April 15th, 2008
12:51 PM ET

Herschel Walker’s multiple personalities

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/04/15/t1home.herschel.walker.jpg
caption="Watch Herschel Walker's discussion with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, tonight on 360 10p ET."]

Dr. Sanjay Gupta
Chief Medical Correspondent

When I first heard that former football great Herschel Walker had multiple personality disorder, I was pretty stunned. Even though, I am a doctor, I had to admit that I knew very little about this particular psychiatric disorder.

For starters, it is called DID, or dissociative identity disorder, instead of multiple personality disorder. Most people think of Sally Field’s character Sybil, but another thing I learned is neither Sybil nor Walker actually has multiple personalities, but rather the lack of one cohesive personality.

In Walker’s case, he has twelve - yes twelve - alter personalities, which are all better described as fragments of one. (Here is an article I thought was very informative)

 Sitting down with Walker, I met an extremely charismatic and likeable man who certainly didn’t overtly flip from one alter to the next. It became clear, though, throughout our conversation that these alters were just under the surface.

From stories of playing Russian roulette while still an extremely successful football star to rapidly switching from one alter to the next with absolutely no recollection, it was mind boggling, confusing, and a little bizarre. Again, unlike uncontrolled rage or depression, Walker really could not remember from one alter to the next. He even had names for his alters. The one that showed up on the football field was the General, and he was a competitive killer.

Because of the lack of memory of these various alters, we found it important to speak with people who witnessed this firsthand. So, we flew to Dallas and met with his former wife, Cindy.  She described many incidents, including a chilling one of waking up with a straight razor to her neck and Herschel threatening to slit her throat — and then having Herschel quickly flipping and asking her if she was OK.  She saw that flipping back and forth and it scared her – eventually leading to their divorce.

Medically, I was fascinated to learn that DID is much more common than people realize - about 1 percent of the population has the disorder. It is often associated with psychological and physical abuse as a child; in fact it is a childhood disorder that is often diagnosed as an adult. The child starts to separate his or her personality into fragments in order to deal with different aspects of life. By adulthood, these fragments become full-fledged alters. Herschel himself admitted he was bullied a lot as a child, because he was overweight and stuttered.

In Walker’s case, sometimes the alter personalities worked for him as the General did on the football field, but most of the times they were destructive. He is getting help nowadays, but there is no specific medication that can be prescribed. Instead, he goes through counseling to sort of teach his alters to know one another and become one cohesive personality. While he seemed to have things in control as we talked for a long time and even threw the football around, the alters are still very much there.

As I said, I found the story of Herschel Walker to be absolutely fascinating. And I wondered how many more stories like his are out there. Have you ever seen or heard anything like this?

Program note: Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s interview with Herschel Walker and report on dissociative identity disorder on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight at 10 ET.

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Filed under: Dr. Sanjay Gupta • Herschel Walker
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Connie

    I am so glad someone has shown the real life of a multiple. The shock effect shown to the public can be only for entertainment purposes. We are all different in this world. How we live with these differences is the important aspect in life. I am different. I am a multiple. I live life to the fullest. Life is precious. Acceptance of everyone will give you peace. It is that easy.

    December 6, 2008 at 2:27 am |
  2. suzy & Crew

    HI Again

    Im so glad, like other the writters, that you showed this very complex disorder in a very true way. This idsorder is miss understood by many of the public and profesionals alike. Thank you for being curious about it and wanting to find out what it was really about. D.I.D. is all about survial. the parts are created to deal with times and circumstances tha are to overwhelming for the child to deal with...I see more would like to see more air time on this disorder if possible...thank you for pushing the envelope and giving an honest nd respectful look at this disorder. this is something that those of us with D.I.D. rearely see. I can also relate to hershel not having any memory of winiing the trophy...I dont remember raising my child..I only have snipits of memories of that time but I know I was there.....once again..thank you for a honest, careing and respectful report on this disorder

    Suzy & crew

    April 17, 2008 at 2:38 am |
  3. Doris Brudnak

    I missed the program and truly wanted to see it. I have worked with several DID clients and it is very difficult work. Please advise if you will be repeating the show. Thank you.

    April 16, 2008 at 11:44 am |
  4. Marie Rose; Maryland

    Dr. Gupta,

    That's so fascinating; I'm so upset I missed your report! I agree with Michael, you definitely should have more airtime for stories like this one, though maybe you don't have time w/ work at the hospital. To answer your question, no I've never seen this, but psychiatry is my number one choice for residency right now, so I guess I'll be seeing it very soon!

    By the way, I really admire that you went outside your comfort zone to cover and learn more about something you're not that familiar with. I think more doctors should do this, especially with psychiatric issues. Keep up the good work!

    April 16, 2008 at 7:02 am |
  5. Michael

    We need more health related stories. They are practical and actually are useful in day to day life. I believe you need your own hour.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:09 pm |
  6. Michael

    The good doctor! you are absolutely the best thing on CNN! Great stuff.

    April 15, 2008 at 11:07 pm |
  7. cindy metcalf

    I've appreciated the transparency Hercshel and his ex- wife Cindy have been willing to display! Why do people have a hard time believeing such a thing exists? I'm starting to wonder if Bi -polar, manic depressive and multiple personality disorders are all somewhat linked. There are those of us with close family members who can now identify what has been going on for years..now that we have a name for it, a description of it.
    So did anyone talk about the book? Is it an all telling book about his life or is it full of solutions? I think it will offer so much relief to sufferrers and/or their loved ones. Go Herschel!

    April 15, 2008 at 11:01 pm |
  8. paul

    The Obama's story is an incredible American story!! Every kid in America should be reminded that only in America can a kid be whatever he wants to be.

    Thanks for telling Obama's story! Wish it was longer.

    April 15, 2008 at 10:56 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    I haven't encountered this but one of my friends mother was paranoid schizophrenic. The one thing that I remember the best is when she was very upset because she said the FBI was flying over her house and dropping rats on the roof.. That was strange.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    April 15, 2008 at 10:35 pm |
  10. suzy

    Thank you for taking an authrntic look at this disorder. Dissociatiev Idenity is not as rare as people belive....1 % of the general population and 5 % of the pshychatric population have D.I.D. Thank you for showing a compasinate and tasteful reality of this disorder. Good for hersheal for coming forward about his disorder, he is not alone....I have been open about my D.I.D. and educating people in my comunity, my Dr's medical students, a pshycology class and even my english class as thats what I did my research essay on...on the most part I have had very accvepting responces and real hinest questions about it...thank you for helping to educate the public and profesionals about it. I had a Dr in the E.R. roll his chair to the other side of the room when I told him I was D.I....hoepfully your show will elimate this....

    April 15, 2008 at 9:43 pm |
  11. Grace

    Thank you for having this segment that deals with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder).

    I know several people have DID (myself included) and it is a very scary diagnosis, but the good news, with proper therapy and support, we can learn to become one cohesive personality.

    Because having DID seems to be controversial subject, and the feelings and beliefs among groups of people, we had to keep this diagnosis very quiet for fear of rejection. It is hard to get good support systems in place outside of therapy and maybe this will help the fears and unknowns down. I don't know. It is hard for me to reach out when you have this fear hanging over you and wondering "can I be believed?"

    I am looking forawrd to the interview.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:41 pm |
  12. Vicky

    Thanks for the link to the article, it was quite interesting. I know in graduate school, this was presented as a highly controversial diagnosis. We're learning so much more about the connection between brain systems and function with the new neuroimaging technology! Herschel Walker was quite brave to write about his experience. Now I have to read his book.

    What I find perplexing, is the contrast in the inhibition or dissociation of memory in some traumas, such as childhood sexual abuse and rape, to the vivid trauma memories others with PTSD can experience, as if they're re-living the event, though with some incomplete recall. While the idea of 'betrayal dissociation' may be part of the explanation, there is a high personal cost no matter how the brain initially processes the memory of the trauma.

    April 15, 2008 at 6:15 pm |
  13. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    I learned about DID in grad school (causation and diagnosis) but never have seen it in reality. We had a client where I used to work inpatient who claimed she had multiple personalities. Upon further exam it was determined she was using it as a manipulation tool in her addictions. The concept of DID in itself is frightening. I cannot imagine living with it. I think the whole process of reintegrating personalities is fascinating and would love to train doing this one day. I am looking forward to the interview. As a football fan who used to watch him, I had no clue.

    April 15, 2008 at 3:00 pm |
  14. Lynn

    Anderson I just wanted to thank you for haveing a segement on your show that deals with Dissosiative Identity Disorder. I have this condition, and constantly go through people telling me that it doesn't exist! You haveing a segment on your show about it, I believe will open peoples eyes to let them know that it DOES exist.

    With proper therapy you can learn to live with DID. I am in ongoing therapy, and know that within time I will be healed.

    Thank you!

    April 15, 2008 at 2:06 pm |
  15. Chelci

    I'm really looking forward to this interview by Sanjay of Herschel Walker. I used to love to watch him play and had no idea that anything was wrong with him. He hid his multiple personality disorder very well while in the spot light. Looking forward to what he has to say.

    April 15, 2008 at 1:34 pm |
  16. EJ - Ohio


    nope – only on TV

    I guess most people would not assume a person has that disorder even if he/she did. Especially because its so rare.

    I bet a person like that would get the "weird" or "intense" label by people who know them and not necessarily the medically correct term.

    April 15, 2008 at 1:03 pm |

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