By Dom Cioffi
Marilu Henner is an American actress with a career spanning over 45 years in motion pictures and television. Her most notable role was that of Elaine Nardo on the hit television series “Taxi,” where she starred alongside Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conway, Danny DeVito, Christopher Lloyd, and Andy Kaufman.
While her acting work has remained steady through the years, she has enjoyed a renewed presence during the last decade with stints on popular series like “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Celebrity Apprentice,” along with starring roles in multiple Hallmark movies and her own syndicated radio show.
But none of that comes close to Henner’s most interesting attribute: She is one of only 60 documented cases in history of someone with hyperthymesia, which is the rare ability to remember specific details about virtually every day of her life.
I first heard about Henner’s “gift” several years ago during a segment of “60 Minutes.” In the episode, Henner and several other individuals showed the amazing recall they had when pressed about their past. In Henner’s case, she was presented with a random date in her life and then was immediately able to describe what she did on that day, what she was wearing, and even how she was feeling.
Neurobiologists have been studying Henner and other people with hyperthymesia for years, but the condition remains a mystery. MRI studies have shown that people who harbor the condition have brains where distinct areas are enlarged, but why this might contribute to the strange affliction remains elusive.
Another interesting aspect of hyperthymesia (but one that Henner does not experience), is that the condition can be debilitating. It has been described as a curse for some given that they are unable to think about anything to do with the present or future because their brains are always focused on past events.
Personally, I’m a long way off from hyperthymesia. In fact, I’m much closer to the opposite end of the spectrum in that I can’t seem to recall much about my life without reference material. It’s not that I have no recall, it’s just a bit blurry around the edges and a photo or other item generally helps pull the memory out.
This is probably why I’ve saved countless boxes of memorabilia in my attic. Every couple of years (or when I happen to move locations), I’ll dig through the boxes and savor the nuggets of nostalgia that I’ve collected. It’s a repeated trip down Memory Lane that often makes me appreciative of what I’ve been lucky enough to live through.
Not long ago, I found an old photo album that contained numerous newspaper clippings from my early childhood. There were results from swim meets and track meets and box scores from Little League games — all the usual stuff from an active kid in the 1970s.
But the earliest clipping (and likely the first time I got my name in the paper other than my birth), was for a dog show that the local rec center put on in Main Street Park. I was 8 or 9 years old at the time and accompanied by my beloved dog, Ripley.
Ripley had come to our family because her previous owner had to give her up due to a move out of town. She was part Yorkshire terrier and part toy poodle, which meant she was a replica of Benji (for those who get the movie reference).
Ripley was the greatest dog — happy, loving, carefree, and extremely well-behaved. But what really set her apart was her unique ability to stand on her hind legs and flap her front paws when presented with a treat. Not only was it athletic, but it was also ridiculously cute. And apparently the judges at the dog show agreed because Ripley and I won first place in the “Best Trick” category.
I was so proud of that blue ribbon (which still resides in one of those attic boxes) and of my dog Ripley, whose framed photo still graces the bedroom of my mother’s home.
This week’s feature, “CODA,” was also a first-place winner, or rather, the Best Picture winner at the recent Academy Awards show.
“CODA” is a touching little film about a hearing-impaired family that must rely on their one hearing-enabled daughter as their conduit to the community in which they live. The juxtaposition of this responsibility and wanting to move forward with her own life drives the story.
While it wouldn’t have been my pick for Best Picture, “CODA” was a worthy nominee and certainly worth watching. Give this one a try if you’re looking for great film to share with family or friends.
A memorable “B+” for “CODA,” available for rental on multiple streaming platforms.
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]