Hello, Marilu!

The actress-turned-author will discuss her superior autobiographical memory and health advocacy Wednesday.


Since childhood, Marilu Henner has always thought of South Florida as a “special place.”

“Every spring break, we’d drive to Miami Beach,” recounts the Chicago native, of piling into her parents’ station wagon with her five siblings.

And were she of a mind to, she could describe — in explicit detail — each and every day of those trips.

As well as the events of any other day — including the date and day of the week — if so prompted.

That’s because — as the 66-year-old actress, author and health advocate famously talked about on “60 Minutes” in 2010 — she has a neurological condition called “hyperthymesia” (aka “highly superior autobiographical memory” — or HSAM).

A given episode of “Taxi” from 1981? She knows what she had for lunch the day before it was filmed.

A 30-year-old song comes on the radio? She can recount the events surrounding the first, 12th or 20th times she heard that song.

“It’s like a pilot light that’s always on,” she says of her extraordinary recall. “And when I want to, I can turn it on brighter — or just leave it low.”

As keynote speaker at the Women in Leadership Awards luncheon Wednesday at the Kravis Center, she’ll discuss the condition, as well as her career, health advocacy and “how I became the person I became.”

‘Unusual upbringing’

A self-described “fast-talker,” Henner says her upbringing was “unusual.”

“My mother ran a dance studio in our garage and a hair salon in our kitchen,” she says.

The dance studio taught hundreds from the neighborhood — “ages 2 to 80, including nuns” — and the Henner kitchen housed a hairdrying chair in lieu of a refrigerator (which was kept in the basement).

All six Henner children worked for Mom: “When we were teenagers, we would teach tap, ballet and jazz to other teenagers.”

Henner’s uncle (her mother’s brother) was equally eclectic and entrepreneurial: He lived above them with his boyfriend and their bevy of cats, dogs and fish while serving as the “neighborhood astrologist” and running a cat hospital from the house.

Making health a priority

Both of Henner’s parents died prematurely: her dad of a heart attack at 52; her mom at 58 from the complications of rheumatoid arthritis.

“After my dad died, I ate my feelings and gained a lot of weight,” she says.

She reacted differently to her mom’s death: “After my mom died, I became a student of health. I studied all I could about the human body.”

Now, she follows a vegetarian diet, eschewing all dairy and sugar.

She also exercises daily — Pilates, yoga, walking, dancing.

And when not acting, appearing on Broadway or advocating for cancer awareness, she loves spreading the gospel of health and fitness — which earned her induction into the National Fitness Hall of Fame in 2006.

Since 1994, she’s written 10 books — starting with the autobiography “By All Means Keep on Moving” — and self-help titles such as “Total Health Makeover,” “I Refuse to Raise a Brat,” and “Wear Your Life Well.”

She put that accumulated knowledge to life-saving use 15 years ago — just after she began dating the man who would become her third husband.

Love of her life

Henner and Michael Brown met at the University of Chicago in the early 1970s. The two went their separate ways after college, but periodically kept in touch.

By 2003, each had been married (Henner twice) and divorced; Henner was raising the two sons she had with second husband, Robert Lieberman, while Brown’s three kids were grown.

When they reconnected in their 50s — Brown called Henner out of the blue — the spark was immediate.

Within a week, the couple was professing their love to one another, vowing to spend the rest of their lives together.

Two months into their new relationship, while on vacation with Brown, Henner spotted blood in the toilet.

She asked Brown about it. He explained that he had blood in his urine for awhile, but that it was no big deal. He had it checked out and his doctor didn’t find anything seriously amiss.

That didn’t sit right with Henner. When they returned home, she took him to different doctors who tested him more extensively.

Their diagnosis was grim: Brown had advanced bladder cancer.

Shortly thereafter, a full body scan would reveal Brown also had unrelated early-stage lung cancer.

Henner immediately assumed the role of primary caregiver.

She helped transform Brown’s lifestyle and dietary habits and shepherded him through the then-experimental immunotherapy protocol he opted for to treat the bladder cancer.

Two rounds of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin immunotherapy — combined with Brown’s dedication to super-clean living — put him on the road to recovery from bladder cancer.

And because the lung cancer was detected so early, he was able to have it surgically removed.

By 2004, Brown was cancer-free — and has been ever since.

The couple married in 2006 and co-authored Henner’s 2016 book, “Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer.”

The perpetually upbeat Henner enjoys chronicling her life because she believes others can benefit from the lessons she’s learned.

And while not all her memories are necessarily good ones, she wouldn’t change a thing about her extraordinary recall.

“Having this ability has never been a burden and has always been a blessing,” she says.

“However,” she adds with a laugh, “it’s a curse for my husband.”

May is Bladder Cancer Awareness Month

Since helping her then-boyfriend (now husband) Michael Brown beat bladder cancer and lung cancer in 2003, Marilu Henner has been a passionate advocate in the battle against these diseases. Because bladder cancer can also involve issues relating to bodily functions and sexual intimacy, folks often avoid seeking treatment or even discussing the topic when symptoms arise. That’s why Henner has partnered with Genentech — maker of the cancer immunotherapy Tecentriq — in a campaign set for May’s Bladder Cancer Awareness Month to encourage folks to be open about this “below-the-belt disease” that strikes 80,000 Americans annually. In 2016, Henner and Brown wrote a book together — “Changing Normal” — about their experiences with his bladder cancer, and Henner has since collaborated with the Bladder Cancer Advocacy Network (BCAN.org) to create a discussion guide that helps caregivers and their loved ones navigate the challenging conversations that bladder cancer necessitates.



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