There were high expectations when the Chicago Bears selected William “The Refrigerator” Perry out of Clemson in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft. Perry did not disappoint becoming a household name his rookie season. Life after football, however, has been a struggle. Today, Perry uses a wheelchair and walker, lives in an assisted living facility, and requires constant care. What happened to “The Fridge?”
William Perry shines his rookie season
October 13, 1985. The Chicago Bears headed to the west coast for a Week 6 matchup to take on the defending champion San Francisco 49ers and Joe Montana. Bears head coach Mike Ditka had revenge on his mind and rookie William “Refrigerator” Perry was his secret weapon to achieve it.
In the NFC Championship game the year before, the 49ers and head coach Bill Walsh used 275-pound guard Guy McIntyre in the offensive backfield on a couple of plays, and Ditka remembered it. Ditka knew Perry had seen limited action on defense, and the 49ers game presented the perfect opportunity to showcase his 308-pound lineman’s athleticism. Perry carried the ball twice for four yards.
A week later, at Soldier Field on Monday Night Football before a national television audience, Ditka introduced William Perry to the world. In the second quarter, with the game tied 7-7, quarterback Jim McMahon handed the ball to Perry, and he rumbled a single yard to become the heaviest man to ever score a running touchdown off a set play in NFL history.
It was a precursor of things to come.
Five carries and fame and fortune
Three months later, the Bears faced the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. In the third quarter with the Bears up 37-3, Ditka called Perry’s number from a yard out. The Fridge barreled through the middle of the line of scrimmage into the end zone. Overweight, beer-drinking, chip-dipping men around the world rejoiced.
Following the Super Bowl win, Perry pulled in numerous endorsements and celebrity appearances. He starred in the famous rap song/music video the “Super Bowl Shuffle.”
The following season, Perry had five sacks, a career-best 84 tackles, and one offensive carry. The spotlight faded but Perry played for six more seasons with the Bears before moving east to Philadelphia in 1993. He played for the Eagles through 1994 and retired after nine years in the NFL.
The sad decline of The Fridge
Soon after William Perry retired, his troubles started. According to reports, Perry’s weight ballooned up to over 450 pounds. Health issues followed including diabetes, circulatory problems in both legs, and trouble hearing. In 2008, he learned he had Guillain-Barré syndrome, which produces neurological problems that can leave victims paralyzed and on life support. The condition almost killed him in 2009, when he lost a shocking 190 pounds in a short period of time and was hospitalized for a lengthy stay.
He recovered from that medical scare, but his health issues persisted and progressively worsened. Perry admitted in 2011 he was an alcoholic. He entered rehab. It didn’t help. He wasn’t ready to quit. Doctors and family members have encouraged him to stop drinking through the years. He hasn’t. And his weight has returned to well over 400 pounds.
While his weight has increased, his bank account has dwindled to nothing. It’s gotten so bad in 2015 he sold his size 25 Super Bowl XX ring for $200,000 to pay off debts to the IRS.
In 2016, in an interview with Sports Illustrated, the reporter detailed Perry’s current situation and described his car as reeking of urine because Perry sometimes can’t control his bladder.
Today, William Perry lives in an assisted living facility. He mainly gets around via wheelchair, but sometimes uses a walker. When he feels up to it, and those days are rare, he drives around in his Hummer. He still gets recognized and when he does, he flashes that memorable gap-toothed smile.
That smile, that pudgy frame, and those short rumbles into the end zone made an impression in 1985 that has endured through the years and won’t be forgotten anytime soon.