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

Publishers Weekly
One of Hollywood's brightest stars since the late 1940s (Champion, Lust for Life, Spartacus), Douglas embarked on a literary career in the 1980s, with his bestselling memoir The Ragman's Son. He suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago, and now, at 84, he offers the inspirational but not at all Pollyannaish story of his recovery. A peculiarly painful sensation in his right cheek was the first warning, followed by a bewildering inability to talk. Lying in a hospital bed set up in his home, Douglas felt his situation was hopeless. How could he be an actor and not be able to talk? He contemplated ending his life, but when he put a gun in his mouth and painfully bumped his teeth, he withdrew the weapon and began to laugh at his own dramatic gesture. Douglas recounts how he battled his depression not only with medical care but also by recalling happy memories (he shares reminiscences about Sinatra, Reagan and others), and he explains tips and exercises he learned from his speech therapist. Inspired by the courage of others who endured physical or emotional illness, Douglas began to overcome his fears. With the help of his supportive family (who refused to coddle him), he even returned to the screen in Diamonds, playing a boxer who had a stroke. Entertaining and uplifting, Douglas's story is a lesson in survival, one that will entice readers whether or not they have had similar illnesses. B&w photos. (Jan. 14) Forecast: This book is a natural for the 65-plus crowd, especially those who enjoyed Tuesdays with Morrie. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1996, film and stage star Douglas suffered a debilitating stroke at age 80, leaving him unable to walk or talk. Therapy helped him to speak and walk-with effort. In this memoir, he reflects on people with handicaps, having established a unit for those with Alzheimer's disease at the Motion Picture Home. Love comes from years of dedication, and in his case he thanks his wife, Ann. Douglas's sense of humor and irony fails only after a friend criticizes his "sucking up to God." Yet he does discuss the values of prayer and Judaism in his recovery. Still weak, he gives us vivid accounts of his memorable trips to Israel and Berlin. He reads a brief introduction and seven minutes of the last chapter with both feeling and understandable effort. His son, actor Michael, adequately completes the narration. Definitely recommended for popular biography collections.-Gordon Blackwell, Eastchester, NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
With high humor, though fighting waves of depression, Douglas tells of his recovery from a stroke. This is Douglas's eighth book, the best being his autobiography, The Ragman's Son (1988), and his first novel, Dance with the Devil (1990). Here, he begins with the soft knifelike pain down the side of his head and cheek, then his sudden loss of speech. Soon he is undergoing months of therapy with no seeming gain: " �A sick sparrow sang six sad spring songs sitting sighing under a simmering sun.' I don't know if I could have handled that before my stroke!" Then he must resist well-meaning people who encourage him to become an invalid. "They are enablers. Next thing you know, they'll be feeding you and treating you like a simpering idiot. You can't let them." Douglas opted instead to work toward becoming a real-life Spartacus, leading other stroke victims out of bondage to despair. In the case of pal Burt Lancaster, languishing speechless for four years after a stroke, he didn't get the chance. They'd drawn pistols together at the O.K. Corral, but "his wife would not permit me to see him, fearing it would depress him." At times, this is nearly a roll call of dead acting friends; we seem to be watching as faces of unforgettable intensity turn secret and dark. But Douglas provides a gutsy conclusion when he finds he must make his first public appearance, slurred speech and all, to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars. Waiting backstage, he hears himself speaking clearly in a scene from Spartacus. He enters to a standing ovation. "I paused, took a deep breath and swallowed. �Thank you for 50 wonderful years in the wonderful world of moviemaking.' " Inspirational and immenselycharming.

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Product Details

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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