Earns His Degree At Age Fifty-one
For the next decade, Hayes fought his addiction to drugs and alcohol, entering rehab three times before moving back to Jacksonville, Florida, where he lived with his parents and finally earned his degree in elementary education from Florida A&M, at the age of fifty-one. Hayes told a reporter for Jet, "It's a thrill at fifty-one years of age to finally be graduating from college. I think so many people give up and take the attitude that it's not worth it—but they're wrong." He also said, "I take great pride in this accomplishment. I challenge all athletes to get their diploma."
In addition to his difficulties with drugs and alcohol, Hayes also suffered from liver disease and prostate cancer. Hayes's old friend, fellow track athlete Ralph Boston, told Dwight Lewis in the Nashville Tennessean that he saw Hayes in 2001, "He was in a wheelchair and couldn't walk. He showed me his swollen feet and said, 'Cancer is something.'"
In 2001, Hayes was finally honored by being inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, after being selected by team owner Jerry Jones. A track meet named after him, the Bob Hayes Invitational, hosts more than 25,000 high school athletes each year, and he is a member of the U.S. Track and Field Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was elected to the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame.
Hayes died of kidney failure on September 18, 2002, in Jacksonville, Florida. Former Cowboys running back Calvin Hill told Teneshia L. Wright in the Florida Times Union, that he believed Hayes's most memorable characteristics, apart from his athletic abilities, were his kindness and humor. "Here was a guy who talked to emperors and kings," Hill said. "Yet he could meet a janitor and make that janitor feel like he's the most important person in the world."