You suffered three strokes at the age of 38. Were there any warning signs that something was wrong? If so, what did you think they could mean?
I had tingling and loss of feeling in my fingers and hand, my fingers turned cold and eventually blue, and I had pain shooting down my arm. It came and went, gradually getting worse as time went by. But I was doing a heavy promotional tour for Kull, the Conqueror at the time they started getting really annoying, so I consulted with doctors at the various hotels—probably five of them over those eight days. There was an explanation that I had hit my funny bone that explained the symptoms, and the doctors also said they thought in any case it probably wasn’t serious. Of course, I didn’t want to believe it was anything, either.
What were your diagnosis and your prognosis?
Initially my diagnosis was cancer, but they didn’t tell me that, thankfully. When they had all the answers that made sense, they diagnosed me with an aneurism in my shoulder that had spewed off so many clots—had clotted off a good portion of my left arm, blockages all the way down. I had also suffered three strokes—they called them mini-strokes, but it turned out they were much more sinister than that. When they finished sending clot-busters into my arm through a tube that went from my groin through my heart to my shoulder, they embollized the aneurism with platinum coils and got me off the Heparin (blood thinner). Then they sent me back to work on a movie I had scheduled in Atlanta.
That didn’t work out too well, because I collapsed on set. That was when the strokes reared their ugly heads. A new neurologist changed my prognosis to questionable and sent me home to only walk an hour a day and do nothing else for five to seven weeks. They simply said there was no way to tell how much improvement I could expect, which was tough because I was really strung out and suffering. They did say the bulk of my recovery would happen within the initial three to six months, and luckily that wasn’t true for me, either.
For how long were you hospitalized?
My first hospitalization was eight days or so. Then I went back to the ER in Atlanta and was admitted for a couple of days.
Why did you decide to turn to alternative medicine, and did you find it to be effective?
I turned to alternative medicine because traditional western medicine just wasn’t doing enough and I actually had trouble with the drugs that were prescribed. A friend suggested one practitioner and my wife found an acupuncturist, and they both turned out to be quite effective.
You played Hercules—an invincible character—yet you were physically incapacitated in real life. How did this irony affect your daily mindset, especially during filming?
I am very thankful that I had the character of Hercules to put on every day on set, even though the first several weeks I didn’t even work more than ten hours per week. I had taken the rest of my hiatus, the time they had set aside for me to shoot my movie, and then they gave me an extra week as well, because I literally could barely stand up straight. I was terribly dizzy and nauseated, had roaring headaches, and my vision was impaired with a big black blind spot that was very disorienting. I certainly couldn’t do fights or any fast movement, for that matter. But that said, Hercules gave a reason to get out of bed. Without that guy, I’m not sure what would have become of me. It was ironic, yes, and everybody on set was in on the joke, but we were all quite dependent on Hercules in a very serious way. The studio and producers were also very invested in the show, and we were all supposed to benefit greatly by getting to the magic 100th episode, so they were more than willing to make whatever adjustments were necessary to allow me to heal as best as I could under the circumstances. It was slow going, though.
How were you able to keep working when your body was so tired and still healing?
I kept going because I was determined not to let the illness win. I would put as much energy as I could on set, and when I got home I’d just collapse. I didn’t give up hope. In a sense I was lucky that I was an anomaly, because the prognosis was wrong from the start, so when they told me three or six months, and then my progress would be halted, I also didn’t believe it. I certainly feared they might be right, but I was determined to prove them wrong!
You married shortly after suffering your strokes. What role has your wife played in your recovery?
She was my rock. She kept me positive and helped me navigate the rough waters. I was lucky to have met her, but now I see God had a plan from the beginning.
You and your wife now have three young children. Did being a father make your recuperation harder or easier?
We had kids after I had substantially recovered. My kids have certainly brought a sense of peace and purpose to my life, and they mitigate any limitations that the illness has imposed on me.
The effects of your strokes lingered for years. When did you start to feel like yourself again, and what role did golf play in that process?
Golf is my therapy. After the strokes, it was pathetic how poorly I played—well, the ball would disappear from my vision if I just turned my head a bit, so it was really challenging and very disappointing. Over time, as I battled back, my golf game slowly returned—the competitive side of me was not affected by the strokes! It took three years for me to feel nearly whole again. I’ll never be what I was, but I like to think I’m improved in ways that I never would be without this ordeal. I certainly know a lot more medical jargon than I ever wanted to!
You mention in the book that if you didn’t keep working, your career would be over. Is there an unspoken rule in Hollywood that you have to hide your illness?
I think that, yes, there is an unspoken rule in Hollywood that reality permeates the film shield. That’s why the box office is affected by a star doing anything in public—and that goes both ways, good and bad. For that reason, the studio didn’t want my illness public. I didn’t, either, but that was more just my pride and the jock in me not wanting anyone to see my weaknesses - another thing that I’ve learned: weakness isn’t a four letter word! It was a good decision at the time, because frankly we didn’t know how the story would end, and I wasn’t into pity parties, anyway, but now that I’ve covered and proven myself (to myself) I feel like this is the time to share what I’ve learned.
You kept your strokes a secret for many years. Why did you finally decide to speak up about them?
It’s a story of triumph in the end, in spite of the doubts and frustrations, and I realized this story might be able to inspire others to keep fighting as well.
What are you working on now?
Been staying busy. I have six movies in the can that hopefully will be coming out either on cable or in theaters over the next year. I also have three TV shows sold, two to the SyFy Channel and one to Sony. I’m looking forward to getting back to a long running TV series again. Kevinsorbo.net is a good place to go to for updates on my projects.
Best known as a strong leading man and a hunky Half-God, Kevin Sorbo was raised in Minnesota where he excelled at football, baseball, and basketball in high school while remaining close to the theater. After graduating from Moorhead State University, he joined a theater group and traveled to Europe and Sydney, Australia, where he modeled for print ads and appeared in over 150 commercials. When he returned to the states, he settled in Los Angeles and began making prime time appearances on such shows as Dallas and Murder She Wrote.
Kevin achieved small-screen stardom as Hercules on the hit Hercules, the Legendary Journeys (1993-1999). Following the success of the initial five, two-hour movies, the series exploded onto the mainstream, airing in 176 countries and surpassing ratings-topper Baywatch as the most watched TV show in the world. He also directed two episodes and co-wrote one installment of Hercules.
As season seven of Hercules was ending, Kevin signed with Tribune and went on to star in the lead role of Captain Dylan Hunt in Gene Roddenberry’s, Andromeda, which debuted as the number one, hour-long show in first run syndication and remained at number one for the next five years. It was during this time that Sorbo was named the 3rd Most Bankable Star behind Oprah Winfrey and Regis Philbin by Electronic Media Magazine.
In 1997, on a hiatus from Hercules, Kevin starred in the feature film Kull, the Conqueror, the prequel to Conan the Barbarian. That was followed by Walking Tall, the Payback and Walking Tall, Lone Justice, both released on Sony DVD. Other popular credits are Lifetime Channel’s Last Chance Café, SyFy Channel’s Something Beneath, and Hallmark’s third highest rated film, Avenging Angel. Between filming several other projects, in 2010, Kevin played “Pierluigi” in the Australian comedy The King of Mykonos, which debuted in Australia at number one. He has since played opposite Kristy Swanson and John Ratzenberger in the independent film What If…, which premiered in August of 2010. The film remained in theaters for five months on strong word of mouth and was nominated for Best Family Movie of the Year 2011 by the Movie Guide Awards. Kevin himself received the Movie Guide Award for Most Inspirational Performance of the Year for his portrayal of Ben Walker.
In the spring of 2011, Kevin starred alongside Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, and Carrie Underwood in Soul Surfer, the inspiring true story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton who lost her left arm in a shark attack. Among features set to release in 2011 is Julia X, a 3D psychological thriller, an Italian/American feature, and two comedies: Poolboy: Drowning out the Fury, and FDR: American Badass. Upcoming projects for 2011 and 2012 include the faith-based movie, Abel's Field, The Persecuted and Sony’s A Thousand Tomorrow’s, based on the Karen Kingsbury novel of the same name.
Kevin has guest-starred on many TV shows, including Hawaii 5-0, Gary Unmarried, Just Shoot Me, According to Jim, Hope & Faith, Two and a Half Men, and USA Network’s Psych, with recurring appearances on Dharma & Greg and The OC. He is attached to star in two new TV series: Legendary for SyFy and Me, Two for Sony.
In real life, Kevin leads A World Fit for Kids, a mentoring program that trains inner-city teens to become positive role models to younger children. In 2008, the program was awarded the Governor’s Gold Star for the most successful after-school program in the state of California. In 2003, Kevin was named national spokesperson, successor to Arnold Schwarzenegger, for the Afterschool Alliance; a non-profit organization working to ensure that all children have access to safe, enriching afterschool programs.
An avid golfer, Kevin Sorbo lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Sam, and their three young children.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times