In September 1997, Kevin Sorbo was sitting pretty. He was playing the title role in the TV show "Hercules," had just filmed his first action movie, "Kull the Conqueror," and had recently become engaged to actress Sam Jenkins. And then, quite literally, his world collapsed.
Sorbo suffered an aneurysm followed by three strokes. He almost lost his arm, and the battle was far from over. Sorbo's balance and vision were severely impaired and there was a constant hum in his head -- and it took many years until his health improved.
His life-changing health scare is recounted in the new book "True Strength," a gripping account of Sarbo's illness and gradual recovery.
So tell me how it all started.
I had months of sensation running down my left arm, tingling, coldness in my fingers... It just got to the point where it was driving me nuts. I was back in America ["Hercules" was filmed in New Zealand] and I went to the gym and a terrible pain shot through my arm while I was doing a bicep curl. I went to my chiropractor and, long story short, he cracked my neck. When I got back in the car moments later I suffered three strokes. I had had an aneurysm in my arm and I believe the crack of the neck accelerated the aneurysm. ... I believe, and a few other doctors believe, is that when he did that motion, it sent the blood clots that were going downstream to go upstream, like salmon, and threw the clots into my brain.
I lost a lot of balance and 10 percent of my vision. I had to learn to re-balance myself. When I went to the hospital, I could barely walk and I remember thinking, "I'm going to die today." I was sort of amazed at how calm I was. I was mad, but in a calm way. I thought, "This really sucks. I thought I'd get married and have kids."
Obviously, it completely turned my life around. I went from 14-hour-days on the set to one hour a day for the next half of the season until I could slowly build myself up again. It was a good three years before I felt normal again, and over two years for the generator sound in my head to stop. It was like a low humming sound, 24 hours a day.
I told my wife I never understood suicide until then. There would be people who wouldn’t be as strong as I am -- I'm a very strong-willed person -- this would be too much for them to handle. It was horrible. I literally went from a guy in his 30s -- in as good as shape as most athletes in their early 20s -- to a guy who was 90 years old within seconds.
Some doctors pooh-poohed your illness because you played "Hercules." Maybe you would have been treated differently if you had played a lawyer.
It is interesting because I even bought into that myth as well. The show was my life. It defined me. It was who I was and I loved it. When I came back on the set after it happened, almost three months later, I could barely work. I was being held up by my makeup artist. The set was so quiet. I’d lost 20 pounds of muscle. They couldn't believe I was the same guy.
You sort of hid how ill you were.
Yes, the crew knew I was sick, but they didn't know how sick. Today, the way the media is, the story would have been out long [before].
Your wife is a keeper. You were engaged when it happened. She could have bailed.
We talked about it. Actually, she said if I hadn't had the strokes, she doubted we would have stayed together.
Because of my life -- my work and the craziness involved. I was married to ["Hercules"] more than anything or anybody. It was all encompassing for me.
Did you find solace in religion?
I've always been a religious guy, but not overly religious. I've always believed in God and Jesus. I pray. But at the time, I went through stages that most people go through when this happens. The "Why me?" Then I got mad at God. I was like, "What the hell, man? I was getting geared up to be the next action man in Hollywood." It certainly hurt my career, which I wasn’t happy about, but with God I finally got to a point where I was told by a couple of people that I had to look at it as a gift. It was hard for me to do.
How do you look at three strokes as a gift?
It didn't kill me. It certainly made me stronger. It pushed me to become a bigger and stronger man -- physically and mentally.
It took a point to get to that. I've become far more patient -- certainly having kids has changed me as well. I'm definitely more understanding of people who have disabilities and who are suffering. One of the reasons I wrote the book was because people look up to actors and certainly the ones I played were larger than life. Well, anything can happen and it happened to me. I learned everybody has a story. I think this humanizes me more to people.