Actor Kevin Sorbo’s autobiography TRUE STRENGTH: My Journey From Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, co-written with his wife, Sam, is both surprisingly well written and an interesting memoir. Sorbo is best known for his portrayal of Hercules in the TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and Sorbo is aware that when most people think about him, they think about his muscles (gained from years of training at the gym), or perhaps his career as an actor (as he also had a lead role in the long-running Andromeda TV series). They certainly don’t think about the medical crisis that nearly took his life at age thirty-eight, partly because Sorbo’s “camp” (his agent, his publicist, etc.) kept it very quiet.
You see, Sorbo had a very unusual thing happen to him. His arm had blood clots all through it, and he nearly lost not only the use of his arm but his life as well. The life-saving treatment he endured included staying absolutely still for hours and days on end, while antibiotics and anti-coagulants coursed through his body. As a highly active person before this — someone who only was used to sleeping four and a half hours per day, to boot — Sorbo was not ready to have to confront his mortality.
Worse yet, he was in a new relationship with actress Sam Jenkins, the woman who eventually became his wife. She turned down acting and modeling gigs to stay by his side, and she was a source of strength to him as he fought depression, despair, and the overall feeling of hopelessness. But at the time, he had to be worrying that his new relationship was about to fall apart, too (even though he glosses over this in his memoir, his wife and co-writer, Sam, discusses this in some detail).
So here he was; wealthy due to his wildly successful turn as Hercules. He was portraying the strongest man in the world, someone who was supposedly born of a liaison between a God (Zeus) and a mortal, Alcmene. And yet, he was extremely ill and nearly died. This wasn’t easy to deal with. At all.
Then, he had so many problems after the weeks of hospitalization for his arm issues that he was sure he’d had some strokes. But the doctors originally misdiagnosed him and sent him on his way. They even told him he was OK to go back to work — apparently not realizing how many stunts he did in his regular “day job” as an actor (maybe they never saw his show?) — yet he knew something was wrong. And he was right to listen to whatever the still, small voice inside him was, because it turned out he’d had not one stroke, but three.
So once again, here he was. A victim of three strokes. He’d lost weight — twenty pounds or more — and muscle mass due to not being able to move in the hospital while his arm problems were being dealt with — and he had so many problems he could barely read, he could barely function, was battling severe depression, and was as much like any normal, human being could be during this time.
What saved Sorbo was a belief in a Higher Power. Not the stereotypical conversion, mind you, but the fact that before his health had gone south, he’d heard something — from somewhere — telling him to be careful, and not to let his chiropractor crack his neck. (This last in specific is why he believes that he had the strokes. No one in the medical community is sure why the blood clots in his arm traveled the wrong way up to his brain, but this is the best guess.)
So this book does many things. First, it proves that Sorbo is as mortal as anyone else, and that he believes in faith, family, and friendship above his career — though he admits his career has been very good to him and is appreciative of it, the way he lives his life now reminds me a great deal of Gale Sayers’ self-portrayal in his book I AM THIRD. Second, it proves that confronting your worst fears — being incapacitated for a lengthy period of time, as he was during this illness — will not change who you really are; instead, what they’ll do is force you to focus on what really matters. Finally, the writing here is first-rate; whether it’s Sorbo, his wife, or his various friends who chime in with anecdotes from their own perspective, the writing is outstanding. And I hadn’t expected that from an actor’s memoir, even one about having to confront his own mortality due to a severe, life-threatening illness.
This is a very good book to read in many senses, but it’s particularly impressive from a standpoint of a strong man having to admit that in this way, he’s as weak as anyone else. So in admitting that, Sorbo gained a devoted wife, he regained his health, he started sleeping regularly (more than four and half hours a night, too), and he deepened his relationship with the Higher Power. All of that is inspiring and well worth reading, especially for those dealing with chronic illnesses in their own lives, or in the lives of their friends or family members.
Final grade: A.
— reviewed by Barb