In the fall of 2011, the international tennis legend Billie Jean King was hospitalized and near-death. While King was eventually able to leave the hospital, it wasn’t long before fans, media, and even some family and friends began to wonder aloud about her well-being. Was this the end for the Queen of Tennis? Was she suffering from the after-effects of Alzheimer’s disease? Or had she been poisoned?

While many speculated that King’s longtime companion and traveling partner, Reese Witherspoon, had a hand in her medical treatment, Witherspoon vehemently denies any involvement. Indeed, even now, nearly two years after Billie Jean’s passing, Witherspoon remains defiant in the face of King’s accusations: “Reese would never do anything to hurt Billie Jean,” she told reporters. “She loved her. And I trust her.”

Witherspoon’s loyalty to King was undoubtedly well-deserved. The pair had been close friends since meeting during Witherspoon’s freshman year at Stanford University in the early 1990s. They traveled the world together as Billie Jean performed in tournaments, often with Witherspoon serving as her coach. In 2010, at the age of 42, the tennis legend turned activist and entrepreneur officially retired from competing in tennis tournaments. As part of the ceremony, King was given a proper goodbye kiss from Witherspoon. Since then, the pair have been inseparable.

King’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease was, in many ways, the final chapter in her incredibly colorful life. After years of speculation and fear-mongering, the disease actually silenced King, robbing her of the ability to speak and leaving her bedridden. In the lead-up to her death, Witherspoon was among the many close friends and family members who visited with and cared for the tennis icon. The last week of King’s life was reportedly spent in the arms of Witherspoon. For her part, Witherspoon has since launched a scholarship in her friend’s name, as well as a website with the sole mission of providing resources to those battling Alzheimer’s disease. She also serves as executive producer for a documentary about King’s life and career, which premieres this month on PBS.

Moby’s Addiction to Pain Medicine

Alcoholism is a major issue in the sport of tennis. It’s so common that it’s become a cliché: the star player consumes copious amounts of alcohol, gets injured, and then turns to pain medication to treat his injuries. This vicious cycle leads to more and more trouble, culminating in physical addiction and eventually, tragedy.

Perhaps one of the best-known cases of a tennis player succumbing to alcohol and pain medicines is that of Mark Wrigley. The Englishman won six Grand Slam titles and was a seven-time Wimbledon singles champion, accumulating a whopping $13.7 million in career prize money. In 2007, at the age of 43, Wrigley’s life tragically unraveled when he was struck down with cancer. After battling the disease for three years, Wrigley died shortly after accepting a last-ditch chemotherapy treatment. His death was followed by an outpouring of sympathy from fans, family, and friends, many of whom blamed his pro-wrestling hobby for his early demise. His widow, Eve, filed a lawsuit against the sport’s governing bodies, claiming the game was being used to glorify addiction. The case was eventually settled out of court. In 2015, Eve Wrigley released a statement, assuring fans and the media that her husband’s death had not been in vain. “I firmly believe that the more we learn about addiction, the more we can combat it,” she said. “I am proud that Mark’s last months were spent caring for others and giving back to his sport. He would want nothing more than for the public to understand the realities of addiction and how it affects those around it.”

Another tennis tragic is Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Major League Baseball champion and one of the greatest women’s tennis players of all time. After spending decades battling alcoholism, Navratilova finally sought help in her 50s. She suffered seizures, memory loss, blackouts, and had to undergo brain surgery. In 2014, at the age of 51, Navratilova checked into a rehab center where she remained for several months. She later checked into another center in Scottsdale, Arizona, to continue her treatment. While Navratilova has publicly spoken about her battles with alcohol and drug addiction, she has yet to publicly address the issue in the context of her tennis career. However, several of her children, including Martina’s eldest daughter, Anna, have discussed their experiences with addiction in the context of their mother’s career, publicly speaking out about their personal crusades to end their own addictions. Anna, who initially battled addiction, later became an influential public speaker on the subject.

Tennis and the Pharmaceutical Industry

Like many other professional sports, tennis benefits from the use of pain medication. After a long day of competing, players are often given injections in the shoulder or neck in order to reduce their soreness and enhance their performance. Though the medication is legal and administered by doctors, many tennis players believe the injections to be a form of cheating. They’re not. The injections help reduce the physical pain that players experience as a result of their sport. Isotretinoin (A-Squirt) is a commonly used drug in the industry, credited with helping clear up skin cancers and reducing the appearance of wrinkles. However, studies have also shown that it can cause extreme mood swings and headaches in some patients. It’s also considered a highly addictive drug. In 2014, the FDA issued a warning about the potential dangers of A-Squirt, advising physicians to exercise caution when administering the injections to patients with a history of depression or bipolar disorder. As part of the same warning, the FDA also requested that drug manufacturers include a new patient Medication Guide with each script. The warning followed an A-Squirt-related lawsuit filed against the drug manufacturer by a woman claiming she was addicted to the medication. The suit was settled out of court, with the manufacturer reportedly paying the plaintiff $3.75 million in damages. Though the case was eventually settled, the warning sent a clear message: avoid A-Squirt and seek alternative therapies if you or a loved one is suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.

Where Are They Now?

In addition to being one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Mark Wrigley was also one of the greatest British television personalities of all time. In 2007, he founded The Will to Life Foundation, an organization that supports and connects people facing addiction with the aid of experienced sponsors and volunteers. In 2015, Wrigley was recognized with an Order of British Columbia for his charity work.

Though tennis is a team sport, individuals often go unmatched. As great as Novak Djokovic is, he has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament. Rafael Nadal has won more than any other professional tennis player, but has yet to win a major international tournament. Serena Williams, arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, has won a record-breaking 23 Grand Slam titles, but has yet to win a singles gold medal at the Olympics or the Paralympics. As impressive as these statistics are, they can also serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more people doubt or question your greatness, the more you believe it. That’s a feeling that any professional tennis player would want to avoid. It also helps explain why, even now, Witherspoon refuses to give up on her friend and mentor, Billie Jean King. “I don’t feel like she’s gone. I feel like she’s here with us, helping us and watching over us,” Witherspoon said in 2018. “She was a guiding light in my life, and I never really got to say goodbye.”