SAM (PART 1)
“I know where I'm going to get married.” And I'm like, “Really?” Because that's first date conversation...
THE FIRST KISS
Kevin and I met on the set of Hercules, and I was late because the volcano spewed too much ash and so they wouldn't let our plane land. I was a day late. And the director said, “Hey, I really think we should do a read through. And since you missed the whole read through with everybody, we'll just do a read through with you and Kevin.” And so I met Kevin privately in the director's apartment. It was pretty cool. I could tell there was something special about him.
And then the first day on set was the goodbye scene, with the kissing. We were on set and we were, like, saying our lines. And you just sort of say, “And then we kiss, right?” Then we kiss and then we go back to our lines. And he was losing his lines, losing his place in the scene, and forgetting things. And part of me was like, “This is terribly unprofessional.” But for him it was really hard, because he's very professional and he never forgets his lines. And I remember turning to Michael [Hurst], who played Iolaus, his sidekick, and saying, “Michael, help me out here.” And Michael goes, “I'm not touching this. Don't even, like, don't bother.” [Motions saying ‘no’]
...so he came over to my chair, and he leaned in, and he paused, and looked me straight in the eye. And then he kissed me.
So there was something going on, and I couldn't figure it out because I thought somehow maybe they were making fun of me. I really wasn't quite sure what was happening. And then we went to sit off set. They had to redo some lighting. And so, we just went and sat down and we had been teasing each other that it was fun. I said, “Hey, does anybody have a breath mint?” And all the makeup artists, all three of them were like, you know, [makes whipping sounds] whipping out their breath mints. And I said, “Oh, not for me. For him.” [points to Kevin, laughs] I was just teasing him.
And he goes, “Yeah, there's a little chapel in the Swiss Alps.” And I said to him, “You mean in Garmisch?” And he was like, “Yeah, how do you know about Garmisch?”
So he took the breath mint. And he said, “Oh yeah, OK. Give me one of those.” And I said, “You know what? I'll have one, too. But just to be fair.” And then he leaned over and he goes, “Hey, we should see if these things work.” And I was like, I was not going to be intimidated by him. And I said, “Maybe we should.” And so he came over to my chair, and he leaned in, and he paused, and looked me straight in the eye. And then he kissed me.
THE FIRST DATE/WEDDING PLANNING
It was the end of the week and I had the free evening and I said, “Sure, we'll go out.” We went to see Shakespeare in Love. So we had dinner first, then we got to the movie a little bit early. And so we were sitting in the movie theater and he said to me, “I know where I'm going to get married.” And I'm like, “Really?” Because that's first date conversation.
...the neurologist said something so clever. He said, “You know, I tell my patients, ‘never put off life because of an illness.’” And that just made sense to us.
And he goes, “Yeah, there's a little chapel in the Swiss Alps.” And I said to him, “You mean in Garmisch?” And he was like, “Yeah, how do you know about Garmisch?” And I said, “Oh, I have a painting of it that my grandfather gave me of the chapel, on my wall, framed in my apartment.” And he was like, “That is just uncanny.” And then he said, “OK, and I'm going to have three kids-- boy, boy, girl.” And I said, “That's so weird, because that's what I'm having. Boy, boy, girl.” It was just sort of meant to be, I suppose.
About 4 months before we were going to be married, he had three strokes, and ended up in intensive care.
THE WEDDING PLANS
So we dated for 6 months before we got engaged. We were engaged for a year before we got married. We were a little gun shy to get married, but we “knew.” So, it was just a matter of getting comfortable with the idea of being married to someone. About 4 months before we were going to be married, he had three strokes, and ended up in intensive care.
We were questioning whether we should get married. He was questioning whether I should marry him, because he was severely debilitated. But I had a great deal of confidence. I had a good deal of faith that he was going to recover. I can't explain why. I just did. We went to see one of the neurologists for him, and told him that we were hesitating whether to get married or whether to just postpone it, or whatever. And the neurologist said something so clever. He said, “You know, I tell my patients, ‘never put off life because of an illness.’” And that just made sense to us.
So we started planning to elope... “You know, if we elope, your dad can't come, right?”
So we started planning to elope. At one point he just mentioned his father was going to be so happy, because he was the big holdout. The rest of his siblings were married already and his father was going to be so happy. And I said to him, “You know, if we elope, your dad can't come, right?” And he goes, “Yeah, I know. I know. I think, yeah, he'll be very happy to know that I'm married.” And I said, “You know, just for kicks and giggles, let's see how many people we would invite if it were the bare minimum.” Because he really was very ill, and we couldn't do a big thing. We each came up with five good friends, and we invited immediate family only and no significant others, unless they were married.
We were questioning whether we should get married. He was questioning whether I should marry him, because he was severely debilitated.
The entire guest list was 28 people, and everybody came. We got married in Pacific Palisades, because we were in L.A. at the time, soon after Christmas. And we picked a Monday. I found a little chapel that looked like it was from the Swiss Alps and we got married right in front of a great big stone fireplace with the fire going. And the chapel, they said it held 50 people. It was really tiny, and we kind of filled it. And it was just great.
He had three years of torture, basically. He is the strongest man in the world, not just the TV show, hahaha. And of course, he was battling the strokes while he was pretending that everything was fine. Because they were a big secret, we didn't tell anybody. We downplayed it in the press when it first happened. Hercules was the number one show in the world. We considered not going back. The studio was pressuring him to agree to come back, because it's not Hercules without your main character.
We wrestled with that. And, well, I came to the conclusion that he needed to work, even if it was tiny snippets, just to convince himself that he could. So when he went back to work, he worked an hour a day. Man, it was a struggle. Even that hour just laid him out flat, because his brain was so damaged from the strokes that it was busy just trying to compute light. He had trouble riding in a car, because of the things going past. It was too confusing for his poor brain.
He had three years of torture, basically.
That whole story is in a book that he wrote called True Strength, which really details overcoming adversity, and really, the struggles. I was there with him being an annoying, pesky cheerleader, every step of the way. [Laughs] “Don't be down. You're better today than you were yesterday.” All that good stuff that you need to keep an optimistic attitude, and high aim, to keep yourself going.
HOW THEY FOUND OUT ABOUT THE STROKE
He had something in his shoulder, his arm was killing him. He was like, “Ah, it really hurts,” for a couple of months actually, I would say. And it just sort of got worse and worse. And then his fingers started turning blue. They were cold, he couldn't figure it out. And he was on a publicity tour for a big movie that he'd done--so traveling all across the country. And because it kept getting worse, he was telling people, “Yeah, my arm is just really bad.” The studio sent a doctor to almost every hotel that we landed in.
There was one doctor who actually kind of nailed it, but he wasn't very clear with us. And also his name was Doctor Di [pronounced, “die”], which is really unfortunate. [Laughs] And he said, “I think it's circulatory. Here are some beta blockers, take these pills.” And Kevin didn’t, I mean, he never drank caffeine. So take pills? “I'm the strongest man in the world. I play Hercules on TV.” You know, this kind of thing.
He is the strongest man in the world, not just the TV show, hahaha. And of course, he was battling the strokes while he was pretending that everything was fine.
And then he got back to L.A., and we saw his doctor, but he went to see a chiropractor also on a day that was sort of particularly hard. He'd been to the gym. The pain was searing, way too much for him. And so he couldn't lift, which was--his big outlet was going to the gym. And when it really started to interfere with that--you know, he's an athlete, so he just powered through the pain.
So he went to see this chiropractor. He'd been seeing him for 8 years, infrequently, but still for 8 years he'd gone to this guy, never cracked his neck because the guy knew he didn't like his neck cracked. And he's lying on the table, and the guy's holding his head in his hands and massaging his neck a little bit and saying, “You're really tense.” And Kevin hears a voice that says, “Don't let him crack your neck.” And he's [Kevin’s] like [to the chiropractor], “Did you say something?” And the guy's like, “No, but you're really tense.”
There was one doctor who actually kind of nailed it, but he wasn't very clear with us. And also his name was Doctor Di [pronounced, “die”], which is really unfortunate.
He hears the voice again and it says, “Do not let him crack your neck,”--a little more emphatic. So he starts arguing with the voice, and [makes cracking sound] the guy cracks his neck, and he had his first stroke. He felt awful. He was like, “What did you just do? What was that? You know I don't like my neck cracked.” And the guy's like, “Well, I just really felt like you needed it.” And within about 15 minutes, he left the office.
He got on the car and on the car ride, he was coming back to my apartment. On the car ride, he had a stroke. He didn't know that he'd had a stroke. He called me from the car. He said, “Something weird just happened. It's like, like I had an electrical storm in my brain, and I feel like I'm in an aquarium, and I can't hear right. Like, it's blurry. I don't know what just happened.” I said, “Well, pull over. I'll come get you.” Luckily, he was in traffic, so it wasn't like he was driving fast and he goes, “No, no, I think I can drive.” And of course, we had no idea what had happened. So, he drove--he didn't drive very far. He got to my place. But he had a few more strokes before we realized what was going on.
He said, “Something weird just happened. It's like, like I had an electrical storm in my brain, and I feel like I'm in an aquarium, and I can't hear right.
He stroked out in front of me. He started slurring his words. So we don’t know exactly—he might have had a stroke or two--overnight. And then the following morning, he went to see the doctor. He walked there because he didn’t feel comfortable driving--which, if you’ve ever lived in L.A., you know that that’s absurd. You don’t walk anywhere, but he walked. He said, “Not for nothing Doctor, but I had that thing, and like, but I also can’t see right.” And the doctor said, “Well, why don’t you go to your ophthalmologist?” And so he walked there, and the ophthalmologist documented a bilateral loss of vision, which is indicative of a stroke. And sent him home.
Both doctors apparently were thinking, “Oh this guy is stroking.” And they both sort of sent him, patted him on the tushie, and sent him on his way--which, I don’t know about that. He came to my place, I made him a sandwich, and he’s telling me sort of what happened.
He said to me, “Can you hear that? I can’t talk right.” [slurred speech] And I was just like, “Uh, I’m taking you to the hospital.”
And then he started slurring his words. He said to me, “Can you hear that? I can’t talk right.” [slurred speech] And I was just like, “Uh, I’m taking you to the hospital.” And he had the presence of mind to say, “Well, call my doctor at least.” He slurred it, but I could understand him. His doctor, I think, had admitting privileges or something, at the hospital because it's all very close, obviously, he walked everywhere.
And so I brought him in, to the hospital. I think we figured out that that would have been his final stroke. They didn't believe that he’d stroked. It took them a day and a half to finally figure out what was going on, and then they put him in intensive care.
WHAT CAUSED THE STROKES
So, full disclosure--the strokes were caused by the neck twist. And the neck twist resulted in strokes because he had an aneurysm in his shoulder that was spewing clots down his arm. What with the neck twist, it forced a couple of clots up into the brain, because it was close enough to the artery there [points to shoulder].
Recovering from strokes, you know, it's hit or miss. It can be devastating. He’s lucky that he wasn’t completely paralyzed on one side. I mean he's very, very lucky. And on the other side, it was devastating in other ways from which he recovered after a long battle and a lot of work--a lot of hard work. At the time, there was just a bunch of doctors and all kinds of medical professionals.
...the strokes were caused by the neck twist. And the neck twist resulted in strokes because he had an aneurysm in his shoulder that was spewing clots down his arm.
There were so many of the doctors who didn't believe that the strokes were caused by the neck twist. It's called retrograde flow. That means that blood flows upstream or goes backwards briefly. And at the time, that had never been documented and it didn't exist, and it couldn't exist because your blood pressure keeps your blood flowing in one direction. But that's not actually true. And so, in Kevin's case--and now they've documented other cases--but in his case, he was one for the record books, his neck twist had apparently forced the clots upstream in just that little bit. But I guess that was enough for them to go up into his brain.
HOW SAM FELT THROUGHOUT
I tend to be fairly calm, so I kept a pretty level head. They wheeled him out of his first surgery to try to start to correct things. And they wheeled him out and he had some kind of reaction and he was shaking violently. He was filled with blood thinner.
And the nurse, I remember [he was] a male nurse in the ICU shouted, “We gotta get him back into surgery, STAT. We're going to lose him.”
If he pulled anything, he had a tube going into his groin through his heart to put clot-busting medication in his shoulder. And he was shaking uncontrollably. And if he pulled anything so that he started to bleed, they wouldn't be able to stop the bleeding because there was no clotting in the blood at that point, because of all the medication that he was on. And the nurse, I remember [he was] a male nurse in the ICU shouted, “We gotta get him back into surgery, STAT. We're going to lose him.”
And that's when I lost it. I can't tell this story.