Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Guest post: Jan Feighner reviews Kevin Sorbo's new book

This post is from talented writer Jan Feighner, who freelances for The Mercury. Thank you, Jan, for supplying this heartfelt and well-written review, as well as for your insightful interview with Kevin Sorbo and all of the photos and links below.  

Jan's review:

Kevin Sorbo’s recently published, True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life (DaCapo Press; ISBN: 978-0-306-82036-6), is an informative, inspirational memoir that chronicles how in 1997, an aneurysm in his left shoulder sent numerous blood clots down his arm, paralyzing it, and redirected them, causing three strokes in his brain. The actor most noted for his leads in TV’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys” and “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda,” then candidly documents his arduous recovery, including his frustration with traditional medicine, use of nontraditional methods like acupuncture and yoga, and reliance on a loved one’s support that as an independent, uber-fit, 38-year-old muscle mass he never dreamed he’d need.

It also addresses how the strokes threatened his successful TV and movie career. Noted for being a “tough guy,” performing his own rigorous stunts and lifting inhuman weights at a local gym following a day’s 14-hour or more shoot, Sorbo admits that he and “Hercules” had an image to uphold, and, therefore, he and his producers chose to hide his illness from the public. Now, 14 years later, Sorbo ends his silence.

Sorbo was on top of the world in 1997. He wrapped his fifth season as the Greek demi-god, Hercules, in an internationally-acclaimed syndicated television program, proposed marriage to the love of his life, actress Sam Jenkins, whom he met when she guest-starred as Princess Kirin for a “Hercules” episode, and touted his first full-length feature film, “Kull the Conqueror.” His life seemed idyllic.

What could go wrong?

Two pops in the back of his head, as Sorbo describes internally hearing his strokes, led to dizziness and partial blindness one sunny September day while driving to Sam’s Los Angeles home from the chiropractor’s office to which he had gone to help correct some numbness and tingling in his left arm. The chiropractor unexpectedly cracked his neck, something that Sorbo disdained.

Suddenly, “an electric pulse got stuck inside my brain and ricocheted around for what felt like a small eternity. It was like a blow to the head: confusion at first. … I felt sick to my stomach, like after a bad rollercoaster ride. … My heart was racing. I hardly recognized my white-knuckled hands gripping the steering wheel.”

Shortly after, he found himself in Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit connected to a battery of machines. Their constant drone annoyed him, but he marveled at the many tubes invading his body, dispensing necessary medication and nourishment.

“It was coming back quickly now,” Sorbo relates in his introduction. “I had blood thinners coursing through my arteries. Something in my arm, no, shoulder, had sent several hundred blood clots down my arm. When they reached an artery too small to pass, they stuck there, blocking any fresh blood and suffocating my flesh. My fingers had turned blue — cold and tingly.”

“Don’t move,” the author quotes his doctors, or he will “bleed out;” i.e., exsanguinate, the fatal process of hypovolemia (blood loss), to a degree sufficient enough to cause death.

Clearly, from its beginning Sorbo’s 276-page book is a very personal, realistic account of a devastating event to which we can all relate in some way, having faced adversities of our own.

His frank, casual narrative draws readers into his story. We identify with him being the proverbial everyman who worked hard for what he achieved then almost lost it all in one brief moment. He describes how he became surly, impatient, sarcastic and depressed about his bleak doctor’s prognosis, overwhelming condition and slow progress. He tells of directing his anger toward himself, doctors and even God; demanding to know “Why him?” We feel his pain.

“Head injuries manifest in countless different ways, but the most common symptom for a head-injured patient is an enhanced or uncontrollable temper, an accelerated rage response. I had that one for sure. Basically, my emotions were not my own. I have always been impatient, but now, with my temper constantly burning at medium-high, I was rude and overly critical much of the time.”

Sorbo elaborates how he expunges his pain by trying different curative approaches like acupuncture, psychiatry, and yoga, and traverses the road to wellness during a laborious, three-year period. He says that his sarcasm and depression decreased as he immersed himself in family, fitness and work. He never quits, overcoming physical disabilities, anxiety, paranoia and lost confidence, and who, like the mythical Phoenix, rises from his ashes to be reborn. We feel his joy.

“My illness made me special — in a way I never wanted nor expected, yes, but if I was to be special, then I was going to do something with that gift. I wasn’t a half-god or any part god. I was a mere mortal, with human limitations and problems, but I was determined not to behave like a victim anymore.”

Divided into three sections: “Demigod,” “Titanic,” and “Wholly Human,” True Strength is set against the backdrop of Sorbo’s modest, small town Minnesota roots and rise to fame from commercial model to iconic TV hero. It seamlessly juxtaposes flashbacks and commentaries that provide career and childhood background with Sorbo’s illness as it unfolded, cross-fading similar to a movie or documentary, and interspersing contributions from Sorbo’s wife Sam, his mother Ardis, and “Hercules” supporting actors Michael Hurst and Bruce Campbell and producer Eric Gruendemann, who share their observations and demonstrate great respect, loyalty and love for him.

True Strength is also a love story dedicated to Sam, who, while engaged to the vivacious strongman, faced and conquered their fears together. The book recounts how Sorbo was frequently aggravated by Sam’s optimism, refusal to give up, and discoveries of new ways to encourage him, but that he ultimately believed in her infinite upbeat attitude, and eventually succumbed to her inner strength, thereby, finding his own.

They married and had three beautiful children, the pride of Sorbo’s life about which he maintains might never have been. Sam revealed that had he not slowed the pace of his rising career, his fast-track to fame may have left her behind with them both seeking other partners better suited for their goals.

Sorbo’s ultimate message is “You can overcome anything” and “If I can do this, so can you,” hence the book’s Triumph-Over-Tragedy appeal. But, he espouses much more.

Having spoken with Sorbo on numerous occasions, I know him to be entertaining, engaging and motivational. He brings these qualities to the page, expressing an energy that is as infectious as it is charismatic. Throughout his travails I want him to succeed: crying when he cried, smiling at new things discovered, and, when he is at his lowest point, yearning to reach out and say, “I will help you.”

Sorbo remains an anomaly to medical science, suffering not one but three strokes at such a young age and in perfect health with no apparent cause then beating the odds to almost completely recover. He continues to support numerous charities, which he has always done, particularly as the spokesperson for the Los Angeles-based A World Fit For Kids! for the past14 years, but he now seems more determined than ever to encourage others to overcome adversity.

Typically, I don’t read celebrity memoirs because so many seem to be self-serving ego boosts intended for publicity and profit. If I see one more shallow “Tell All” or “How To” from these so-called stars I think I will vomit.

I hoped Sorbo’s True Strength wouldn’t be another piece of Hollywood tripe added to the expanding list of crap I refuse to shelve adjacent Euripides and Poe in my eclectic collection. As a long-time Sorbo fan, I wanted him to do right by avid readers like me, especially considering that no matter what he published, I would buy it.

Sorbo did not disappoint me.

I highly recommend True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, certainly to Sorbo fans, but most importantly to everyone experiencing or who has experienced life changes, particularly traumatic events. This is not just another trite celeb, “It’s all about me,” publication. True Strength gives readers the tools and encouragement to discover more about their pain and journeys, and offers hope that the tunnel’s end light is near if they seek it.

Jan's interview with Kevin Sorbo: 

I first met actor Kevin Sorbo in late August 1997 during a press junket for his premier feature film, “Kull the Conqueror,” which was opening in theaters nationwide. He was on hiatus following the fifth season of his internationally acclaimed syndicated television series, “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” and stopped in Boston prior to returning to New Zealand where the show was produced.

I remember sitting in a semi-circle of reporters at the Ritz-Carlton hotel when this huge hulk of a man entered the room from behind us and politely shook all of our hands. Sorbo wore a smart gray suit with clean lines that accentuated his six-foot-three, 235-pound muscular frame. His shoulder-length blondish hair, inviting blue eyes and winning smile created an unforgettable presence. Everything about him exuded confidence: his casual stride, strong handshake, direct eye contact and friendly demeanor.

A few weeks later that confidence would be shattered.

In his new memoir entitled, True Strength: My Journey to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, Sorbo confesses how at age 38 the “Hercules” hero was the epitome of health on a fast-track to stardom when an aneurysm sent numerous blood clots to his brain causing three strokes and nearly killing him shortly after his publicity tour in 1997. He describes the strokes, which occurred a few months prior to his impending wedding to the love of his life, actress Sam Jenkins, as “An 8.9 earthquake had struck my head and I was still having aftershocks.”

Sorbo also details his arduous journey to recovery over a three-year period, including balance and sight problems and use of traditional and alternative medicines. He reveals how he as an ambitious, athletic, internationally-known actor lost all confidence in his physical and mental capabilities, struggling daily for improvement and answers.

“I wish I could say that I didn’t feel sorry for myself… Thinking positive things when your health is tanking is difficult. You become self-absorbed: my vanished past, my lost future

“I wanted full disclosure. I was angry. I wanted revenge, but on whom? ... I was looking at losing everything…”

Sorbo fought hard for his life and won. He adapted to his few remaining handicaps, and emerged with new direction, stronger drive and greater determination to encourage others to overcome adversity.

“…thank God I have and always have had a very strong will to live — to succeed, to win, to triumph… To never give up. To fight for life. Because whatever ails you, you can survive and beat your demon. One way or another.

“You simply have to want life badly enough.”

Sorbo and I recently spoke via telephone about his incredible journey and equally amazing book.  

JF:  Why did you decide to write True Strength, especially now, 14 years later?

KS:  I think it’s a book people can relate to in a lot of ways, (and) I thought it was time to get it out there; it was time to tell the story. I hope this book is an inspirational book for people that go through and suffer through the same types of things: setbacks and illnesses, because if anything, you find out that everybody’s got a story; everybody’s had some things happen to them in their lives. To have that happen to me, somebody that was everything opposite of what doctors say should be when you get strokes obesity, smoking, drinking, diabetes, high blood pressure, all these things, I didn’t have any of that stuff so, for me to still get an aneurysm that sent all these clots into my body and have strokes come along with it, never give odds for that happening. So, it makes for a rather remarkable story, and, Thank God, a more remarkable recovery.

JF:  You’ve said in the past that you got into acting to make people feel the gamut of emotions. Did you approach telling your story the same way?

KS:  No, you know, it just sort of came together. There was no real game plan overall. I mean, there were anecdotes and stories and things that popped into my head along the way. You just kind of go, “You know, that’d be a good one to talk about. Oh, yeah, there’s another one.” There are so many things I could’ve talked about, but I didn’t want it to become an 800-page novel. The size of the book made a difference; it certainly made a difference to the publishers.

JF:  Do you still have some impairment from the strokes? Are there things that you can’t do?

KS:  Well, I also think that it’s that I’m 14 years older since then, so that has something to do with not being the athlete I used to (be). I still have a 10 percent loss of vision in both eyes, but other than that, no. I mean, the balance has been fixed. I still have some balance issues, but for the most part, no. I gotta get really overly tired for those things to kick in. I can still catch a baseball and throw a football and play basketball and stuff, so, at least, Thank God, that stuff came back.

JF:  You discuss in the book how uncomfortable and difficult your experience was to talk about, but also therapeutic. Did you find it difficult reliving it to write the book?

KS:  Oh, certainly. There’re sections in there where I talk about the day that it actually happened and going to the hospital, looking up at that blue sky with the hospital in the foreground, and saying to myself, “This is so weird. I’m gonna die today.” And was taken aback by how calm I was during it all, but at the same time angry that I would never live to be 90 and have kids and grandkids, and now I’ve got three (children). It was weird, but, it was weird that I was so relaxed about it all and just sort of said, “Alright, that’s the way it is.”

Certainly, the doctors said that waiting another hour, six hours, or whatever, I would have definitely died that day had I not gone to the hospital.

JF:  How did you overcome the difficulty of reliving it?

KS:  Well, I think on purpose there are stories in there to make you laugh, too, to keep the tone light. I didn’t want the thing to become so bogged down and depressing. Overall, it’s still a story of Triumph-over-Tragedy. It’s hopefully a book that will inspire people to get past their own weaknesses and their own illnesses and not just give up and throw the white flag when the doctors say, “That’s it. That’s all we can do,” because a lot of times that’s what happens and people just say, “Alright,” and then they just slowly let themselves die away instead of fighting for their lives.

JF:  Is it getting easier to talk about?

KS:  Yeah, it is. Like anything, and with anything when you put a name to it and a face to it and you start talking about it. I started telling more and more strangers, who, in a way, are strangers, I guess, but more friends and more people. Over the last 10 years I’ve sort of accelerated on it. And Sam (Sorbo’s wife) used to look at me and go, “Why are telling them that?” I found the more I actually just said, “You know, when I was really sick, you remember that?” like a friend, they’d go, “Yeah, I remember that.” (I’d say), “You know I suffered strokes, as well,” and they’d go, “What?” And I’d go, “Yeah,” and tell them the story. And the more I did it the better I felt just getting it out.

The hardest time for me really was the audio book, reading the pages out loud. There were places in there that were very emotional for me. Reading out loud is different when you’re hearing it.

JF:  Very true. When I hear you read the book, it’s so different from hearing you tell the story.

KS:  Well, it’s like when you read: how many times do you read a book and then they make a movie out of the book, and you go see the movie and the movie is so different from the book? And you’re going, “Well, that’s not the way I saw it.” I mean, we have all the technology we want in the world, but, the movie making a scene can never touch how well your brain sees it. The brain is a pretty amazing editor and cinematographer. And when we read, for the most part, books are much better than movies.

JF:  The way the book is structured, I picture its chapters as scenes fading in and out as if it’s a documentary or a television program.

KS:  Well, I think that was more the reason why I decided to keep the chapters for the most part pretty short. They went from two pages to 10 pages or something. It was meant be in this ongoing little story and have, “This is this scene, now here’s the next scene of the book, here’s the next scene of the book,” to read it like it’s being a movie or a television show or something.

JF:  Any plans to make it into a movie or something?

KS:  Oh, no, I’m not worried about that. I’m not gonna go down that avenue, trust me. I don’t have the time or the energy for it. If somebody really wants to make a movie out of it, then that’s something they’ll have to come to me for. I’m not worried about that right now.

JF:  Many people write books with the idea of turning them into movies.

KS:  Oh, I’m sure the big writers like (John) Grisham do, of course. He’s proven that he can do that, but I didn’t write it saying, “Oh, who do I want to play me?”

JF:  That would be tough, I would imagine.

KS:  Probably because all the actors in Hollywood are all wimps (laughs), so there’s no one who could play me!

JF:  How are people reacting to True Strength?

KS:  I had a few people at the New York Comic Con that had read it, and they were gushy and very nice. But, it really hasn’t had a chance to get out there and have that many readers yet, so, I can’t really say.

True Strength: My Journey to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life (DaCapo Press; October 15, 2011; Hardcover, ISBN: 978-0-306-82036-6) is available in various media at http://www.amazon.com/True-Strength-Journey-Hercules-Mortal/dp/0306820366/

See the websites www.kevinsorbo.net and www.truestrengthbook.com/ for more information.

Here is a link to Sorbo discussing True Strength:

Please listen to Sorbo reading an excerpt from True Strength:

Sorbo is also an excellent motivational speaker available for public speaking engagements through Ambassador Speaker’s Bureau. Please see his ASB page for how to book him at your next event: http://www.ambassadorspeakers.com/ACP/speakers.aspx?name=KEVIN%20SORBO&speaker=1431

About guest blogger Jan Feighner:

Feighner is a freelance writer whose work has been published in local, regional and national U.S. newspapers (including The Mercury) and magazines and on the Internet. Her background includes work in publicity, theatre, music, art and nonprofit organizations. Her interests include archaeology, astronomy, history, geology, art history, visual and performing arts, cooking, gardening, archery, walking, football, golf, reading, writing, museums and art galleries, and Early Medieval, Celtic and Arthurian studies. She is in the process of learning Welsh and Latin. 

To learn more about Feighner, visit her blog, http://sorbowriter.wordpress.com/ 
Follow her on Twitter @TheJanF


Anonymous said...

This woman Jan Feighner is so in love with Kevin Sorbo (and wishes she had his life) there is no objective point of view, this guy fooled everyone with covering up his illness how can anyone believe in him or believe what he says as truth. maybe he never had a stroke maybe he really has Cancer but the truth is he gives you what you wants you to know and not the truth.

When I can see his medical records only then will i believe he had strokes but I will say this, if he lied about anything God will punish him severely!! hahahahahah!!

Anonymous said...

Jan Feighner sees in him what all his fans see. He has charm, self thought, and true honor. He is and will always be the best looking actor out there. His wife is equally beautiful and charming.
Now he has chosen to share a bit of his life with others by writing a book that gives others hope. Without ego I might add. I say thank you Kevin for sharing and pray your life becomes a big star as you were in Hercules. I want to see you on the screen again and again.
Kevin has been given a second chance in life and I know he will make a difference in a lot of people lives. Kevin deserves stardom! And we deserve an actor who's a true role model. Someone who we can look up to. With a life caught up with family not the fantasy life of stardom. We all should be so lucky!

Natasha said...

Jan, thanks for this wonderful article. I agree with every words in it.

Anonymous #1, I guess you don't know Kevin Sorbo if you write such a comments, you didn't look in his eyes. Not compare him with other celebrities, he doesn't need dirty PR.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Just for the record Sorbo fans it takes more than good looks in order to act tell me if Kevin Sorbo was some obese slob how would you feel about him then?

I questioned Kevin Sorbo's honesty and integrity NOT his bloody acting abilities!!

Natasha said...

Anyway his book is very inspirational.

Cathy said...

Very nice, Jan - enjoyed reading this and trying to put myself in someone's place when their whole life seems doomed. The best part of "True Strength" seems to be the inspiration it gives folks like me to continue no matter how many times you fall. It's a gift and I appreciate someone like Kevin Sorbo sharing it with anyone who is genuinely interested. Brava!

Anonymous said...

You know Kevin Sorbo fans and Jan Feighner, if all of you want to make TRUE STRENGTH a success then I challenge everyone to hash tag not only #TrueStrengthBook but also #Hercules #KevinSorbo and anything that will lead back to promoting Kevin Sorbo's book.

Please go to this page search on Twitter

Now replace it with Hercules (where TrueStrengthBook is) now how many people are talking?

Not many people can possibly know about Kevin Sorbo's book if people don't include something that leads to what Kevin Sorbo is known for and not to mention Kevin Sorbo included three people have the same title as TRUE STRENGTH.

You fans say you care then prove it!!

Kevin Sorbo, let me say this being #1 as a best seller if that is your goal then you care more about sales than you care about inspiring others which you can still do with tweets and statuses on the Internet.

Alison said...

It very sad to see that some one can take such an inspirational book and turn it into hate. My challenge is to ignore the negative and turn it into a positive. Jan, this is a wonderful review of a wonderful book. Please keep up the good work. I will be watching.

Anonymous said...

@Alison if you're going to ignore the negative comments then why spend time addressing it, focus how you see it, how this book touched you not how others see it. Everyone has their right to their opinion, please understand this.

Alison said...

Perhaps some people should focus on the book, I agree. Let's focus on the book instead of the reviewer or the writer. As I said, I have read the book and found it inspirational, especially since my husband is going through a very prolonged illness and is going through much of what was written in this book. I was glad to see that with work and not giving up that Mr Sorbo came out of it with and positive and not a negative, because the negative can bring us down so many times.

Anonymous said...

Hi, anonymous trolls! Mr.Sorbo did not fool anybody. His fiancee and the people he worked with knew about his illness. Or you think he should've shouted out about it? "Hi,guys, I'm Kevin Sorbo and I had three strokes!" Or "How are you? My name is Kevin Sorbo. I have had strokes recently!" Or "How do you do? I'm the Hercules guy, I had a stroke and now I feel sick to my stomach, so stay away from me!"?????

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous said...
Hi, anonymous trolls! Mr.Sorbo did not fool anybody. His fiancee and the people he worked with knew about his illness. Or you think he should've shouted out about it? "Hi,guys, I'm Kevin Sorbo and I had three strokes!" Or "How are you? My name is Kevin Sorbo. I have had strokes recently!" Or "How do you do? I'm the Hercules guy, I had a stroke and now I feel sick to my stomach, so stay away from me!"?????

December 9, 2011 1:40 PM"

Are you touchy? Are you Kevin Sorbo, or are you Sam? How well do you know Kevin Sorbo?

People have the right to their opinions. Anonymous or otherwise stated. Some people will be inspired by this and some won't. Get over it. That's why there are choices in this world!

Have a great day!

Anonymous said...

Kevin Sorbo said that he acted as if he was healthy when he was sick, are you saying that isn't fooling anyone? So how do we know he doesn't act all the time with the public? No matter what people say, he had strokes and he could have another one, so how about we all say nothing more except good job!!

Kenya Holmon said...

It’s a blog with full of latest and spectacular information’s – This blog has helped me to gain much more information. I would like to appreciate the blog owner for his efforts Junket Tour

Anonymous said...

Kevin Sorbo is addictive. There's just something about him that draws you to him like a magnet to steel. He was beautiful as Hercules and as the years have gone by, the beauty is still there. It comes from within and shines outward on him. You are either gonna love him or dislike him. Envy, jealousy....they cause the dislike. The person that he is shines like a beacon. You can't help but feel it, see it. Whish more people were like him.