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Marilu Henner Interview



(SD) 1. Great to be with you! Tell us about your latest book, “Total Memory Makeover” and how will those that read it be able to improve their mind and memory?


(Marilu Henner)

That's a big first question. (Laughs) First of all, I’ve been teaching classes and seminars in memory for a long time. I have always had a very unusual memory, even as a small child, and as a result, anyone who knew me knew that you could name any date within my lifetime or anything that we had ever done together, and I would tell you what day of the week it was, what we were doing on that date, what we were wearing, what we ate, things like that. Anyone who was my friend knew that I had this unusual memory. Well, Lesley Stahl who has been my friend for a very long time was offered a story for 60 Minutes of a woman who came forward and said that she had this same kind of memory, and everyone, scientists and doctors, were saying, "Wow, we have never seen anything like this."  Lesley turned down this story because she said, "I'm sorry, but it's not that unusual. My friend Marilu Henner has the same memory." So three years later, after there were still only a few people with this memory, Lesley decided to do the story for 60 Minutes where they tested me on camera, and the rest is history. It's really changed my life. Currently, there are twelve of us documented with this kind of memory now known as HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory). They have written a very scientific paper about it, and now more people know about HSAM. I had already been teaching classes, as I said, for a long time about memory because the subject has always fascinated me, but after 60 Minutes, it became very easy for people to wrap their heads around the whole concept. I had been working on the book long before 60 Minutes came about because I wanted to take the exercises and things that I do naturally, and I wanted to share them with others to improve their ability to recall their own autobiographical memories.  The theories and concepts and exercises in the book are things I do naturally that a lot of people who write memory books never write about. People don't usually help people tap into their autobiographical memories; it's usually about memory palaces and pegs and about memorizing lists and things like that. I wanted to write a book and call it "Total Memory Makeover." It is part of my series of Total Health Makeover and 30-day Total Health Makeover series. It's really about helping people tap into their past so that they can bring the information forward, and then let it inform their future in order to make better choices.



(SD) 2. You are one of very few people who have HSAM (Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory), I know you mention in the book that you always had a sharper memory (Miss Memory) than most but when did you first discover this rare ability?


(Marilu Henner)

I have always had this memory so always having it I didn't know it was that unusual. I knew my memory was better than anyone else around me, but I didn't know that it was that unusual until the whole 60 Minutes thing came about.


(SD) When did you exercise it more fully?


(MH) I was one of six kids, so I loved the idea that I had this great memory, because when you're one of six, you look for anything that distinguishes you from your brothers and sisters.  You are such a part of a litter of puppies that you get excited when you think, "Oh, I have something a little different from my brothers and sisters." I just loved knowing that I had this unusual memory. I'd lie in bed at night and think, "Okay, what did I do a week ago, two weeks ago, three weeks ago?  What did I do when I was my younger brother Lorin’s age? And I could just do it.  It was this time travel exercise that I could actually do, and I just really enjoyed it. You have to understand that I had no idea it was this rare until recently. I knew that I had the best memory in my circle, certainly in my family and then in my circle of friends. But I didn't have any idea that it was that rare in terms of the world.


(SD) 3. Most would assume that you automatically focus on the positive memories from your past and ignore the negative, but it’s exactly the opposite as you state in your book. Why?


(Marilu Henner)

I explain to people that memories are tied to adrenaline, so you are going to remember the bad memories, anyway. You are going to remember the good and the bad. You are going to remember things like your first date with someone or when someone bullied you, or you're going to remember the birth of a child, or you're going to remember losing someone who's special to you. Memories are tied to adrenaline anyway, so why not cushion them with some of those sweeter little moments that so many of us lose? Most people don't remember those mundane little day-to-day memories with their families, those family vacations, playing on summer nights, things like that. You're going to probably remember the negative memories, so why not explore them for all they’re worth to really see the full range of what they were to take in the lessons that you can, and probably should, learn.


If memories become emotion bogeymen as in, "Oh, I don't want to look at this, I don't want to have anything to do with it." That's always a lot scarier to me. The fear is so much more frightening than the actual experience. Also, saying that you don't want to remember something bad that happened in your life, well, that's like saying, "I'm going to read this book, but in Chapter 10 something bad happens to the lead character, so I'm skipping Chapter 10, even though it informs the rest of the book." To me, I think the negative memories tell your story and contribute to your story, and if you are going to block them, or try to block them, chances are they are that bad that you are going to remember them no matter what you do anyway, so why not bring them forward to help you?



(SD) 4. Growing up here in Chicago, what first attracted you to show business and can you tell us about the very audition that started your career?


(Marilu Henner)

My family ran a dancing school in our garage on Chicago's north side in Logan Square, with 200 students between the ages of two and eighty, including the nuns who came over for stretch classes. I grew up right next door to a Catholic school, St. John Berchmans, and everybody hung out at our house taking tap, ballet and jazz or social dancing. It seemed like everyone's first kiss happened somewhere on our property because Friday nights were teen nights, so we had the 7th and 8th graders at 6:30 and the high school kids at 7:30. The dancing school was the social center of my neighborhood.


We also taught little kids; as soon as you were fourteen years old in the family, you started teaching dance and you usually got three-year-olds or you got eleven-year-olds. My mother also ran a beauty shop out of our kitchen with about twenty-five women from our neighborhood that would come over to get their hair done. The kitchen was set up like a beauty salon. We had a dancing school in our backyard, we had a beauty shop in our kitchen, and then my uncle lived upstairs with 10 cats, 2 dogs, 2 birds, a skunk, 150 fish and his boyfriend Charles. My uncle was the art teacher at our Catholic grammar school next door, and he ran art classes upstairs. So we had a really crazy, fun, memorable upbringing, because all of this was going on at our house.


When people from high school or colleges near our dancing studio needed kids, they would call up and say, "We need twelve kids for the King and I." And I would say, "Pick me, pick me." I'd end up being part of the cast. "We need two kids for South Pacific." "Pick me, pick me." So I grew up doing a lot of Chicago theatre even as a young child because I was always in these high school plays, not necessarily connected to my own school at all, but through the dancing school. I then started doing a lot of theatre work around Chicago. When I was a sophomore in high school I worked with someone who called me a couple of years later and said, "I’ve written this show, it may never get off the ground, we are going to perform it in a converted trolley barn. I wrote it about the kids I went to high school with, you always reminded me of one of the girls, even though you are a lot younger, and it's called "Grease." So, I did the original, original company of Grease, long before the movie, or even the Broadway show.  When I was a senior in high school, I had decided that I was either going to New York, or I was going to go to the best academic school here in Chicago and keep my local theatre contacts. When I got four scholarships to go to the University of Chicago because I was a good student, that’s what I did.  I stayed in Chicago. But then at the beginning of my junior year, Jim Jacobs, the author of Grease, called me and said, "The National Company for "Grease" is starting tomorrow and we haven't cast your part yet.  I'm saving the part of Marty for you. If you fly to New York today, you'll get the job." I said, "You're crazy, I have two papers due, bye." And I hung up the phone. I walked to the library and my car just happened to be parked in front of the library. So I looked at my car, looked at the library, looked at my car, looked at the library, looked at my car, threw my books in the car and went to New York, auditioned and got the job. I was literally a college student in the morning and a professional actress in the afternoon. So that's what started my whole career. I went on the road with "Grease" and then got cast in a Broadway show right after that.  The early parts of my career were very easy, very fast, and really started me off on the road to Broadway and Hollywood. I had television jobs, shot 72 commercials in New York, had a CBS development contract, did a screen test, moved out to Los Angeles, did a movie, then auditioned for Taxi, so that's really how it started.



(SD) 5. Many people know you from your iconic roles on the hit TV shows “Taxi” and “Evening Shade,” what do you treasure from that era of your life on those series?


(Marilu Henner)

Definitely the people that I got to work with. Working with those fabulous actors: Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch, Burt Reynolds, Hal Holbrook, people like that. All of them.  It was like going to master classes because there were so many great actors. And my buddy Tony Danza, I love Tony. Everyday somehow his name comes up.  He's a great guy.



(SD) 6. If you were presented with the opportunity to star in a new sitcom, what type of a casting role would be most appealing to you?


(Marilu Henner)

Something with real spice to it; somebody not just like the sweet mom.  I want to play somebody with a little bite, somebody with a sense of humor, a little outrageous – that kind of character.  I'm always looking for that.


(SD) 7. How did the untimely deaths of both your parents help you to address and conquer the health issues that remained a constant in your life?


(Marilu Henner)

I was a stupid teenage yo-yo dieter, and when I was seventeen, my father died. It was a terrible tragedy.  He died of a heart attack, and it was a horrible, horrible death.  After he died, I ballooned up to 174 pounds because I was eating my feelings.  Basically, I was not happy.  It was, obviously, not a good time in my family’s life, but I continued to try stupid diets, going up and down, up and down with my weight. Then my mother took ill with rheumatoid arthritis, and she was literally teaching dancing in December, went to bed with the flu in January, went through a brutal Chicago winter, landed in the hospital as a result, and ended up having her leg amputated because of complications from the arthritis. I was living in L.A. at the time, but moved to Chicago to spend what turned out to be the last month of her life with her. I would look at her and think, saying, "She is only 58 years-old!  How did this happen? This is crazy, and I am not going to let this happen to anybody else in my family. I am going to learn everything I can about the human body, and if she gets out of here alive, I am going to change her life and all of our lives." Then when she passed away I said, "Her death and my dad's death can't be in vain." I basically ate my feelings when my father died, but when my mom died I really ate up information instead. I ended up reading about 400 books on the subject of food and health. I went to medical libraries, nutritionists, and doctors.  I went to health food stores to find obscure little books.  I even took human anatomy classes at UCLA, and I, slowly but surely, experimented on myself and totally changed my life in the process. I dropped 54 pounds, lowered my cholesterol over 100 points and just really changed every aspect of my health.



Enjoy Part II of our interview with Marilu Henner:



(SD) 8. After spending several years of your life searching for the perfect health regimen, you came across a plant-based diet. How does that diet fit your lifestyle and why do you like it?


(Marilu Henner)

 I was experimenting enough to try different things because it was such a fluid situation, but I knew I wanted to find something that really worked for me that I could do long term. I wasn't looking for something that was just a flash in the pan, or something that was, “Oh, I'm going to do this for six weeks.”  Or, “Oh, this is going to be my “go to diet” thing. I wanted something that I could live with the rest of my life, because I knew that the way that I'd been raised, and the food and the health habits that we’d had, having eating dairy, sugar and everything else that we eat here in Chicago most of the time, was not going to work for my any longer. It's terrible that Chicago food is associated with those heavy, heavy foods. I am amazed at how most people don't look heavy walking around in their bodies right now, but I can only imagine what’s going on inside with all the heavy, acidic protein and dairy, and that fermenting, debilitating sugar. They might love the food, but it’s more important to “Learn to love the food that loves you!”  That's one of my phrases I always say.


(SD) How does the plant-based diet fit your lifestyle and why do you like it?


(MH) Well I am vegan, so what I eat comes from plants, so no animal products at all. I eat a lot of grains, whole grains, of course, like brown rice, a lot of beans, a lot of vegetables, fruits for breakfast; actually, fruits and raw nuts for breakfast; that's a big thing of mine. I eat all day long.  I mean, I really eat a lot, but if you eat the right stuff, if it’s food that doesn't fight you, if you have a natural palate for things and a natural sort of gauge, you don’t overeat that often. Not that I don't ever over-eat, but I hate feeling stuffed, and I will never eat meat, never eat dairy, never eat sugar, chicken.  None of the above.  And I feel so much better now than I did when I was twenty-five.



(SD) 9. As we head into summer time and warmer weather, what can those who have tried every diet in the books do to achieve success and maintain positive results that they can be pleased with?


(Marilu Henner)

What's the one thing I would say to anybody who really wants to change their health in one easy step? Give up dairy products. No question about it. That is the number one health change I would recommend.  Dairy is the absolute worst. This is my dairy speech, "All dairy is supposed to do is turn a 50 pound calf into a 300 pound cow in six months. So if those are your aspirations, knock yourself out!” It is insane to me that we are drinking the breast milk of an animal we have nothing to do with! We have 27 feet of intestines and one tiny little stomach and a baby calf has 9 feet of intestines and four stomachs and breaks the milk down differently and needs it to create a big bovine animal with a certain skeletal structure, muscle mass, etc. We have completely different enzymes, different hormones; it's insane to me. We should be drinking orangutan milk, because we are closer to an orangutan than we are to a cow, and yet no one would ever think of nursing from an orangutan. I keep saying, "You would never make cheese from the breast milk of your next door neighbor, but you are sucking from the udder of a cow you don't even know!”


(SD) 10. Why is it so important for you to share your wealth of knowledge on health, wellness and fitness with others?


(Marilu Henner)

Why is it important?  Because maybe there's somebody out there who could save their mother or father, or maybe save themselves, or maybe their kids. I've had a website since 1999 at, and I've been teaching classes online since 2000, so I have twelve years of content, more content than I know what to do with. But one of the things I have really noticed is the success of parents who get their kids off chemical, dairy, and sugar. I've had more parents’ say, "They’re telling me my kid is considered ADD, ADHD, and they’re recommending medication.”  But I tell them, “I think it's the food!” When you think about it, we are expecting our little kids with their little 40 to 80 to 100 pound bodies to sit still in class after we have given them the hormones and the preservatives and the chemistry that we feed them in our foods. We expect them to sit still and when they don't or can’t, we accuse them of having ADD and ADHD, and then we pump them up with drugs. I always say to first try a natural diet with real food to see what happens.  I can’t tell you how many parents have called to say, "Thanks to your advice about the food, my kid can sit still and they seem more focused now.  In fact, they’re now in the gifted program!"  And I tell them, "You know what, you had a natural healer. Your child knew something was wrong." I look at anyone who has a weight problem or a skin problem, or something wrong because of their bad diet, and I always say to them, "You’re the lucky one, because there are a lot of people walking around who are eating crap, and it may not be manifesting as a health problem on the surface, but it's causing trouble inside. Right now you are the one with the weight problem or a skin problem, so you're the natural healer. Your body is obviously telling you you're not doing something right, and if you start doing something right, it's amazing how much it will change your life and how well your body will respond.



(SD) 11. What can you share about your upcoming Hallmark Channel movie, “Hitched for the Holidays” starring Joey Lawrence that will air later this year?


(Marilu Henner)

I am actually in three movies between now and Christmas. I'm in one this summer called, "Vamps." It's with Alicia Silverstone, Krysten Ritter, Sigourney Weaver, Justin Kirk, Richard Lewis, Kristen Johnston, Wallace Shawn, Malcolm McDowell, it's really a great cast. Amy Heckerling, who directed Clueless and Look Who's Talking and Johnny Dangerously wrote and directed it. So that is coming out in September.


Then I have two other movies coming out. One of them is called "Hitched for the Holidays," and the other is called "High School Holiday Reunion." "Hitched for the Holidays" is definitely on Hallmark, the other one is a little feature but I think it's going to be on Lifetime.


(SD) The Hallmark Christmas movies are really good; what is this one about?


(MH) It's about a girl who lies to her family and says that she's got a boyfriend, and about a guy who lies to his grandmother who is dying, so he tells her, "Okay, I will get engaged before Christmas." The girl and guy go on Craig's List and find each other to play the roles each of them needs to pull off the charade.  I play the girl’s mom.



(SD) 12. In closing, what would you like to accomplish next in your career?


(Marilu Henner)

Well, I’m very excited because Unforgettable was just picked up for another season, so I’ll be busy with that, and I’m already doing my one-woman show, it's called a "Memorable Evening with Marilu Henner" and I'm performing it all over the country. I’d like to write more books, of course. Take care of my two fabulous boys, one who is a junior in high school, and the other is going off to Columbia University in New York this fall, and I’ll continue to spend more time with them and with my incredible husband, Michael. And also I am going to be doing Broadway probably next year. It's always great to see what's next.









Check out our video greeting from Marilu!

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