Q&A: Kevin Sorbo Conquers Herculean Health Struggles
October 31st, 2011 6:00pm EDT
To audiences, Kevin Sorbo was a demi-God in the ‘90s TV hit, “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” but off cameras the actor was fighting for his life. Few people knew that the now 53-year-old endured three strokes, which nearly destroyed his career as playing the strongest man on earth. After over a decade of hiding his struggles, Sorbo now bares all in his memoir, True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal-and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life. In Sorbo’s first book, “Hercules” fans finally learn the truth behind his secret battles with his health and how he conquered them, all while starring in one of the most popular shows in the world. Yet, what’s life like after fighting monsters for millions of viewers, all while facing a long road to recovery? Sorbo speaks exclusively with Starpulse about why he chose to fight back, finding religion, and what he really thinks about becoming President.
Why did you choose to come out with your story now?
Kevin Sorbo: I think I work best under pressure. It’s like when you get that homework assignment and the teacher says you have three months to write a book report. I was the guy that waited three days before it was due. When I got really sick during the first couple of years, I kept notes as a way to monitor my progress. It became therapy. My wife Sam kept telling me I should write a book. My response was, ‘Eh, not gonna do it.’ But she kept insisting every couple of months. Two years ago, I decided to do it. After keeping quiet about the whole ordeal, I felt ready to go public with it. I think I was afraid to stop working and never hear from Hollywood again (laughs). But I knew that it was time to tell my story and it became very therapeutic for me. It helped me get this monkey off my back.
I’m sure Sam is now saying, ‘I told you so!’
Kevin Sorbo: It’s been a labor of love (laughs). She was very instrumental in this journey and made sure I had my facts right. There was some short-term memory loss during those years. She was very good at pointing out what was right or wrong.
You could have easily given up acting and focused on getting better. However, you were very determined to keep working. What is it about the craft that keeps you coming back for more?
Kevin Sorbo: I would never tell people to get involved in this business (laughs). Hollywood is an evil town. There’s so much rejection and the chances of making it are almost none. Therefore, if you want to act, you have to be really passionate about it. I’ve always been passionate about the craft and I still am. As much as I complain about the BS of Hollywood, the politics behind it, and how you get a job in the business, the truth is that I love the time between ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ It’s my time. No one can take that away from me. I love the creative process and how writers can look at a blank piece of paper and write a story that becomes reality. It has a huge effect on people and I’ve always been attracted to that.
In your book, you mentioned how you heard a voice that cautioned you before you became ill. Have you ever looked back and wondered what your life would have been like had you taken that warning?
Kevin Sorbo: Are you kidding me? I kick myself all the time. I don’t know how you are religiously, but I’m a Christian. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus. I believe it was God warning me and I didn’t listen to him. I have some atheist friends and when I first told them about my story, they called it a gut feeling. You can call it what you want, but I will listen to that voice from now on. Yeah, I get angry about it. I was warned twice and didn’t listen. I was struck down and have had a long recovery process. But, it made me realize that no matter how healthy you think you may be, anything can happen. I’m certainly a testament to that. You have to listen to that voice. Listen to your gut.
As someone who had many physical struggles, how does it feel to constantly be recognized as a character like Hercules?
Kevin Sorbo: Even after having the strokes I loved the role. ‘Hercules’ literally saved my life. We became the most watched TV show in the world, surpassing ‘Baywatch’ in 1996. I was very proud to be part of something like that. I felt like we accomplished something on a silly little show that had good family values, funny fight scenes, and crazy one-liners. It made me realize that this is what the world wants. People want to laugh and get away from their problems. That’s why I think the show did so great. I will always be grateful for the chance to play Hercules. It motivated me to get healthy. I pushed myself to do three times the therapy doctors recommended. I did everything, including yoga, Pilates, meditation, acupuncture, and just working out. I had to learn how to walk and run again because I couldn’t even do those things. It was brutal for my ego, but I fought back.
What are your thoughts on Hollywood today?
Kevin Sorbo: Hollywood is the business of rejection. Everything is the process of elimination. It’s weird how we let these guys at studios and networks decide what the rest of the world gets to watch. They’re not always right. You can tell it’s a guessing game when the fall lineup comes up and almost all of these new shows are then gone within the first month. You can take almost anybody off the street and let them pick which shows are good. I’m not going to say that all those shows are picked by a bunch of dummies because they’re not. They didn’t get those positions by being dumb. That’s why I go crazy when someone calls any President in office a bunch of names. I don’t think any President is dumb. They got there somehow. And if they’re dumb enough to be President, then I can be President right now. But I wouldn’t want that job anyway (laughs).
What has been the most important lesson that you learned from your journey?
Kevin Sorbo: I learned that, no matter who you are, everyone goes through problems. I was a poster child for physical fitness. I was 230 pounds of solid muscle with 6% fat. I had a body that was as good as any 21-year-old college athlete. I went from that to a 90-year-old guy with strokes. But, I became very grateful because I had a second chance in life. To be honest, I thought I was going to die. I remember being in the emergency room and thinking that this sucks because I was going to die. I believed it with all of my heart. I was angry. I wanted to get married and have kids. Thankfully, I got the chance. I now have a beautiful wife and three kids. I’m very fortunate.
How are you feeling now?
Kevin Sorbo: By the fourth and fifth year after having the strokes, I was feeling normal. I still get residual arm pain. There’s a little damage on the nerves of my left arm. I lost 10% of vision on both eyes. I still have balance issues only when I get awfully tired, but I still work out every day. I do some cardio and lift weights, not like when I used to do for ‘Hercules,’ but I still do it because it’s very therapeutic. I know I’m not where I used to be and I get it. Part of it is that I’m 14 years older (laughs). I passed every physical exam for the last 14 years since my strokes and I’m still working, thank God.
Despite the lasting friendships that you created with the ‘Hercules’ cast, you also mentioned in True Strength some of the challenges that came with the show, specifically your relationship with Executive Producer Rob Tapert and the spinoff known as ‘Xena: Warrior Princess.’ Given the opportunity, would you consider working with Rob or actress Lucy Lawless again?
Kevin Sorbo: I’d love to. It’s up to him. Rob got very mad at me when I didn’t want to do another three years of ‘Hercules’ after seven years. I was still getting over my illness. I really went back to work in season six and I was only working an hour a day when I used to do 14. I was slowly getting back to the swing of things, but I was still recovering. If Rob wanted to work with me he could reach me, but he doesn’t want to. It’s too bad because we had a friendship that could have lasted, but there’s a common denominator with the man. Rob is a brilliant guy who had a lot to do with the success of ‘Hercules,’ but he’s also a difficult man to get along with. When you have 700 employees working for you and they all saying you’re difficult, well, there’s a common denominator there.
It seems like actors tend to shy away from faith-based films because they don’t want to be stereotyped as doing Christian or family-friendly movies. What are your thoughts on this?
Kevin Sorbo: It’s amazing how Hollywood and the media have made it wrong to be a Christian. If you’re a Christian it’s bad, but it’s OK to shove other religions down people’s throats. I’m sorry, but I don’t see Christians hijacking planes and flying into buildings. I don’t get it, but I could be wrong. In the bible I don’t see Jesus beheading people or raping women and children. I’m not a bible banger. I’m a Christian. I don’t throw it down anyone’s throat. I’m a believer in the freedom of religion. If you’re an atheist, I don’t have a problem with it. It’s not my job to change you. I’m just not that type of Christian, I guess. But, I’m very proud of films, like Soul Surfer and What If. I’ve got another one coming up called The Persecuted, which is sort of an action faith-based movie. I also have a movie called Julia X where I play a serial killer. I’m an actor. If I like a storyline and the character offered to me, then I’m going to do it.
What do you hope readers will get out of True Strength?
Kevin Sorbo: I’m hoping that it’s a huge motivating factor for many. A lot of people will be shocked to read my story. Yes, the aneurysms were covered by the press, but Universal Studios chose to keep the strokes a secret, which I’m thankful for. I’m glad they did because I didn’t want it to come out at that time. I do believe people will be surprised to hear of the physical ailments I had to endure and how frail I became when I looked indestructible. I see True Strength as a triumph over tragedy and I hope people will look at it in the same way. Doctors are great, but they don’t know everything. That’s why it’s called a practice (laughs). They’re still learning. Doctors are going to say things to you, but they may not always have positive reinforcements behind them. That’s why I fought back.
For more information on Kevin Sorbo, visit his official page at KevinSorbo.net.
Photo Credits: Barbara Henderson / PR Photos, Pixplanete / PR Photos, and David Gabber / PR Photos.