Jackie Robinson certainly had to deal with plenty of adversity in his life. As the first Black player in the modern era of Major League Baseball, he dealt with countless incidents of racism, first with the Montreal Royals in Triple-A and then with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the big-league level. But despite all of the issues he had to encounter, Robinson persevered. He refused to give in to the hate and handled his entire career with unparalleled dignity and class. Robinson became one of the best players in baseball, winning Rookie of the Year in 1947, National League MVP in 1949, and a World Series title in 1955.
However, with all of the struggles and hurt that came with being MLB’s first Black player, it likely paled in comparison to the pain he felt when he lost his oldest son, Jack Robinson Jr., who was just 24 years old when he was killed in a car accident in June 1971.
Jackie Robinson’s oldest son, Jack Robinson Jr., overcame drug addiction to become a rehab counselor
Jack Robinson Jr., was born on November 9, 1946, just over five months before Jackie Robinson made his big-league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson Jr. dealt with numerous emotional issues as a child and entered special education at an early age. In search of a disciplined environment, he dropped out of high school during his senior year to join the Army.
Robinson Jr. spent three years in the Army and served some of that time in Vietnam. On November 19, 1965, he was wounded in action, sustaining shrapnel wounds while trying to rescue a fellow soldier, who later died. Upon discharge from the service, he developed a drug addiction, which Jackie Robinson and his wife, Rachel, believed started while he was in Vietnam.
However, just as Jackie Robinson overcame adversity in his life, Jack Robinson Jr. did the same. He spent two years getting clean at the Daytop rehab center in Connecticut, where he later became the assistant regional director. In that role, he often spoke to groups of young people to warn them of the dangers of drug use, a practice Jackie Robinson himself also took up.
Jack Robinson Jr. was killed in a car accident at the age of 24
On June 17, 1971, Jack Robinson Jr. was killed in a car accident in Norwalk, Connecticut. The New York Times reported that he was driving at high speed toward the home of Rachel and Jackie Robinson in Stamford when he crashed into a fence and then into the abutment on the Merritt Parkway near Route 123.
Robinson Jr. was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident and his body was identified at a nearby hospital by his younger brother, David, a short time later. Jackie Robinson left his home to escort his wife home from a conference she was attending in Massachusetts. At the time, Rachel Robinson was an assistant professor of psychology at Yale.
Jack Robinson Jr. was just 24 years old at the time of his death.
Jackie Robinson died just over 16 months later
On October 24, 1972, just over 16 months after losing his son, Jackie Robinson passed away at his home following a heart attack at the age of 53. He’d suffered from complications from diabetes and heart disease for years, which actually nearly blinded him. His funeral was attended by more than 2,500 people.