a project. You just knew that there was a lot there and we sensed she had a lot more to say.”

Their initial meeting with Brandy lasted five hours. Once she agreed to finally tell the complete story of her husband, Barr and producers Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera then traveled back to Florida in December 2019 for an extensive interview.

“She was very giving of her time,” Barr says. “There really was a tight inner circle and it was only those people who were aware of what he was struggling with. A number of those people, frankly, were reluctant to talk to us without the understanding that Brandy was OK with it.”

That includes Halladay’s father and sister, but also his eldest son, Braden, plus teammate and friend Kyle Kendrick, whose locker was next to Halladay’s in Philadelphia. It was Kendrick who described an incident with a teammate confronting Halladay about his drug use, and who noticed a change in his friend in 2013.

“You try to talk to him and you feel like he wasn’t there,” Kendrick said.

At this point, Halladay was two years removed from winning the Cy Young and three years removed from throwing his perfect game and his postseason no-hitter, which remains one of two in MLB history.

What fans didn’t know was that a back injury in 2011 led to Halladay obtaining prescription opioids. His back injury was so bad, Brandy says, that Roy shrunk three inches. That led to shoulder surgery, which led to more dependence on painkillers.

When he went to rehab following the 2013 season, someone snuck a phone in and recognized him as Roy Halladay, the famous baseball player, and that was enough for him to leave early. He didn’t want people to find out he wasn’t perfect after all.

“In [Brandy’s] mind,” Barr said, “there are barriers that athletes encounter when it comes to the question of whether they should get help and there’s a culture of silence surrounding issues of not only addiction but also mental health.”

Brandy Halladay speaking at the Hall of Fame about her late husband Roy. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

A more complete picture of Roy Halladay

It’s obvious why the Halladay family wouldn’t want any of this out in the public. But there was also one reason Brandy Halladay decided to share her husband’s story.

“She was really adamant,” Barr said, “that she didn’t want to just air the private details of Roy’s life unless there was some purpose behind it.”

That purpose, Brandy said in “Imperfect,” is letting other people know that it’s OK to ask for help.

“I hope that somebody hears our story and says, ‘Wow, I’m going to ask for help.’” Brandy Halladay said. “If one person asked for help who was scared to before, then we did a good thing.”

Finding the good also means accepting that Roy had amphetamines, morphine, an antidepressant and a sedative in his blood at the time of his death. “Imperfect” takes us through the day of Halladay’s crash, how his family reconciles the question of whether he was impaired at the time and how they found out the downed plane belonged to Roy.

But the point of “Imperfect” isn’t to turn Halladay’s NTSB report into a documentary, it’s to understand everything that got Halladay to that point. It’s to see that an all-time great could also be a man his wife described as “terrified” because he didn’t feel like he had the luxury of making mistakes.

“I hope [people] come away with a more complete picture of the man, a more honest picture of the man,” Barr said. “I don’t think anybody’s opinion of Roy Halladay as a person should be diminished because he struggled with addiction and mental health issues. If anything, he should be applauded for having enough self-awareness to get help. Ultimately that’s the message that Brandy Halladay wanted to deliver. It’s OK to get help. It’s the brave person who goes to in-patient drug treatment. Even Hall of Famers can struggle. And he did.

“I hope people take away the right message,” he continued. “I know I didn’t come away thinking less of Roy Halladay. I came away with a deeper understanding of what he dealt with as a human being. You look at his accomplishments in that light and they’re even more impressive.”

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