The wife of Mario Fenech has revealed that the Souths legend’s battle with dementia is so serious that he repeatedly forgot the day of his own son’s wedding – and couldn’t remember giving a speech at the ceremony.
The rugby league hardman’s progressively debilitating brain condition, caused by repeated head knocks, has had a devastating effect on his life.
Mario’s wife Rebecca has opened up about how his daily struggles with memory and comprehension have left the 60-year-old a shadow of the man he once was.
Mario Fenech (pictured with his wife Rebecca and kids) has opened up about his battle with dementia. Mrs Fenech says her husband’s dementia is so severe that he doesn’t remember giving a speech at his son’s wedding
Fenech had a lengthy career in the NRL in the 1980s and 1990s – starring for the South Sydney Rabbitohs for nine seasons, playing 82 games for the North Sydney Bears (pictured above) and 11 matches for the South Qld Crushers
‘He does not remember the moment because the next moment is the new moment,’ she explained.
‘For example, when my son got married in April, I couldn’t even tell him until [the day of the ceremony].
‘He knew, but on the morning of it, I said, “Today’s the wedding”, and even during the day, I’d say, “We’re going to the wedding today… The wedding today”.
‘And I wanted to make that a special day because it was probably the last time that maybe we’ll all be able to celebrate.’
Fenech made a speech at the wedding and had a very special night with his family, but couldn’t remember a thing the next morning.
Rebecca Fenech has revealed that her husband was resentful for being mocked on The Footy Show
‘The really sad part of this story,’ his son Joe explained, ‘is that when my parents woke up in the morning, the day after the wedding, my dad turned to my mum and said, “Oh, I’m really excited for the wedding, when is it?”‘
Another heartbreaking revelation from Fenech’s wife was that the former Footy Show star was resentful after being mercilessly mocked on the long-running program, likening himself to a ‘circus animal’ and ‘novelty act’.
She claimed the show’s stars made fun of Fenech despite being fully aware of his harrowing health struggle.
‘They took the mickey out of him where, really, he’s a very intelligent man – but that’s the way it rolled,’ Mrs Fenech said of the Channel Nine show.
‘They know, they saw his decline obviously in The Footy Show as well. It just hasn’t been talked about, it’s silent.’
She said only three former Footy Show stars – Paul ‘Fatty’ Vautin, Peter Sterling and Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach – still have some contact with Mario.
Fenech (pictured with Souths co-owner Russell Crowe) played 274 first-grade games, but sadly can hardly remember any of his incredible career because of his deadly condition
‘He speaks to Fatty very occasionally or to Sterlo, sometimes Blocker, they’re three ones he speaks to maybe once or twice a year,’ Ms Fenech told Channel Seven.
‘But no, we don’t hear from anyone.’
Fenech played 274 first-grade games, but sadly can hardly remember any of his career because of the irreversible condition.
Doctors say that despite being 60, the man nicknamed ‘Muzza’ has the brain of an ’80-year-old patient’.
Fenech’s wife says the condition means his life is a constant struggle.
‘Every day he wakes up now and says, “I’m confused. I don’t know why. I don’t feel great”,’ she said. ‘He can’t really do or think for himself.’
Mrs Fenech said she wanted to share Mario’s devastating story to shine a spotlight on one of the greatest issues facing Australian sport: the long-term effects of concussion.