The iconic Hercules actor suffered a health crisis during filming in the '90s

By Sara Hammel
Updated October 02, 2011 01:10 PM
Credit: Courtesy Neurology Now

Even Hercules has problems faced by mere mortals – only Kevin Sorbo, who played the demi-God on the ’90s TV hit Hercules, didn’t want his audiences to know it.

As he is only now divulging, during filming of his series he suffered a series of strokes that he kept secret at the time.

Flashback to the summer of 1997, when Hercules was going strong. Sorbo, then 38, was working out fiendishly so he could perform his own stunts and fighting on-set.

But then began feeling pain, aching, tingling and cold sensations in his left arm and hand.

“At the time, I was promoting the feature film Kull the Conqueror. I had several doctors on my publicity tour check me out, but they didn’t believe it was anything serious,” Sorbo, 52, tells the latest issue of Neurology Now as he discusses his new book, to be published next month by Da Capo Press, True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life.

Recalling the episode, he says, “I even had what seemed like a rational explanation, having recently injured my ulnar nerve – the funny bone.”

Ignored the Signs

Sorbo let it pass – until one day in the gym when he felt a searing pain shoot down his left shoulder while lifting weights. Figuring it was a strain, he went to his chiropractor, who manipulated his neck.

However, on the drive home Sorbo began to experience blurry vision, dizziness and buzzing in his head. By the following morning, his speech was slurred and he could hardly walk, symptoms that finally prompted him to go to the hospital.

After a series of tests, doctors found he had severe disruption of blood flow to his lower arm caused by an aneurysm in an artery near his shoulder. (An aneurysm is an abnormal widening or ballooning of a portion of an artery due to weakness in that artery’s wall).

His treatment came in the form of a surgical procedure where an angiogram tube was used to insert platinum coils around his aneurysm.

“Apparently, the aneurysm had been producing blood clots for some time. I had blockages all down my arm that were making my fingers cold, tingly, and numb,” Sorbo recalls.

It was only after the procedure that he learned he had experienced three distinct strokes.

Long Road to Recovery

While he was suffering the health crisis, Sorbo’s Hercules bosses covered for him as he healed, bringing in guest stars and rewriting scripts. But it was a long road to recovery.

“I felt like I had been transformed overnight from a youthful, carefree jock into someone who needed to grasp the backs of chairs and counters for an arduous five-yard trip to the bathroom,” says the actor, who is married to Sam Jenkins and has three children with her.

He adds, “I went through two years of hell before I began to feel like myself again. I was depressed and frustrated and had a bad attitude.”