- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dying young is sometimes a good career move, as Hollywood publicists have long known.

So it was with Chris Henry, no celluloid icon but a wide receiver who was said to have turned his life around just as he hopped into the bed of a yellow pickup truck and told his fiancee, “If you take off, I’m going to jump off the truck and kill myself.”

That threat was heard by a neighbor who was cutting back trees in his yard.

Henry is dead, of course, the investigation ongoing while the tributes tumble out of laptops, grief-stricken teammates, friends and family.

They remember a good man, a family man, a changed man, a misunderstood man since his fifth arrest in April 2008, when a judge called him “a one-man crime wave.”

He eventually was exonerated in that case. And the Bengals eventually rethought their decision to be done with him and re-signed him four months after his release.

From there, it was said he was a model citizen, a charmer who no longer was susceptible to the temptations of his so-called friends, no longer the gun-toting menace of 2005 to 2007.

He no longer was the troublemaker who could not figure out that it might be a bad idea to flash a gun in front of a police officer on a bustling street in Orlando, Fla.

That guy was a footnote of the distant past, at least until the day in Charlotte, N.C., last week, when he became embroiled in a domestic spat with the woman of his dreams, the woman credited with helping him see the error of his ways.

The newly burnished Henry would not threaten to kill himself. He would know better than that. He would not be shirtless while banging on the back window of the truck, imploring the woman to stop the vehicle and presumably talk and hash it all out.

That is the hole in the extolling of his newfound virtues.

That is the contradiction embedded in the mini-eulogies.

Henry was granted in death what he did not earn in life.

If he was well on his way to figuring it out, what was he doing in that truck, all worked up, making threats before meeting his end?

Was he really all that changed?

Or was his good behavior since August 2008 merely a recognition that he was out of chances, that the good life of the NFL would be gone if his name appeared on a police blotter again?

“In six years of knowing each other - through hard times, good times - we loved each other very much,” the weeping fiancee said at the funeral. “People say I changed his life. No. He changed mine.”

Fair enough.

There were undoubtedly many sides to Henry, not all bad but bad enough.

That is the lesson, if one is necessary, for it was his reckless behavior that led to his life being snuffed out way too soon.

No one forced him to get into the bed of the truck, certainly not the woman looking to make a getaway, looking to find a space all to herself until she could sort out whatever it was that fueled their quarrel.

Yet Henry could not let it be.

So now he is celebrated in death far more than he was in life.

That reveals more about the living than the departed. They are left to make sense of the senseless, a useless proposition.

Henry made no sense to the end.

He is gone at 26, a life too brief, the currency that encourages the modified reflections.

He earned an accommodation after eschewing the fast life of the NFL, which is not fair to the countless professional athletes who never go there, who do not need a graduate degree in real life to know that nothing good comes from the street life.

That is the unfinished legacy of Henry.

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