Sad details of Danny Frawley’s last days
AFL legend Danny Frawley was battling depression as his star waned, and became increasingly erratic in the lead-up to a crash that claimed his life.
Frawley - a St Kilda Hall of Fame player, former coach and Fox Footy commentator - died when his four-wheel drive struck a tree on September 9, 2019.
The 56-year-old father of three lived with depression for many years.
The Herald Sun last year revealed the beloved champion was suffering from a crippling neurological disorder linked to repeated head knocks at the time of his death.
The Coroners Court finding - released on Tuesday morning - states Frawley's hand was likely on the steering wheel at the time of impact.
No alcohol or illicit drugs were detected in his system but prescription medications were.
Frawley had been seeing a psychiatrist since 2014 and presented with a history of a "depressive breakdown" with his work with the AFL Coaches Association a key stressor.
"He had a significant constellation of depressive symptoms including significant insomnia, depressive ruminations, relative anhedonia, self-reproachment, amotivation, difficulty functioning and episodic passive suicidality,'' the report states.
"He had also engaged in poor decision making and conduct that caused conflict in his marriage."
Wife Anita felt it took her husband at least a year to recover after he commenced treatment but said "he was never the same".
"To his family, Mr Frawley would lie in bed all week and be extremely needy, but he would be able to put on a brave 'public face' and give the appearance of normal functioning,'' the report states.
The report states that Frawley's media presence waned considerably after January 2019, his wife saying it appeared to "bruise his ego".
"From about April 2019, she observed that he became increasingly erratic and began to eat and drink in excess. Mr Frawley stopped turning up to planned bike rides with his friends and was consumed by his own needs with little apparent regard for his family,'' the report states.
"In late June 2019 Mr Frawley's decision making was still erratic and his personality had changed.
"He became even more self-absorbed and had gained about 25kg. He avoided his family's Christmas in July celebrations, preferring to spend the time with a country AFL team that he had been coaching."
Frawley reported having taken himself off all medications and saw his psychiatrist just a month before his death - his doctor believing the footy legend was having a relapse in his depressive state and disengaging with treatment as he had felt "bulletproof."
"He reported having significant stressors in his life at that time and felt his star power was dimming with the emergence of new media personalities,'' the report states.
"This had caused a precipitous drop in his income."
Frawley's medication was recommenced but his battles took a toll on his personal life.
He last saw his doctor on September 6, 2019.
"On Sunday 8 September 2019, Mr Frawley celebrated his birthday with friends and family at a birthday dinner and appeared happy spending time with them."
At 9am the next day - the day of his death - Frawley phoned his doctor to shift an appointment for that morning to the afternoon.
His mum phoned him at about 10.30am and 11.30am and he later phoned back, saying he would come over the next day for dinner.
Between about noon and 1pm, Frawley's doctor's office received a mystery call lasting about 15 seconds.
The receptionist could not hear anything on the line and after about 15 seconds disconnected the call.
At about 1.40pm, a passer-by discovered the fatal crash at Millbrook. Police established that Frawley's white 2013 Holden Colorado was travelling at a minimum 132kmh when it struck a tree.
Despite Frawley being diagnosed with Stage II CTE - chronic traumatic encephalopathy - after death, the Coroner's Mental Health Investigator's could not ascertain to what degree, if any, CTE had contributed to his mental health difficulties and/or death.
The Coroner found Frawley died from multiple injuries sustained in a motor vehicle incident and said the weight of the available evidence supported a finding that Mr Frawley intentionally took his own life.
"In the period immediately preceding his death, Mr Frawley was experiencing a number of personal and professional stressors, and a significant deterioration in his mental state, with an exacerbation of the anxiety and depression he had been suffering for some five years,'' Coroner Paresa Spanos found.
"At its highest, CTE is a potential contributor to the depression that Mr Frawley suffered for some years preceding his death,'' she wrote.
"The available evidence does not enable me to determine which particular suicide stressor caused or contributed to Mr Frawley's death."
The Coroner found nothing to support any failures in Frawley's clinical management.
"Like many professional football players, Mr Frawley began his football career in his formative years and likely experienced head trauma before his personality was well established,'' Ms Spanos wrote.
"This coupled with the inability to diagnose CTE before death, confounds evaluation of the contribution of CTE to personality, behaviours, any cognitive deficits, or lability of mood.
"Mr Frawley retired from professional football prior to the discovery of CTE and the implementation of current AFL policies and procedures aimed at minimising the consequences of concussions and repeated sub-concussive injuries.
"There is a strong consensus that more research into CTE is needed to improve understanding of the condition, its diagnosis and the prevention or at least minimisation of the impacts of CTE in AFL players."
The Coroner recommended the AFL and Australian Football League Players' Association actively encourage players and, their legal representatives after their death, to donate their brains to the Australian Sports Brain Bank in order to make a meaningful contribution to research into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Changes to coronial processes and practices to better identify CTE were also recommended.
Frawley was one of six children, raised on a farm in Bungaree, with mother Shirley and late father Brian.
He is survived by his wife Anita and daughters Chelsea, Danielle and Keely who he said were his "greatest achievement".
- For more information about pledges for brain donations, go to brainbank.org.au
Originally published as Sad details of Danny Frawley's last days