Waiting to Inhale

Luis Sharpe led a double life. In public, he was an admired NFL star. In private, he was a crackhead hell-bent on self-destruction.

Former teammate Eric Swann showed up one day at a Tempe hotel where Sharpe was staying. He wasn't there to share the pipe with his former football mentor.

"I appreciated Eric being there for me," Sharpe says, "but I wasn't ready to be talked to by anybody. I just wanted to find me a crackhead woman, check in at some fleabag joint, smoke some rock, watch some porno and get after it."

When the 1995 pro football season started, Luis Sharpe wasn't wearing his familiar number 67 for the first time since 1982.

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Read Related Story, "Shape Up or Sharpe Out"

"I watched one Cardinals game last year on TV, that's it," he says. "I didn't read the sports pages, didn't watch the Super Bowl, didn't know what was going on in the world. I heard Swannie made the Pro Bowl, and that was cool. I was living in crack houses, in dives, in cars--my trusty $500 Cutlass Supreme. When I'd run out of my $5,000 for the month, that was it. I'd be all tapped out. People would be whispering--'You ought to be ashamed of yourself,' but I wasn't ashamed. There was just a lot of anger inside me.

"I never had to eat food out of garbage--Circle K hot dogs and nachos were fine. . . . I never robbed anybody, never stole anything and, thank God, I never sold the shit. But I was flat crazy. Didn't change my clothes sometimes for two or three days. Didn't brush my teeth. I'd be riding down there [in South Phoenix] when I had my Porsche at two in the morning. Stood out like a sore thumb, but I wasn't afraid and I didn't carry a weapon. I felt there was someone greater than me protecting me."

Something had to give, and it did. His run-ins with the law in what Sharpe calls "the month from hell"--November 1995--actually started on Halloween evening. That night, sheriff's deputies arrested him at an Ahwatukee motel on charges of allegedly forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him.

Sharpe scuffled with deputies during the arrest, which led to additional charges. (A deputy whose face was bruised during the clash later filed a civil lawsuit against Sharpe.)

Sharpe's account: "Me and another guy were smoking crack with this woman in my hotel room. As for the sex stuff, I thought we were after the same thing, when it was obvious that she wasn't, I stopped . . . I never intentionally hit the guy who sued me. It was just a bad scene all around."

Sharpe was booked and quickly released from custody. Prosecutors later declined to file sexual assault charges after flaws in the woman's account came to light. Sharpe later pleaded no contest to attempted aggravated assault stemming from the clash with deputies.

A few days after that arrest, a good friend of Luis and Kathi Sharpe's named Julie convinced two ex-teammates of Sharpe's to perform an intervention. The pair, Larry Lee and Roy Green, came by their friend's house and got Sharpe into a car.

"They're wrapping me up tight in this tape and I'm going, 'What the fuck are you guys doing?'" Sharpe says. "Someone had slipped me a tranquilizer, and I fell dead asleep. When I woke up, the first thing I saw was the Betty Ford sign. I wasn't ready for that shit. I wanted to get high."

Sharpe stayed at the clinic for less than a day, then says he took a cab to a nearby hotel. He says he soon scored some crack--"Yes, even in beautiful Palm Springs," he says, chuckling--hung around for a few days, then hailed a taxi for Phoenix.

"I knew I couldn't walk through an airport fucked up or something bad might happen," Sharpe recalls. "I had a cool cab driver and I got high right across the desert."

The fare was $550.
He says he picked up some clothes and money at Julie's house--it was the beginning of the month and his $5,000 was waiting for him. Sharpe then checked into a Tempe motel.

On November 14, Phoenix police arrested Sharpe on East Van Buren on charges of possessing crack cocaine and drug paraphernalia. He was back on the street within hours of his arrest.

In the argot of mental health professionals, Sharpe was decompensating rapidly. Julie tracked him down and invited him to spend that Thanksgiving with her family (she and her husband have four children). He seemed to enjoy himself that day, shooting hoops with Julie's husband and playing with their kids.

But he says he was crushed that Kathi wouldn't allow the Sharpe children to stop by for a visit. "I hadn't been a good dad, but . . . ," he says, unable to complete the sentence before emotion overtakes him.

Two days after Thanksgiving, Sharpe and a crackhead pal showed up at his former residence. By a coincidence, Julie and her children were visiting Kathi Sharpe and her five kids at the time.

The women saw Luis Sharpe running across the backyard. "I screamed," Julie said in an affidavit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court. "Kathi screamed."

Next thing they knew, Sharpe had ripped the screen off an open window and climbed into the house.

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