Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Merlyn Mantle, widow of Yankee icon Mickey Mantle, succumbs to Alzheimer's disease at age 77

Merlyn Mantle, widow of Yankee icon Mickey Mantle, succumbs to Alzheimer's disease at age 77
BY Michael Obernauer

Tuesday, August 11th 2009, 4:00 AM

Merlyn and Mickey Mantle, the Yankee icon, were high school sweethearts whose storybook marriage saw plenty of tough times.

Merlyn Mantle, the widow of Mickey Mantle who was by turns the adoring, troubled and stoic partner in a 43-year marriage to the Yankee icon, died Monday in a hospice in Plano, Tex. She was 77.

The cause of death was the effects of Alzheimer's disease, the Yankees said in a statement. Merlyn Mantle had made a home in Dallas, just south of Plano, for 51 years.

Merlyn and Mickey, high school sweethearts, were married on Dec. 23, 1951, following Mickey's rookie season with the Yankees and two years after what Merlyn later described in a memoir as love at first sight. When they met, Mickey was a student at Commerce High School in Oklahoma and Merlyn a cheerleader at Commerce's archrival, Picher High.

"I developed an instant crush on Mickey Mantle, and by our second or third date, I was in love with him and always would be," Merlyn wrote in a 1996 book, "A Hero All His Life," that she co-authored with sons David and Danny Mantle, along with the writer Mickey Herskowitz.

But the couple's 43-year marriage did not fit the fairy tale that their two-year courtship did. Mickey, Merlyn, Danny, David and son Mickey Jr. all waged their separate battles with alcoholism, with the four men being treated at various times at the Betty Ford Clinic and Merlyn finding help in Alcoholics Anonymous. After Mickey's retirement following the 1968 season, his habits for partying and womanizing became well-known until he came to public grips with them before his death from cancer on Aug. 13, 1995, in Dallas.

"I was in there partying and doing the same thing as Mick," Merlyn said in an interview with the Daily News shortly after her husband's death in 1995. "That was our life and I was part of it; I can't deny that. It ruins families."

Merlyn outlived two of her sons as well. Billy Mantle died in 1993 from a heart attack at age 36 after his own fight with cancer. And cancer claimed Mickey Jr. in December 2000, at age 47.

Merlyn made her last public appearance a year ago, Aug. 5, when she joined mourners at a private dinner in Oklahoma City on the eve of a memorial service for Bobby Murcer. She was unable to attend the service the following morning.

Born Merlyn Louise Johnson on Jan. 28, 1932, in Cardin, Okla., she is survived by two sons, David and Danny Mantle; her sister, Pat LaFalier of Miami, Okla.; and four grandchildren.

Following a private funeral, Merlyn will be buried alongside Mickey and their sons Billy and Mickey Jr., at Sparkman Hillcrest Cemetery in Dallas.

Mickey Mantle dedicated "The Mick," his 1985 autobiography, "To Merlyn, who has put up with me for 33 years."

In the days after Mickey's death, Merlyn Mantle, in the interview with The News, lamented how her husband had committed to turning his life around too late - just before liver cancer robbed him of a chance to follow through. "He could have had a whole new life if it had not been for the cancer," Merlyn said at the time. Choking back tears, she added: "It's just very sad. We were best friends."

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