The Winner’s circle
By David Block
Lee Majors Acquires Bionic Ear
By David Block
When you think of actor Lee Majors, several things spring to mind, including “The Big Valley,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” “The Fall Guy” and Farrah Fawcett’s former husband.
Lee Majors was born on April 23, 1939 as Harvey Lee Yeary. When he was less than a year old, his parents died and his aunt and uncle adopted him.
In 1960, he played football for Eastern Kentucky University. His team played against a team from Fort Campbell, a paratrooper base.
Majors, who only weighed 175 pounds, was small in comparison to the Fort Campbell players. He remembered: “These guys had already graduated from college so they were pretty rough and BIG characters. Some of them had played pro football. It was like an Army team.”
A group of Fort Campbell players tackled Majors. “I finished the rest of the game and didn’t think anything was wrong, but the next morning when I woke up, I found that I was having a little problem with mobility. My roommate just called some services and we went to the hospital. My first 48 to 72 hours at the hospital was real touch and go. There was no feeling in my legs. It scared the heck out of everybody, relatives and such. I stressed and worried. They had to sedate me, so I wouldn’t be able to move too much.”
After three days, the feeling in his legs returned. He spent the next two to three weeks in the hospital.
The doctors discovered that he had been born with the birth defect, Congenital Spondylolisthesis, a condition in which one of the bones of the vertebrae slips out of place onto the vertebra below it. Too much slippage might cause the bone to press on a nerve, generating pain.
“My family and I never knew I had it,” said Majors. “Of course they wanted to do some back surgery. But, we’re talking the ‘60s and that wasn’t an every day operation. It is now.” Majors decided against the surgery, because the condition never prevented him from being physically active. He resumed his college football career the following season.
“I feel bad that I didn’t complete my college career as I would have liked to. I never played as well as I did before I got injured.”
After graduating Eastern Kentucky University in 1963, the St. Louis Cardinals offered him a football tryout, but he turned it down, because he knew that a similar injury could permanently paralyze him.
“I don’t regret passing up the opportunity,” said Majors.
Instead of football, he embarked on an acting career. In 1963, he changed his name from Harvey Lee Yeary to Lee Majors, after one of his football heroes, Johnny Majors. In 1956, Johnny Majors at Tennessee University, was runner up for the Heisman Trophy. He went on to coach college football teams at University of Pittsburgh and University of Tennessee.
In the 1960s, Lee Majors became a recognizable face on the hit TV series, “The Big Valley,” starring Barbara Stanwyck, as Victoria Barkley. Majors portrayed Heath Barkley, the illegitimate son of Stanwyck’s deceased husband. Linda Evans portrayed Audra Barkley, Stanwyck’s daughter.
In 1974, the TV series, “The Six Million Dollar Man,” premiered on ABC, starring Lee Majors as the astronaut Colonel Steve Austin. A space crash severely injured both of Austin’s legs, an arm and an eye.
Bionic appendages, costing six million dollars, replaced his injured body parts.
The TV series derived from the TV movie, “Cyborg” also starring Lee Majors. It was based on Martin Caidin’s novel, “Cyborg.”
Majors said that his football injury helped prepare him for the role of Colonel Steve Austin: “I remember laying on the table when we were shooting the opening scenes, it reminded me of when the doctors examined me after I got hurt playing football. It was easy for me to play the role because I experienced something similar.”
Majors added: “I was so happy to be able to do that show.” The show’s premise sparked an interest in bionic research to improve artificial limbs using computer technology and space age engineering. “Now when our soldiers come home, they have the possibility of living their lives as fully as they did before their injuries, but with replacement body parts.”
Just A Little Inconvenience
“One of the movies I enjoyed doing was called ‘Just A Little Inconvenience,’” (1977) said Majors. The movie also starred James Stacy and Barbara Hershey.
It was about the rehabilitation of a bitter Vietnam veteran who lost an arm and a leg.
In real life, James Stacy lost his arm and his leg due to a motor cycle accident. At the time, rehabilitation programs were starting to include adaptive sports for people with physical disabilities. Adaptive skiing was one such sport.
For those unable to stand or who are paralyzed, the adaptive ski equipment consists of a chair mounted on a ski and ski poles whose points have been replaced by skis. For those who can stand upright, but who have limited mobility, they use a modified ski and the same modified ski poles.
The movie included adaptive skiing as part of the rehabilitative process.
“The movie had hardships,” Majors remembered, “but Jim’s character battled through it and it had a wonderful ending.”
The Lee Major’s Rechargeable Bionic Hearing Aid
A few years ago, the company that manufactures the device, approached Lee Majors about being their spokesperson. Majors gladly obliged.
“I thought it was a good idea because my step-dad was hard of hearing. I always remember him having to change the [little, bitty] batteries so often,” said Majors. “This is a rechargeable, which is its main advantage. You put it in a little case at night and it charges itself up overnight. You can do that almost forever if you keep the box it comes in charged up. That means you don’t have to go to the store and get those little tiny batteries. This works better for people who have a hard time changing their hearing aid batteries.”
Besides endorsing the product, Majors uses it, too: “I have a slight hearing loss in one ear. I use it now and then if I want to watch sports and my wife wants to have the volume down a bit, then it helps out.”
Majors is currently in production for the movie, The Big Valley, which is being filmed in Louisiana.
Protected Tomorrows February 23, 2011
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