My Stroke of Luck

My Stroke of Luck

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by Kirk Douglas

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My stroke taught me so much, and for all that it stole, it gave me even more. In the process of healing, my life has changed for the better. Now I want to share what I have learned.

In this vivid and very personal reflection upon his extraordinary life as an actor, author, and legend in his own time, Kirk Douglas

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My stroke taught me so much, and for all that it stole, it gave me even more. In the process of healing, my life has changed for the better. Now I want to share what I have learned.

In this vivid and very personal reflection upon his extraordinary life as an actor, author, and legend in his own time, Kirk Douglas offers a candid and heartfelt memoir of where it all went right in his life — even after suffering a debilitating stroke. Revealing not only the incredible physical and emotional toll of his stroke but how it has changed his life for the better, Douglas shares the lessons that saved him and helped him to heal. Alongside his heartfelt advice and insight, he also recalls warm memories of some of the most famous figures of our time — including Burt Lancaster, Michael J. Fox, and Gary Cooper — as well as others who have soared to greatness in the face of adversity.

Charming, soulful, and filled with personal photographs, My Stroke of Luck is an intimate look at the real person behind the fabulous talent — and at a life lived to its very fullest.

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Editorial Reviews
The "stroke" in the title is literal: In 1995, the aging Hollywood legend suffered a debilitating "medical event" that changed his life but certainly did not affect his writing skills. The author who crafted the bestselling memoir The Ragman's Son once again captures our hearts with his candor and humor. By his own account, Douglas's physical rehabilitation was far from smooth. Indeed, in a moment of desperation not previously publicized, he attempted suicide. Ultimately, though, these memoirs are inspiring. After all, would we expect anything less from the masterful actor who gave us Champion, The Bad and the Beautiful, and Lust for Life?

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HarperCollins Publishers
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5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.43(d)

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Chapter One

How It Happened

It was a sunny afternoon (not unusual in Los Angeles). I was in my room, lounging in a chair, having a manicure (ah, the lifestyles of the rich and famous). My wife, Anne, insists that I have a regular manicure. She cannot bear the sight of my peasant hands if they are not properly manicured.

I like this room. I do all my work here-writing, studying scripts, reading a book, watching television, and dreaming. I gave up my office long ago. This is where I exist. I turn the phone off-that shrill siren song of the outside world. The only constant visitors to my lair are my dogs, Danny and Foxy, both Labradors. I couldn't pet them now because my hands were being beautified.

I was feeling pretty good since the surgery on my back, ready to make a golf date, dreaming about hitting a long drive on the fourth hole. Suddenly, I felt a peculiar sensation in my right cheek.

It was as if a pointed object had drawn a line from my temple, made a half circle on my cheek, and stopped. I felt no pain, but when I tried to describe it to Rose, my manicurist, I couldn't talk.

What came out was gibberish. What was happening to me? Rose had been a nurse in Israel and knew immediately that I was having a stroke. She ran to the kitchen to ask Concha, our cook, to call Anne, who was at that moment playing bridge with Barbara Sinatra.

An alarmed Concha rushed into the room and began slapping my face, intoning Mexican prayers. I tried to tell her that slapping was not helping me. But all that came out of my mouth was babble. She kept slapping. I was bewildered.

Anne hurried home and got on the phone to my doctor. Dr. Rick Gold told her, "If he can move, drive him to the hospital -- an ambulance would take too long."

I looked at Anne. There was fear in her eyes, but she tried to reassure me in a matter-of-fact way. I did not try to speak. My mind was in turmoil. I still did not know what had happened to me. Now everybody was being very calm, too calm. It bothered me. Before being led to the car, I looked at my hands. I turned to Rose: "Hey, you didn't finish my nails." My joke fell flat -- no one understood me.

When we arrived at a private entrance, two doctors were waiting at the end of a long hall. They were relieved to see me walk. This indicated that I had no paralysis in my legs.

Dr. Gold asked, "Show me your teeth." I bared my teeth as I have done in so many of my movies. What I did not know was that my right lip drooped down, covering my teeth at that side of my mouth. It was a sure sign of stroke. I could understand everything the doctor said, but I could not talk.

They quickly sent me for a CAT scan. A CAT scan uses X rays; an MRI, which uses magnetic resonance, was out of the question because of my pacemaker, inserted into my chest six years earlier. (But that's another story.) When they slid me into that enclosed channel, I was frightened. "What's happening to me?" The beating of my heart seemed louder than the mechanical buzz of the machine taking pictures of my brain. I shut my eyes in the darkness.

"Am I going to die?" I just recovered from an operation on my back!

They rolled me back into the light. I preferred the darkness. I wanted to obliterate everything. They tried to calm me down: "With exercise and speech therapy, you will regain your speech." They put me on a gurney, assuring me, "It's just a minor stroke."

What the hell are they talking about? A stroke! I just came out of this same hospital a month ago, after enduring an operation on my back from my helicopter crash. Strokes are for elderly people, with slurred speech, moving about in walkers or wheelchairs. I was only eighty; how can a stroke happen to me? Does that mean there will be no golf tomorrow?

Later, I learned that I had suffered a brain attack. That's what strokes really are. Brain attacks are the third leading cause of death in America. Every minute someone in the United States has a stroke. That means more than 700,000 people each year. While you read this page, two more people will have a stroke. Thirty percent of those who suffer strokes are under the age of sixty-five. What chance do I have, I'm nearly twenty years older?

As I was wheeled down the hospital corridor, I looked up at the ceiling lights passing over me. Didn't I see this scene in a movie? The doctor's words echoed in my mind: It's just a minor stroke. Yeah, minor to you, major to me. I was frightened. In my hospital room, Dr. Gold, our regular internist, tried to lessen my fears. "Kirk, you did a picture with Janet Leigh."

"The Vikings," I muttered.

"Tell me." And he leaned closer to me. "Are those big boobs real?"

"What?" I couldn't believe it!

"Are those beautiful boobs real?"

" 'Course!"

"How do you know, did you ever touch them?

Did you see them?"

I shook my head in exasperation. "Real!"

"Boy, I always had a crush on her."

And so the conversation continued. I never told Janet that the doctor used the image of her breasts to take my mind off my problems. For twenty hours, I was forbidden to eat or drink until the doctors were convinced that my esophagus was not impaired and that I could swallow. Finally, they gave me something to drink and watched me intensely. They did not want me to choke to death. That thought sent shivers through my body. Death! Yesterday I was ready to play golf. Now what?

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Meet the Author

Kirk Douglas has been a Hollywood legend for more than half a century. His eighty-three films include The Bad and the Beautiful and Lust for Life. In addition, his company, Bryna, has produced such classics as Spartacus, Douglas has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award given by the President, as well as numerous other awards and honors. Currently he serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the State Department and the Legion de Honneur in France. The father of four sons, and grandfather of five, he lives with his wife, Anne, in Beverly Hills.

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My Stroke of Luck 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! It is very easy to read and is motivational and inspriational. Although my father suffered a stroke 2 yrs ago, I believe that this book can be ejoyed by by others who may not have any connection to stroke victims. It is a good 'life' book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a wonderful, inspirational book this is. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially if someone is facing hard times. It is funny, poignant, and uplifting all at the same time. I read it in one day; I couldn't put it down. Kirk Douglas is an amazing man.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Beyond a shadow of a doubt,'My Stroke Of Luck' truly represents to this reader, Kirk Douglas'greatest LIFEtime achievement. Admittedly humorous at moments, the message transmitted throughout is thoroughly SPIRITUAL in nature; a humble and compassionate outcry in the HOPE that it will help wake up a deaf world. Furthermore, THE MESSAGE encourages each reader to get 'Back-To-Basics' and to truly LOVE one another. Mr. Douglas' book is a must read Instruction Manual for each and every individual seeking the ever-present healing POWER within our very midst. The WISDOM and UNDERSTANDING conveyed in THE MESSAGE demonstrates to this reader, that Kirk Douglas is a genuine LIGHT which gloriously shines through the deepest darkness. I hereby acknowledge that I personally owe Mr. Douglas an awesome debt of gratitude. As 'Sharing is Caring', I will pass THE MESSAGE on.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have read almost all of Mr. Douglas' books.I've only missed the two childrens' books he wrote, but I'll most likely be getting them for my children. I love his fiction books but his three autobiographies have been incredible. 'My Stroke of Luck' is totally true to the others. To me, it's like sitting on the front porch and listening to your Grandfather. And being old enough to appreciate all he has to say. He talks to you, not at you! Mr. Douglas has lead an incredible life and has just now realized it. Aside from the 'Hollywood' part of his life he looks back at all life's lessons. At all his friends and their lives and what they meant to him. He shows through his words his incredible love for his wife, Anne, and how he could not have survived without her. I am in awe of her strength and wisdom and I'm grateful he has shown us that in his book. Mr Douglas tells you how he is not a 'big tough guy' really because of his weaknesses, but to me, he just shows what a great man he really is. He's not afraid to tell you what he's done wrong in his life and to apologize for it. And he's shown how very strong he truly is by telling us about his misfortunes. I continue to look forward to anything else he writes.