Legendary footballer Diego Maradona rose from a street urchin to a God in the sport’s history. But he was never to see out his later years, dying at just 60 years old. The cause of his death was given as heart failure, but what really killed Diego Maradona?
The 1986 World Cup-winner died of a heart attack on November 25, less than a month after undergoing a surgery in Buenos Aires to remove a blood clot in his brain.
After his untimely death, ‘What Killed Maradona?’ — a documentary airing on Discovery Plus — pieces together the extraordinary life of a man who was addicted to drugs off the pitch, but who also relied on a cocktail of pharmaceuticals to maintain his world-beating performance on the pitch. It also reveals how this lethal lifestyle, that began when Maradona was just a child, eventually became the perfect prescription for his death.
With testimonies from those who knew him best, including Jon Smith, football’s original ‘super-agent’, who represented Maradona; Fernando Signorini, Maradona’s former trainer, and Giuseppe Bruscolotti, former captain of Napoli and teammate of Maradona, the documentary reveals how this lethal lifestyle, that began when Maradona was just a child, eventually led to his untimely demise.
In the documentary, Bruscolotti, former captain of Napoli and teammate, speaks about Maradona’s journey in the 1986 World Cup and says, “When he won those matches that really mattered, he resembled a little child. A child winning for the first time.”
Speaking on Maradona’s time at FC Barcelona, during the game against Athletic Bilbao where he suffered an injury, Signorini says, “Cocaine, I think, it was a crutch he used to be able to face everything the world was demanding of him. Him, who was from Fiorito! As he said one day, “I was kicked to the top of the mountain but they left me alone and nobody explained to me how to survive.”
Maradona’s story is one of genius and trauma, from the humblest of beginnings in a Buenos Aires shanty town where he would play football with his friends for hours on end, to becoming a football superstar known and feted around the world.
But his poverty-stricken childhood left him at a disadvantage and despite his prodigious talent on the pitch throughout his junior playing career Maradona received treatments to build up his physique, which had been hampered due to his impoverished background. His younger years were filled with constant medical intervention.
As a foretaste of the controversy that would later engulf his life, Maradona’s infamous ‘hand of God’ goal came against England, as he led his country to victory at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, as well as to a place in the final, four years later. He broke the world transfer record joining Italian club Napoli for £6.9m but as Maradona’s income rose, so did the pressure to support a growing number of dependents off the pitch, as well as the intense fame and adulation of his fans. He started to show the signs of addiction to alcohol and cocaine, as well as prescription medicines.
A preliminary autopsy, widely reported by Argentine media, reveals pulmonary oedema caused by heart failure, but the lifetime of pressure, addiction and abuse of his body all helped lead him there.
Issac John, Digital Head, APAC – Discovery, said in a statement, “‘What Killed Maradona?’ is one of those stories that presents the greyer shades of a legend whose game inspired the dreams of many of today’s superstars in the world’s favourite sport of football.”
In an archived video shown in the documentary, Maradona talks about his family values and says, “With a family by your side, you can be calm, you can do a lot of things. Without family, you can do nothing. But most important thing for me is that my family remains united and has the tranquility and happiness they have now.”
In another archived video shown in the documentary, the late footballer talks about his future goals before the 1982 World Cup and says, “My dream from the family point of view is that the family stays the way they are and my dream for football is to win the World Cup 82.”