Shelf Awareness Book Talk: *True Strength*, by Kevin Sorbo

True Strength: My Journey from Hercules to Mere Mortal–and How Nearly Dying Saved My Life

Kevin Sorbo
Da Capo Press (October 2011), Hardcover (ISBN 0306820366 / 9780306820366)
Memoir, 296 pages

Portions of this review were originally published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (10/21/11), which supplied an Advance Reader Copy (furnished by the publisher) and payment. All opinions expressed are my own.

Kevin Sorbo played the title role in the popular action drama Hercules: The Legendary Journeys–at one time, the most-watched TV show in the world–for seven seasons. During the last couple of years he worked on the show, his physical strength was compromised by the aftereffects of three mini-strokes he suffered at the age of 38. After nearly a decade of keeping the details of his experience on a need-to-know basis, Sorbo tells the whole story publicly for the first time in this book.

A lifelong athlete and former model, Sorbo seemed perfectly cast as the demigod Hercules, and he identified strongly with his part. Illness and weakness weren’t part of that picture. But when an aneurysm in his shoulder caused blood clots, leading to the strokes that damaged his left arm and the vision center of his brain, the medical challenges of recovery were complicated by his condition’s contrast with his Herculean (self-) image.

Sorbo met his future wife, actress Sam Jenkins, on the set of Hercules just months before he had the strokes, and she’s one of several associates who contribute chapters to the memoir, discussing their own impressions of Sorbo during the period of his illness and recovery (which included their wedding). Their depictions of the actor reinforce the impression he makes on the reader–affable, honest and hardworking at everything he undertakes, including getting his true strength back. His story, as laid out in the subtitle of his memoir, is no mythic journey; it’s all too human, and makes for an unexpectedly engaging read.

From the publisher: On television, Kevin Sorbo portrayed an invincible demigod; in his real life, a sudden health crisis left him partially blind and incapacitated at just thirty-eight years old. Yet since appearances are everything in Hollywood, he hid the full details about his condition from the press and continued to film Hercules, which was the number one TV series in the world. In this inspiring memoir, Sorbo shares the story of the crisis that ultimately redefined his measure of success. True Strength is the story of transformation, persistence, and hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Sorbo reflects on his childhood in Minnesota and his early acting days in Hollywood, to his charmed life as television’s beloved Hercules, and where he is today. He recounts the onset of his symptoms, his frightening hospitalization, and his arduous path to recovery. With this honest account of personal tragedy and triumph, Sorbo aims to blaze a trail for those who have ever suffered acute illness or a serious setback in life and are now struggling to find their way back.

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