America’s First Male Alpine Skiing Gold Medalist, Bill Johnson, Has Passed Away at 55

Miles Clark | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Bill Johnson
Bill Johnson

“Olympic champion Bill Johnson, whose storybook 1984 season ushered in a new era for American ski racing, passed away Thursday at an assisted living facility outside Portland at the age of 55. His passing closed the final chapter in a tumultuous lifetime that saw him rise to the highest level in his sport.” – US Ski Team, today

Bill Johnson was America’s first male downhill gold medalist & first male alpine skiing gold medalist. Bill was a man who deeply experienced the highs and lows of both skiing and life in general.  He put American skiing on the map and we thank him for that.

“Bill Johnson was cut from a different cloth. In many ways as athletes we’re all the same, with one common goal – to be the best in our sport. Billy was a fighter and went about things his way. That toughness allowed him to reach heights in the skiing world that few will ever accomplish. It’s also that fighting spirit that kept him alive after his accident, just to prove to the world he wasn’t done yet.  My thoughts and prayers go out to his family. It’s a sad day in the ski racing world.  ” – Phil Mahre, 1984 Olympic gold, slalom

Bill was born in Los Angeles, grew up skiing at Bogus Basin outside of Boise, ID before focusing on racing at Mt. Hood, OR and Mission Ridge, WA.

Bill had a rough and tumble life including some of the highest highs and the lowest lows.

“He has no physical use of any part of his body. He has difficulty even raising his head. His mind is still very keen but his body has literally shut down.” – Bill Johnson’s mother, 2013


Bill won America’s very first male alpine skiing gold medal in 1984 at Sarajevo, Yugoslavia.

After that gold medal Bill won two more World Cup events then something happened.  His best finishes after 1984 were two 7th place finishes – one in 1985 & one in 1986.  Bill had some injury issues and was left off the 1988 Olympic Team.

The woes continued for Bill after 1988.  In 1992 he infant son drowned and he and his wife divorced in 1999.

For the 2002 Olympics, Bill & his “Ski To Die” tattoo attempted a comeback that ended in a horrific crash that left him in a coma leading to serious brain injuries.  In 2010 Bill had a stroke.

Bill Johnson charging
Bill Johnson charging

In 2013, Bill contracted a serious infection that was attacking all of his major organs.  He had been hospitalized since June 29th, 2013 and doctors cannot stem the infection.

Bill’s life highlights the highs and lows & yin and yang of all life.  Not many achieve such heights nor dredge such depths.  We’d like to salute Bill Johnson today – a man who went flat out for glory.  Thanks Bill, not many have the courage to do what you did.

Learn a ton more about Bill Johnson in Outside Magazines 9 page article on him that came out yesterday:  “End of the Run” by Bill Donahue

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