‘What killed Maradona’: Diego’s lifestyle became perfect prescription for his death

Diego Armando Maradona, who died less than a month after his 60th birthday, was worshipped like a god on the football field, but his lifestyle and addictive demons left him destroyed. What fueled Maradona ultimately killed him.

‘What killed Maradona’, a Discovery plus documentary, delves into the life of arguably the greatest footballers to have played and how his life away from the ball impacted his performance, career, health and even heart.

The death of Maradona from a heart attack in November 2020 added to the list of devastating news in the coronavirus-affected year as fans around the world went into mourning. This was not the first heart attack Maradona had or even the first sign of health worries. Many would suggest that he saw his end coming.

The Argentinian great was a genius on the field but lived a life marred by struggles with addiction. On one hand is an inspiring journey from the streets of Buenos Aires slum to leading Argentina to World Cup victory, a rags-to-riches story in a country crazy about football. On the other hand is the story of an ill-advised boy who failed to handle sudden fame and rising injuries, became prey to a life of addiction and physical decrepitude at an early age.

Even though his exploits on the football field are exceptional, even during his fooball peak, Maradona battled various health problems and to keep himself going, the gifted athlete resorted to regular painkillers.

Argentine soccer superstar Diego Armando Maradona cheers after the Napoli team clinched its first Italian major league title in Naples, Italy, on May 10, 1987. (AP)


Discovered in street kickabouts by the scout for first division club Boca Juniors, the prodigy made his league debut at 15. Soon after, the problems began.

Due to an impoverished background, Maradona received growth hormones and related treatment to help build his physique, even when he was playing at the junior level. While he was already relying on medication for a better physique, things became difficult with the added pressure to lift his team from difficult situations. The injuries and pain kept increasing and so did his reliance on painkillers.

Maradona went through two unhappy and lonely seasons in Barcelona and by that time, parties and alcohol became a significant part of his life. Speaking on Maradona’s time at FC Barcelona during the game against Athletic Bilbao where he suffered an injury, his former trainer Fernando Signorini says in the documentary, “Cocaine, I think, it was a crutch he used to be able to face everything the world was demanding of him. Him, who was from Fiorito! As he said one day, “I was kicked to the top of the mountain but they left me alone and nobody explained to me how to survive.”

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Argentina’s Diego Maradona scored the ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in 1986. (Source: AP)

It was his time in Italy’s Napoli that the football magician started showing signs of addiction to cocaine and alcohol – a combination of which in long periods is deadly, claim experts. “Painkillers and injections were a part of his life,” says Maradona’s former press officer.

Years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism brought an end to a stellar career and even drastically altered his appearance. The 1986 World Cup winner was handed a 15-month suspension by FIFA on two different occasions but it became a national embarrassment when he tested positive for drugs at the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

Maradona retired from professional football in 1997 and after his brush with death in 2000, when he had a heart failure due to cocaine-overdose, he took to coaching after a long drug rehabilitation in Cuba. He coached Argentina, and clubs in UAE, Mexico as well as his own country but failed to keep pace due to depleting health and increasing weight.

Maradona battled various health problems over the years as a result of his addictions. He was hospitalised for symptoms including anemia and dehydration and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma – a blood clot in the brain the same month he died.


The documentary has interesting observations from those who knew him including his personal trainer Fernando Signorini, his agent Jon Smith and his former Napoli teammate and captain Giuseppe Bruscolotti.

Issac John, Digital Head, APAC – Discovery, said in a statement, “‘What Killed Maradona?’ is one of those stories that presents the greyer shades of a legend whose game inspired the dreams of many of today’s superstars in the world’s favourite sport of football.”

The documentary does not reflect much on his life as a footballer, but focuses on his off-field life choices that have been blamed for his early death. It is a detailed account of how substance abuse brought an end to a glorious career and became a matter of life and death for the football great.

With more than 70% of the documentary focusing on his addiction and the downfall it brought, it became repetitive towards the end with those featuring in it saying the same things over and over again. Other than a quick transition from Maradona’s playing days to coaching, the phase in his life that should have been covered more in detail in the documentary, ‘What killed Maradona’ tackles the science behind the Napoli legend’s weak heart, health and life all through his career on the back of regular injections.

The documentary has touched the career peaks as well as downfalls of Maradona but their focus has been on how the perpetually injured legend reacted to his performance on the field by engaging in cocaine and alcohol outside it.

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