George Atkinson III was grappling with guilt following the suicide of his twin brother last year, and revealed in an emotional open letter published just weeks before his own death that he was “still struggling.”
George, a former football player at Notre Dame and in the NFL, died at age 27, according to multiple reports, just about one year after he lost his twin Josh, and a little over a year after the brothers’ mother died of complications from Crohn’s disease. His cause of death has not yet been released.
George’s death comes just two months after the athlete published a powerful letter on The Unsealed in which he discussed his mental health struggles and the emotional toll Josh’s death took on him.
He offered fans a greater scope into setbacks he’d dealt with since childhood, which involved chaos and instability due to his mother’s battle with schizophrenia and subsequent drug abuse.
He even recalled watching his mother be institutionalized and revealed he once had to call the police after she acted violently toward him and Josh.
George said he leaned on Josh in those trying times, but the pair struggled, as they were uncomfortable expressing their feelings.
“For me and my twin brother Josh, each other was really all we had,” he wrote. “Through the years we grew closer and closer. But neither of us were ever taught to talk about our feelings. For me, I felt like I had to be this tough guy and show no emotion.”
Though the boys found stability as teenagers after they went to live with their father, the pain they’d suffered in their early years remained repressed — and came to a head on Christmas Eve 2018, when Josh went missing.
George wrote that he was able to find his brother using GPS, but that Josh was “drunk and upset [and] on the verge of driving to the bridge and doing something stupid.”
He was able to talk him down, and they discussed Josh’s feelings of guilt over their mother’s death, as they had decided together to pull the plug on her life support.
But the next day, Josh died by suicide.
“That’s the moment I felt like I lost everything,” the running back wrote. “That’s the moment I can’t describe. I never want you to feel his pain or my pain.”
George was subsequently institutionalized after he tried to harm himself over feelings of pain surrounding Josh’s death.
“Filled with anger and guilt, I was on an emotional roller coaster and in a real dark place,” he wrote.
Eventually, George wrote, he found his motivation to keep fighting in his 2-year-old daughter, who inspired him to seek treatment and talk through his feelings with a psychologist.
Though George admitted he was “still struggling” upon publishing the brave letter in October, and that he feared the upcoming holiday season, he concluded on an uplifting note.
“With hope for your future and mine,” he signed off.
The letter was written with the help of friend Lauren Brill, who shared a note of her own following George’s death.
Brill wrote that the star was excited to convey his message that opening up wasn’t a sign of weakness, but was healthy, and hoped it would reach people going through similar issues.
“After we published his letter he called me,” Brill wrote. “He said, ‘I just wanted to thank you for what you did for me. Sharing my story meant a lot to me and as it turns out, it meant a lot to other people too. I could never have done it without you.’”
She added that she hoped his push for people to release their emotions in a healthy way would stay alive even amid his death.
George and his brother were the sons of Super Bowl champion George Atkinson II, and both played for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish starting in 2011.
George also played professionally with the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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