The Goonies has earned its place as one of the most well-loved cult family films of all time – with a lot of laughs, a lot of adventures, plenty of friendship and, of course, the truffle shuffle – which became a cultural phenomenon faster than you can say “childhood obesity.”
And among the cast of eclectic and unforgettable characters was Sloth – who became known as one of Hollywood’s most lovable figures.
Sloth was a member of the Fratellis; the criminal family who competed against the Goonies gang for the treasure. However, because of his deformities, Sloth is cruelly chained up in the basement by his older brother.
Who was the legendary actor behind the character of Sloth?
Sloth was played by the former American football defensive end John Matuszak – a 6’8” 280lb mountain of a man with a heart of gold. He lived a life that most of us only read about in books, see in film and TV or have heard about on documentaries, telling stories of the wildest rock stars who ever lived.
But make no mistake about it, John Matuszak, who went by the nickname The Tooz – lived a wild life that the likes of Keith Richards, Jack Nicholson, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Hunter S. Thompson would have been proud of.
But it was his penchant for reckless and wild living, coupled with the toll that a career spent as a defensive end can take on a person’s body, that ultimately proved to be his downfall. This would lead to a tragic ending.
This is the heartbreaking but memorable story of The Tooz – probably the only human in recorded history to win two Super Bowls, reach the top ten of a World’s Strongest Man competition and star in a romcom opposite John Cusack.
The traumatic loss of his brothers was a ‘huge burden’ throughout his childhood…
But beneath the wild parties, the larger than life personality and the persona, there was a sweetheart that just wanted to be loved, who also had a lot of issues that were never resolved.
Or, as Mark Heisler of the LA Times said upon his death in 1989: “There were always two of him: The Tooz, a raging, running-on-premium-and-lots-of-it, havoc-wreaking monster; and John Matuszak, a 6-foot-8, 280-pound puppy dog just begging for you to pat him on the head.”
And as the big man said himself in his autobiography: “It tells all about growing up in America, where all your dreams and nightmares come true.”
His football career began in 1973 after a childhood anything but certain – he had two brothers and a sister, but both brothers died of cystic fibrosis before they reached the age of five. The disease afflicted the family greatly – with his sister, Dawn, also having cystic fibrosis.
In the LA Times article after his death, a former girlfriend Stephanie Cozart spoke of the difficulty of being the only surviving son in the family and carrying that burden on into later life.
“His brothers’ deaths…” she said, “why did he survive and they didn’t? And pressure. Now I’m the only son. I’m the one who has to carry on the name. Everything depends on me. I’m the only one in the family who’s a celebrity and the biggest breadwinner.
“He talked constantly about how he had to take care of them. He had to make sure his mom was taken care of, and his sisters and nieces. And me. He felt everything was on his back.”
In his rookie reason, he was drafted to the Houston Oilers in 1973 – as the first overall draft pick – however, while he was playing for the Oilers in the NFL, he also signed a contract with the Houston Texans of the World Football League. The Oilers, however, were displeased with his attempts to sign a second contract with the WFL and drafted The Tooz to Kansas City Chiefs.
He played for the Chiefs until 1976 but was moved on by coach Paul Wiggin after Wiggin found the footballer unconscious and not breathing following an overdose of whiskey and pills. From there, he was drafted to the notorious footballing equivalent of a pirate ship The Oakland Raiders.
A party-hard lifestyle led to drug use…
Just to give you an idea of Matuszak’s hard-partying lifestyle in the mid-70s, there was a slang term among players in those days that was meant to reference how proficient any star was at taking drugs.
Players who dabbled in amphetamines in those days, but were not too out of control were called “crop dusters” because while they were certainly high, they flew lower than most – owing to the low hanging nature of the actual plane.
If they were way up there in the clouds, as high as could be, they were called “747’s”.
So with that in mind, what did they call The Tooze?
They called him “John Glenn”; a reference to the astronaut. Because he was out there in space all on his own.
He stuck at it in Oakland, and really managed to get his career back on track after being drafted hither and yon due to his antics – which included passing out and having to be rushed to hospital after mixing alcohol and sleeping pills at a bar, and his girlfriend trying to run him over in her car.
While in California, an Oakland Raiders front office worker, 22-year-old Mike Ornstein, was hired to basically keep an eye on The Tooz and to keep his hell-raising under some sort of control.
Despite his troubles and sleep-when-I’m-dead attitude, Matuszak proved to be a success at the Raiders, as they embarked on the most successful period in their history under one of the most influential coaches in the history of American football: John Madden.
After the pair of Super Bowl wins, The Raiders and Matuszek, who was later voted one of the top five “bad boys” of the NFL, achieved his first real taste of mainstream superstardom. His behaviour didn’t change, per say. Only now, it was more liable to be witnessed by more, celebrated (whether rightly or wrongly) by most, and eventually mythologized by all.
But as seasons passed, as his star rose higher and his escapades drew more of a story, the cast around The Tooze, as Heisler wrote, “changed and became less reverent.”
“New players such as Matt Millen, Howie Long and Lyle Alzado cocked skeptical eyebrows.”
Or rather, as Matt Millen – the linebacker for the Raiders during their Super Bowl heights, who played alongside Matuszak – said of his teammate: “That’s Tooz, all that fake camaraderie.”
According to the LA Times, Millen said: “Tooz was a decent guy. He was loud, but not always obnoxious. If you saw him with his family, he was just like you and me. It was mostly when he was high. When he was flying, boy, he was the worst. Which was a lot.”
Matuszak landed himself in trouble with the law…
As the story goes, he was picked up by the police after shooting at a stop sign whilst driving drunk. When his roommate came to pick him up from jail, he was only wearing handcuffs, his Super Bowl ring, and a pair of powder blue cowboy boots.
It should be noted that Matuszak had been one to carry firearms for years. The LA Times said that Buddy Martin, who was a columnist for the Denver post back in the early 70s, remembered giving Matuszak a ride in 1973 before College All-Star game in Chicago. He stated that he remembered seeing The Tooz – who was then just 22 years old – pull a gun out of the boot of his car.
The 1982 season rolled around and when The Raiders went back into a pre-season training camp, the first season after the franchise moved to Los Angeles, Matuszak suffered a back injury and sat out the rest of the season. It was an injury from which he never truly recovered, and eventually retired in 1983 at the age of 32.
The decision couldn’t have been an easy one, given that he wrapped his Cadillac around a telephone pole in Studio City the night he decided to retire from football.
However, he was far from the stereotypical washed up, beaten down veteran that had nowhere else to go, and wasn’t prepared for a life after sports. On the contrary, he had already attracted attention in North Dallas Forty and had made two other movies, Caveman and Ice Pirates. He had more options than he knew what to do with.
Of course, in the middle of all of this – between winning a Super Bowl with The Oakland Raiders and starring in movies, he found time to enter a World’s Strongest Man competition.
Entering ‘World’s Strongest Man’ competition…
Probably because he was bored, with little else to do during some off-season downtime, he decided to enter a World’s Strongest Man competition in 1978, because you know, why not?
By this point, Tooz had packed even more muscle onto his enormous frame, and had managed to climb up the scales from 280lbs to 315lbs. Though he didn’t win, he did rank in at 9th, which is amazing when you consider the fact that he didn’t do any training for the event.
Powerlifters and professional strongmen will tell you that to build the sort of body that is capable of the sort of Herculean efforts that you will see at any given event, it takes a lifetime of dedication, careful workout structures – probably a genetic advantage of being the very best – and hard work to achieve a body capable of such superhuman efforts.
But Tooz never actually training specifically for the contest. Rather, he just used the muscle that was given to him both by nature and his time spent as a pro linebacker (one of the true hard men positions in American football) to achieve his 9th place finish.
Now you might be saying to yourself: “yeah well, for all we know he might have been on steroids.”. He may have been on everything under the sun, but steroids were not one of them, as we will find out later.
After Cave Man and The Ice Pirates and films of that nature, he earned the film credit that has since seen him go down in history as the man behind one of the biggest cult characters in the history of cult cinema, Sloth.
Six serious car incidents led to six convictions…
Shortly after, he released his autobiography, entitled Cruzin’ with the Tooz, but as Heisler said in the LA Times: “In his book, he acknowledges six auto incidents leading to convictions.
“Included were: Four drunken driving convictions, Two for concealed weapons, leading to a three-day jail term in Wisconsin, one for misdemeanour marijuana possession in Florida, two crashes into parked cars, one arrest in which he was taken away in handcuffs, and one arrest in which he was taken away in handcuffs and leg chains”.
1987 rolled around, and little did the Tooz know, but he had just two years left to live. His book was coming out and he was attempting to clean up his act, saying that he had put all that other stuff behind him when he visited a Raiders training camp in Oxnard.
He had joined rehab to try and get himself clean from his substance and alcohol abuse problems. Stephanie Cozart, his girlfriend at the time, was the one trying to help him get better.
However, about halfway through his 30-day stint at the CareUnit at Cedars-Sinai – a medical unit in Los Angeles – he attempted to escape through the back door. John had escaped and when the hospital called Cozart, she called a limo company that the Tooz usually used when he was without a car, who told her that he was at a doctor’s office trying to get a prescription.
Cozart and her cousin, Andrea, drove to the office and met Matuszak to confront him. She says that when they got to the street, John tried to get at the limo driver, furious at the man “for ratting on him.”
“John lunged at him,” Cozart said in the LA Times. “My cousin and I wedged ourselves between John and the guy. He wouldn’t dare touch us. Neither one of us was afraid of him because we knew him so well. Matter of fact, I slapped the hell out of him.”
Another member of the family came back to the house at Oak Glen, and after he had tried to escape again – and after they had recovered him – they finally managed to quiet him down.
Getting back on the right path…
It was after this incident that John managed to pull himself together like he never had before, as Cozart explained:
“He joined CA” Cozart said. “He played on the softball team. He went to hospitals and gave speeches. He was all anti-drug. He was in everything. We went to meetings; it was like our regular Friday night date, his favourite CA meeting. We got into AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). We went to family therapy groups.
“We started going to non-alcoholic parties. Oh my God, I could go to a party and relax and have a good time and not have to keep an eye on him and worry about him slipping off anywhere and doing anything. It was how I envisioned our life to be.”
Before falling off the wagon once again…
But it wasn’t to be, as John fell back into his bad habits, and this time Cozart had had enough – even cancelling their wedding date.
Once again, he checked into a medical facility – this time in Beverly Hills – only to check himself out early again.
The day after they took the sleeve picture for his autobiography, the Tooz was involved in an accident on Hollywood Boulevard, in which he was alleged to have punched the driver of the other car. He later pleaded guilty.
Asked about it later by a reporter, Matuszak said:” Some guy purposely caused an accident.”
Within a year of the incident, Stephanie Cozart moved out.
She concluded: “I would say in all the (four) years that we were together, his ridiculous antics might have happened four times,” she said. “I mean the things that hit the papers, or caused an uproar. They weren’t regular events.
“He’d get high every couple of months. To give you an idea, I have a little velvet box at home. It’s full of 30-day and 60-day chips. They give those out at the (AA and CA) meetings. I was waiting for him to give me a 90-day chip. I said, ‘When you give me a 90-day chip, I’ll set another wedding date. That’s why we’re not married today. I didn’t leave him because I didn’t love him.”
In June of 1989, John had been in West Germany promoting his new movie One Man Force, which was to be his first leading role. Cozart recalled that though they were no longer together, he had brought her a gift that was too expensive to leave on the doorstep. So, he would bring it over to her in person.
She said that when she spoke to him, he seemed in high spirits, though he wasn’t feeling well. A lifetime of various substance abuse and a punishing career as a footballer – that had left his once strong and oak-like body now frail and broken – were finally catching up to him.
Matuszak’s lifeless body was found by fiancé…
On Sunday afternoon, a 38 year-old John took a nap, and his new fiancé Rachel Toni, checked on him before she went to work at 1:30. At eight that evening she returned and found that he wasn’t looking well at all. She tried to wake him but found him to be “unresponsive.”
Toni called 911. A Los Angeles Fire Dept. ambulance took Matuszak to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, where the Tooz was pronounced dead at 9:39 p.m.
According to the LA Times: “The coroner’s report ruled the cause of death to be an accidental overdose of Darvocet, a prescription painkiller, listing bronchial pneumonia and an enlarged heart as contributing causes.
“A small amount of cocaine was found in his urine; the report says that Matuszak ‘was also known to smoke cocaine and had recently done so as early as two days ago,’ but concluded that he was not “under the influence,” and that it had “probably not” been a factor.”
The cause of death was revealed
Matuszak died with an enlarged heart, which gave rise to the speculation that he may have been using steroids – as alluded to earlier when we were talking about his attempts to be the World’s Strongest Man.
However, if his inner circle, when questioned, were adamant and insistent to a complete end about one thing, it was this: he never touched steroids.
The news of his death received widespread publicity, and his life was celebrated.
His was a life lived like almost no other in memory. He lived hard, he partied hard and he played hard. He was Sloth to many of us growing up – but he was so much more than that. He was a giant, but a gentle giant.
He was a flawed, complex human being, who never seemed to get to grips with what made him both the epitome of the American Dream, and an example of the American nightmare.
It was his willingness to test the limits of his body that was ultimately what made him such a colourful and legendary character but also proved to be his downfall.