MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -Charley Pell downed half a bottle of straight vodka, swallowed a handful of sleeping pills and sprawled out in the back seat of his still-running car with a hose running from the exhaust pipe through a window. He hoped never to wake up.
Pell did wake up from that suicide attempt - in more ways than one. The former Clemson and Florida football coach came to grips with the fact that he suffered from depression and needed help. Then he became a spokesman to help spread the message that depression is a treatable illness before dying of cancer in 2001.
Pell's story has been captured in a 17-minute film by the Alabama Department of Mental Health and Retardation. The film, which is shown on the department's Web site and at various church, civic group and youth functions, received an honorable mention among documentaries at the recent 2008 Voice Awards.
It will be shown at the Alabama High School Association's summer coaches meeting next week in Huntsville.
Pell made his voice heard long before it came out.
``When people see that it's a biological disorder with a higher recovery rate than cancer, diabetes, all major illness, the stigma of mental illness will melt away,'' said Dr. John Ziegler, who produced the video. ``That was essentially Charlie's message, because Charlie was a tough guy. He was a national champion college football coach and by all accounts was tough as nails, but inside he had suffered from chronic depression since he was a child.''
The documentary airs excerpts from emotional interviews on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dateline NBC. It also features an interview with Pell's wife of 32 years, Ward.
She said that despite the tough exterior, inside he was ``very empty and he felt absolutely no self-worth.''
Pell, a two-way lineman at Alabama under Bear Bryant, was a fast-rising coach with successful tenures at Jacksonville State, Clemson and Florida. Florida fired him three games into the 1984 season when the NCAA found widespread violations that landed the Gators on probation.
Fortunately, Pell's meticulously planned suicide attempt was a rare failure.
Alabama mental health officials set up a golf tournament in his name after his death.
That spawned the idea for a documentary. Ziegler said it has led to ``tons'' of positive e-mails from viewers. The AHSAA has distributed the film to member schools.
``The funny thing is when you show a film to a civic club or a youth group, when time is up, usually most people hit the door,'' Ziegler said. ``Every time we have shown this film, I promise you people have lingered around and come up and asked questions and made comments about it. People get it.''
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