Decorated Army Veteran, Talladega Nights star diagnosed with CTE at VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank
Houston Tumlin died by suicide in 2021 at age 28, suffered from PTSD
(Boston) – The family of Houston Tumlin, a decorated U.S. Army Veteran and former child actor, is announcing today that Veterans Affairs-Boston University-Concussion Legacy Foundation (VA-BU-CLF) Brain Bank researchers diagnosed the Talladega Nights star with stage 1 chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Tumlin died by suicide in March 2021 at the age of 28. Tumlin’s family is releasing the findings of his brain study to help raise awareness of CTE in the military community and encourage Veterans to support CLF’s Project Enlist by signing up to donate their brain to research.
“My son was always confident and talented, but the last year of his life he lost his spark and drive,” said Michelle Tumlin, Houston’s mother. “My heart stopped when I realized he had all the symptoms of CTE, and now I’m determined to keep his memory alive by educating the world about the brain injuries our Veterans are suffering with and I will never stop trying to find ways to support them.”
Houston Tumlin, a former child actor and model, is remembered for his humor in the role of Walker Bobby, the oldest son of Will Ferrell’s character in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
Tumlin began playing tackle football when he was six years old. He suffered several concussions throughout his middle and high school playing days in Pell City, AL which led to lifelong headaches. In 2014, Tumlin enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell. Tumlin was most proud of serving his country and earning his Air Assault Badge. He was awarded the Army Achievement Medal and the Army Commendation Medal, before leaving the military in 2019. When he returned home, Michelle Tumlin says her son was depressed, struggled with mood swings, anger issues, and night terrors.
"Although we continue to find CTE in the brains of young amateur athletes and military servicemembers, we will never get used to it,” said Dr. Ann McKee, chief of neuropathology for the VA Boston Healthcare System and director of the BU CTE Center and VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank. “We will never stop our efforts to find ways to prevent this preventable disease and to diagnose and treat CTE during life. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Houston’s family."
The Department of Defense has reported more than 430,000 traumatic brain injuries among servicemembers in the last 20 years. Veterans who have suffered a concussion have double the risk of suicide.
CLF’s Project Enlist is working to accelerate finding answers to CTE and prevent suicide by encouraging Veterans and their families to donate the brains of deceased servicemembers to the VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank.
The VA-BU-CLF Brain Bank has studied more than 700 football players, and the majority of them have been diagnosed with CTE. Many Veterans, like Tumlin, are former contact sport athletes. Researchers are concerned former contact sport athletes who may already have CTE or increased CTE risk who go on to serve in the military, receive additional head impact exposure, and develop PTSD, may have a heightened risk for worse clinical outcomes.
“We are grateful to the Tumlin family for speaking publicly about Houston’s diagnosis and struggles,” said Dr. Chris Nowinski, CLF co-founder and CEO. “Houston is one of now multiple former football players who went on to serve in the military and receive a clinical diagnosis of PTSD before dying by suicide. We need better answers for Veterans and their families and brain bank research is an essential step in understanding the perfect storm of TBI, CTE and PTSD so we can protect and support the heroes who courageously fight for our nation.”
The Tumlin family has created a chartable organization, Houston Project, Inc. in Houston’s name to deliver hope to hurting Veterans.
The Concussion Legacy Foundation encourages all active servicemembers and Veterans to pledge to donate their brain to Project Enlist to advance research at ProjectEnlist.org.