Former Lions QB Erik Kramer opens up about suicide attempt, 2nd chance at life

Exclusive 1-on-1 with Erik Kramer reveals details about that night

LOS ANGELESThis story contains details of an attempted suicide and contains some graphic details. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

He was the quarterback the last time the Detroit Lions won a playoff game -- but then, his world overwhelmingly grew dark.

Former Lions starter Erik Kramer joined the team in 1991, helping to lead them to their first playoff victory since 1957.

The star player the moved on to the Chicago Bears, then the San Diego Chargers, where he retired midseason in 1999 due to a neck injury.

The California native struggled with depression, especially following his neck injury. Then, in 2011, his 18-year-old son Griffen was found dead from a heroin overdose.

Kramer says that his world became so dark, that he eventually tried to take his own life. For the first time on TV, Erik Kramer reveals the events of that night and shares how he got a second chance at life.

We traveled to California last month to catch up with the former Lions quarterback. We started off chatting about football, of course, and that playoff game. When I asked him if anyone gave them much of a chance, Kramer laughed and said, “probably not…I mean, you could feel in the stadium that this was a big day.”

Watch our one-on-one with Kramer in the video report above.

The Lions beat the Cowboys, 38-6. That setup a meeting the following week with Washington at RFK Stadium. A trip to the Super Bowl was on the line, but it wasn’t meant to be. Washington dominated from the beginning beating the Lions 41-10 in the NFC championship game. Washington went to the Super Bowl. Detroit’s magical ride was over.

After several productive years with the Lions, Kramer signed a free agent deal with the Chicago Bears. But after several years there, his career came to an end because of a neck injury. He worked in TV as an analyst for a while. But what he didn’t know was his life was about to spiral out of control due to a series of events.

His mom died, his dad died, and his son Griffen died of a heroine overdose. Kramer also got divorced and fell into a deep depression. Kramer describes it this way:

“The overall depression, that’s a real thing. And it kind of zaps you of any will to do anything. There is no such thing as fighting it. There is nothing to fight. It’s some sort of a fog that engulfs you.”

Those moments, along with chronic depression, would make any healthy/well adjusted human question, why? Why is this happening to me? Kramer had two sons, Griffen and Dillon, who was five years younger.

Kramer points to October 30, 2011, as the day the spiral began. His 18-year-old son Griffen died tragically of a heroin overdose. And its apparent from listening to Kramer, Griffen could still be alive today.

“When Griffen had this initial reaction of just eyes back and foaming at the mouth, this kid started driving around and wondering what to do, everyone he talked to said take him to the hospital but he didn’t, he took him to his house. He would have had to drag Griffen out of the car and into his room and left him, and apparently, later left to go to a party,” Kramer describes tearfully.

As difficult as this tragedy was, telling his younger son Dillon about Griffen’s death sent Kramer into a darker place.

He describes it like this: “I asked Dillon to sit down in this chair and uh (tears) I don’t remember the words but somehow explained to him Griffen had just passed away. As hard as it was to hear for myself, I’m not sure what was worse.”

And after that the depression increased because the moments became worse. In his mind, with nothing positive to look forward to, and after years of pain, Kramer decided to end his life.

“Football is over and had been for awhile. There are several key people here that are no longer here so the feeling was they are going that way and no one is coming this way,” said Kramer.

On August 18, 2015, Erik Kramer checked into the Good Night Inn in Calabasas, California. He brought a 9MM handgun with him, which he had bought at a gun shop. The next day, the moment arrived. I asked him what he remembered:

“I wish I could remember all of them, but I don’t, it’s like I wasn’t there. I have no recollection of some things that happened”

The bullet pierced his tongue, traveled through his nasal passage, and exited through the top of his head. At that time the damage to his brain reduced his mental capacity to that of a 6-year-old.

As crazy as this sounds, Kramer has come up with this theory that the bullet that traveled through his head got rid of his depression which, on the face of it he agrees makes no sense. He says he hasn’t had a bad fifteen seconds or a bad fifteen moments since I woke up.

The Erik Kramer everyone knew has returned. It took years of rehab, but his brain regenerated, and he says he’s back to normal. Surgery helped with facial reconstruction. Today, Erik Kramer is once again Erik Kramer. He says he has no bad days.

Having spent three days with Kramer at his home in California last month, I’m left with the feeling that I’ve witnessed a true miracle. He overcame amazing odds and horrific tragedies to once again become a fully functioning member of society. Doctors would tell you that individuals who have a near death experience come out with a new appreciation for life. And one doctor Kramer met during rehab left him with words that are still fresh in his mind.

According to Kramer, the doctor said, “if I’m you, every week for the rest of my life, I would go play lotto. I haven’t taken his advice but I have been very grateful every day.”

Watch part two of this interview below -- and meet the woman who has been by his side through his recovery.

He was the quarterback the last time the Detroit Lions won a playoff game -- but then, his world overwhelmingly grew dark. Former Lions starter Erik Kramer joined the team in 1991, helping to lead them to their first playoff victory since 1957.

Anna Dergan has been friends with Erik Kramer since high school. She has overseen his recovery since 2015 and her care for him continues to this day.

Doctors told Dergan that Kramer would have the mind of a 6-year-old child after the shooting.

“Doctors said, ‘Yep, this is about where he’s gonna be (mentally). And we’re like, ‘What, no, he can’t be like this.’ So, it was difficult,” Dergan said.

Dergan didn’t accept the doctor’s evaluation. Nearly every day she made sure Kramer went to rehab. In the early days, she said it was simply gut-wrenching. The TV was his main source of interest, no matter what was on.

“He would sit on the couch 6 to 7 hours at a time, without even taking a break. He wouldn’t eat unless you told him to eat and put food in front of him,” Dergan said. “It was difficult for us to keep witnessing.”

Slowly, but surely, Kramer began to return to normalcy. Dergan said it took more than five years. Their friendship has turned into a love story, a story with a very happy ending after years of hard work.

“If you were to ask me when did I feel he was back to begin 100% the old Erik, I would say not until 2020, to be honest,” Dergan said.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

More: Bernie Smilovitz: Why I wanted to talk to former Lions QB Erik Kramer

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Bernie brings sports to Metro Detroit. You can catch him on Local 4 News weekdays at 5, 6 and 11 p.m.