Interview: Sam Sorbo
Actress/model Sam (Jenkins) Sorbo was perhaps best known as both Princess Kirin and Serena, the Golden Hind in several episodes of “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” as well as Dr. Sara Riley, Captain Dylan Hunt’s fiancée in “Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda.” She also appeared as Sarah, the Preacher’s wife in the Hallmark movie, “Avenging Angel.”
Sam, a native of Pittsburgh, PA, took a sabbatical from her studies in biomedical engineering at Duke University to learn French, and pursued her interest in fashion with the renowned Elite modeling agency in Paris, France. When she finished at Duke, she installed herself in New York to continue a successful modeling career and start exploring acting opportunities.
Success in NY with films like “Twenty Bucks” and “The Bonfire of the Vanities” led her to move to Hollywood where she continued with starring roles in the films, “The Crew,” “Fortunes of War,” and “Ed and His Dead Mother.” Sam also had numerous guest-starring turns in television series, such as “Diagnosis Murder,” “SeaQuest2032,” “JAG,” “The Sentinel,” and a recurring role in “Chicago Hope.”
While filming her first appearance in “Hercules” in 1996 Sam met and immediately fell in love with lead actor Kevin Sorbo and vice versa. He proposed marriage six months later. They wed in January, 1998, and soon three little Sorbos (Braedon, Shane and Octavia) came along.
However, during the couple’s brief courtship, Kevin, the model of strength and veracity, experienced a series of devastating strokes in his brain in 1997 that all but left him incapacitated. Sam remained by his side, temporarily relinquishing her burgeoning career without hesitation for the man she loved and providing the support he so desperately needed.
Sam contributed several chapters to Kevin’s recently published memoir, True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life (Da Capo Press, ISBN 978-0-306-82036-6) that outlines Kevin’s physical and mental struggles and subsequent recovery from his strokes. (He dedicated his book to her.) She addressed the moment they met: “…he had amazingly blue eyes. I stared into them a little too long” and their wedding day: “Because he was so unsteady, Kevin planned to simply say, ‘I do’ and then make a little joke… but he was so emotional that he could barely get out anything.”
Sam kindly spoke with this writer about Kevin’s illness and recovery and her contributions to True Strength. Please enjoy this incredibly touching, candid interview. (Many thanks, Sam!)
SW: How difficult was it to put your acting career on hiatus during Kevin’s illness?
SS: It seemed like it would be very difficult initially, but when push came to shove I realized that I wanted most to be with Kevin, and so putting aside my professional aspirations for a man I adored who needed me desperately was not such a challenge after all.
Now, of course, I miss acting; I loved it. But, at the time I had to prioritize. And once I put him first, everything else fairly disappeared behind his illness, which was all-consuming for us both.
SW: Please briefly discuss your role as caretaker.
SS: I filled that role as well as any of my acting roles – better, maybe. I have always been medically inclined (I even played a doctor on TV – LOL!), and I used to volunteer in the (Los Angeles) Cedars-Sinai (Hospital) ER. I also have that caretaker bone in me. I provided as much support as I could for him while he endured a very taxing struggle, and I back-talked him when he got weary of fighting and waxed negative about his situation, (saying), “At least you still have an arm (or both your legs or a brain) to complain about!” I supported him in his decisions about the various medicines and therapy, and I encouraged him to seek other types of help.
But, while I was his main confidante, I was really his only confidante. I was okay with that, but he could’ve used someone else to lean on. Eventually, his trainer also got inside the inner circle, but Kevin realized fairly early on that most people simply wouldn’t understand.
That’s what is so amazing about True Strength – it offers a true glimpse inside the head of someone who has suffered a – I mean three – strokes.
SW: How did you manage the stress, fear, etc?
SS: I prayed a lot. I started a prayer journal and prayed every morning after he left for work. I also had a lot of faith, which helped me from obsessing about the worst. I just knew he would make it through this – though I never dreamed it would take so long. And at night when I couldn’t sleep I read. A lot!
SW: Did you ever feel completely helpless and/or hopeless? If so, how did you deal with that?
SS: Only a few times did I wonder if we had reached the end of the road, and what would happen to him if he couldn’t heal anymore. I cried my eyes out for a time, and then I berated myself back into a positive mind-frame by going for a walk or to the gym or something. I would pull myself out of the melancholy with some physical activity.
SW: How did you approach the possibility that you could lose Kevin forever in some way? Or did you ever think in those terms?
SS: Well, that fear came and went those first few days of the hospital visit, then again on my trip out to Atlanta when he collapsed on set. I think that was probably the hardest because I just got a phone call saying he was at the hospital and did I want to fly out? I flushed as I hung up the phone. My hands were shaking as I dialed the phone to make arrangements to leave town. That was a long, tough plane ride, I’ll tell you that much.
When we ascertained he was not experiencing a new health crisis or phenomenon I quietly decided that he was going to be fine, but (he) needed some time to heal. That’s when the caretaker in me kicked in and started taking names and calling doctors. That was the shift when I determined my new focus needed to be his welfare. He wasn’t going to do it – he just wanted to go back to work, but I could see that (his) attitude would only get him a trip back to the ER. Until that time, the doctors just assumed he would go right back to (being) the old Kevin, but in Atlanta I realized the rules had changed.
I live very much in the here and now, so after that plane ride I never honestly considered losing him. I did that once about my puppy, Gizmoe, and I cried for her – for the loss that was yet to come. Then I thought, “Why am I wasting this time we have together on emotions (that) there will be plenty of time for later when she really is gone?” And believe me, when she passed away, the depression was ready and waiting; and I hadn’t lessened it by worrying about it beforehand.
SW: Kevin talks quite a bit about your optimism in True Strength. How did you remain so positive?
SS: Being present in the moment without worry for what is not yet come is my motto. I can paint any picture I want with my thoughts of the future, so why would I choose anything negative or dreary? I am an optimist by choice because I am a pragmatist.
Let me put it this way: he could have died. Wait. He should have died. The odds were totally stacked against him, and by most accounts he should not be alive today. But they (doctors and nontraditional practitioners) saved him, and then he saved himself. How could I not be optimistic?
SW: What role did you play in True Strength’s production?
SS: Well, let’s just say he wouldn’t have done it without me!
SW: Was it difficult for you to relive the events to write for and help with the book?
SS: Working on the book was reliving the love story that we have. Sure, revisiting the tougher moments was difficult, but those are the mortar in our relationship. Those trials we weathered together are what bond us so strongly today.
SW: Are you more protective of Kevin than you might be had he not gone through this?
SS: Probably not. I’m kind of a mother bear to the people I love. He just appreciates me more because he needed me more than he ever imagined needing anyone.
SW: Do you have any advice for others who are the support system for someone with an illness, condition, etc?
SS: Count your blessings every day, even if it is a struggle. Because if you sit tallying up the ways things are gone wrong, that gets you further in a ditch. But if you can smile about a few things, that’ll lighten any load.
SW: Anything else?
SS: I don’t consider my role of caretaker so much, probably because I was in love and I answered a call for help. We didn’t have a traditional honeymoon or first-year newly wedded bliss, but I got the guy I always wanted, and that was enough for me. There were times I missed the hard-charging, strong-man I had known before his illness. I had him for a time, before he got sick, and that would have to suffice. There was nothing to gain by allowing regrets and sorrows a foothold, so I banished them and concentrated on what I did have, and I also worked hard at getting him better. I saw progress, though it was often frustrated by setbacks. The small glimpses of improvement gave me hope, which I tried to pass on to him. And he proved himself to be more of a man than I ever knew. He truly is my hero.
Purchase Kevin’s True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life: http://www.amazon.com/True-Strength-Journey-Hercules-Mortal/dp/0306820366
Please follow Sam here:
Please read my True Strength review and Q&A with Kevin in the Pottstown Mercury “Balancing the Books” blog: http://balancethebooks.blogspot.com/2011/12/guest-post-jan-feigner-reviews-kevin.html
Writer’s Note: Sam is the Board Chairperson of and actively participates in the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization, A World Fit For Kids! for which Kevin is the spokesperson. Please see its website here: http://www.worldfitforkids.org/
(Top photo left by Stan Wan; Serena photo courtesy of Creation Entertainment; magazine photo courtesy of Sam Sorbo; Sorbo wedding photo by Joe Buissink; Kevin and Sam photo by Jan; Sorbo family photo by Brad Bethel)