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Connie Payton opens up about Bears star Walter Payton: We were separated for 8 years

Connie Payton

Connie Payton

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Updated: November 15, 2011 9:04AM

T HE NEW AND already controversial book hitting stores on Tuesday about our hometown football hero, the late Bears Super Bowl star Walter “Sweetness” Payton, is causing quite a stir. Author Jeff Pearlman in his tell-all book on Payton — Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton — makes claims that the running back took loads of painkilling drugs, was suicidal, depressed and dabbled with women other than his devoted wife, Connie Payton, mother of their now adult children, Jarrett and Brittney.

It was no secret in sports circles back in the late ’80s and part of the ’90s that Walter was great on the field but often times played the field. Connie, being the class act that she always has been, kept her head up high and continued to take great care of the kids and manage her home life in spite of all the rumors and reports on the man she called husband for 23 years. Connie told this reporter, “We never divorced, [were] separated for eight years and were separated at the time of the NFL Hall of Fame Induction in 1993.” I asked her about the part in Pearlman’s book alleging that she met his mistress at that ceremony. “I never met the woman that the book claims that I met at the induction,” Connie said. “It made it stressful knowing that she was there because I then went into protective mode worrying about my family, wanting them to be OK knowing that I was OK with everything that was happening . . . but I never met her. I want to be clear about that . . . I never met her,” Connie said. “Walter and I had been separated and Walter never disrespected me or put other women in my face. And when Walter got so sick and had to come home, he said to me, ‘Out of all of the people I know, I know you have my back and I can trust you and I know you would never betray me.’ ”

Connie, chair of the Walter Payton Cancer Fund, realized long ago that one Walter didn’t stop no show — she went with her life. Connie met and married Chicago’s Michael Strotter, CEO of Advanced Medical Imaging Centers, in 2008 and they divorced September 2010, but have remained the best of friends and she said “he has been my rock.”

“No one knows my story better than me. And my life story will be told in my book that I am currently writing with no working title so far,” Connie said. But she is very excited that son, Jarrett Payton, and wife, Trisha, are expecting their first child in March. “I can’t wait to be a sassy, classy granny.”

THE ’85 CHICAGO BEARS are finally going to the White House on Friday to be recognized for winning the Super Bowl. President Barack Obama is hosting a reception for the team, whose 1986 ceremonial visit to the White House was canceled because of the space shuttle Challenger explosion. The team will head to D.C. on a chartered plane Friday morning and will return late that afternoon. Connie Payton and Alicia Duerson, ex-wife of Bears star Dave Duerson, who committed suicide earlier this year, will fly out with the team to represent their late husbands. Payton died in 1999 of liver cancer.

Bears great Otis Wilson told this columnist: “It is an honor, a privilege and a pleasure to be invited to the White House after 26 years of being the world champions. . . . We are still being recognized and finally getting our just due as Super Bowl champs.” I asked him what he felt about teammate Dan Hampton declining the invite. He said, “no comment,” and “I’ve always supported President Obama and he has been a good friend.”

THE FIRST LADY Michelle Obama will be here Oct. 25 for an Obama for America fund-raiser at the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Union Hall. . . . Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Katherine Archuleta are special guests at an Obama for America reception, hosted by attorney Jesse Ruiz, in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month Wednesday.

ACTRESS JENIFER Lewis, best known for her roles in “Girlfriends,” “Strong Medicine” and the movie “What’s Love Got to do With It?” and who has been in town filming her role as seamstress Pearl in the new Monday night NBC series “The Playboy Club,” appears Tuesday on Channel 7’s “Windy City Live.” The Hawks’ Jonathan Toews is also a guest.

BIRTHDAY PEOPLE: Mike Adamle, Earl Callaway, Zorine Morton and David Orr. On Wednesday: The Hawks’ Rocky Wirtz, 59, and golden radio icon Herb Kent turns 83. On Thursday, Kent will be celebrated at the “After Work Networking & Steppers Affair” at Alhambra Palace.

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