On an emotional night, the badly burned ex-soldier pays tribute to the military

By Mike Fleeman and Dahvi Shira
October 03, 2011 10:20 PM
Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

Badly burned while fighting in Iraq, J.R. Martinez says there was once a time that he wanted to die.

On Monday night, the soldier-turned-actor channeled all the heartache and pain from his wartime experience into a emotionally wrenching performance on Dancing with the Stars.

Martinez and pro partner Karina Smirnoff did a rumba to Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This,” about wives who receive letters saying that their husbands aren’t coming home from war.

In the audience was his guest, teenager Jenna Bullen, who was burned over 95 percent of her body in a hot water heater accident when she was 3 years old.

When it was all over, Martinez was shaking and crying. He embraced Smirnoff. The audience was in tears as it gave the pair a sustained standing ovation.

Praise and Points

The judges showered them with praise – and a solid second-place finish with 26 points.

“That was one of the most profound, honest dances I’ve ever seen,” said a tearful Carrie Ann Inaba.

“I didn’t expect performances like this from you,” said Len Goodman. “It was a wonderful performance.”

And Bruno Tonioli said, “You danced from your heart. I could feel every emotion.”

Their dance was the highlight of another big night on the hit show, whose theme this week was “The Most Memorable Year of My Life.” Also on Monday:

A Night of Emotion

• Ricki Lake’s dance spoke of her difficult stretch last year when she got divorced and her house burned down. She had the night’s top score of 27.

• Chynna Phillips danced to Wilson Phillips’s “Hold On” to mark the year she battled depression and substance abuse. In the audience were the other two members of her trio, Carnie Wilson and Wendy Phillips, as Chyna got 26.

• Jay Cutler cheered on his former fiancé Kristin Cavallari as she scored 24, tying her with three others.

• Soccer star Hope Solo recalled the recent World Cup finals loss in her 24-point dance.

• David Arquette remembered his recent marital collapse and car accident, and the strength he drew from his daughter with Courteney Cox, in his 24-point performance.

Rob Kardashian danced to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon” in honor of his late father, Robert Kardashian, scoring 24. Sister Kim Kardashian and other family members were in the crowd.

• Nancy Grace dedicated her dance to her twins, one of whom, it was once feared, wouldn’t live. The judges gave her a 21.

• Chaz Bono paid tribute to this year, when he underwent a transgender procedure, dancing to his late father Sonny Bono’s “Laugh at Me” while Chaz’s fiancée cried in the audience. He finished with a disappointing 18.

Additional reporting by MICHELE STUEVEN and MONICA RIZZO