Florence Henderson Overcoming Challenges

Dialogue     Fall 2011

Lifestyles Section  Pages 53 – 55

 

Never Take Anything For Granted:

An interview with Florence Henderson

By David Block, Ardmore, Pennsylvania

 

Florence Henderson’s acting career has spanned seven decades. From the 1950s through the present, she made a name for herself, on Broadway, on the motion screen and on television. She starred in Broadway plays such as OKLAHOMA, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, SOUTH PACIFIC, FANNY and THE GIRL WHO CAME TO SUPPER, just to name a few. She is best known for being one of television’s most beloved matriarchs, Carol Brady, in the ABC sitcom, THE BRADY BUNCH (1969-1974).

 

Henderson’s acting career is well documented. However, less known are serious problems that she had with her back, her hearing and recently with her vision. In all three cases, Henderson, now 77, found help to solve these maladies which could have derailed her career and rearranged her way of life. The setbacks taught her to NEVER take anything for granted, and to be grateful for her abilities and accomplishments.

 

Setbacks

 

In the 1950s, Henderson learned that she had a deformed vertebrae. “My back hurt very badly,” remembered Henderson, who worried that this would prevent her from dancing on stage.

 

The doctor instructed her to do special exercises at least three times a week which  would strengthen her hips, abdomen and thighs. Soon she was able to dance again without pain. Now, seven decades later, she still does those exercises three times a week with a personal trainer.

 

In the 1960s, she found herself going deaf. She noticed it on stage when she frequently began having a difficult time hearing the piano and string instruments. Being a singer made that incredibly nerve-racking. Again, she wondered about her future as a performer.

 

She was diagnosed with otosclerosis, a disorder causing progressive deafness due to overgrowth of bone in the inner ear. “Luckily, I was diagnosed early,” said Henderson, “and had surgery on both of my ears.” As a result of the surgery, she could hear perfectly again.

 

Her surgery was a stapedectomy; a removal of the stapes bone. A small window was made to the inner ear; an artificial replacement of Teflon and platinum or other material was then substituted for the non-functioning stapes bone.

 

“I was very grateful that I was diagnosed and that I had the surgery and was helped and that I could hear again,” said Henderson. When I am diagnosed with something and get help for it, I’d like to share that with others, who might be facing the same issues. That’s why I do a lot of charity work for the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.”

 

Several decades later, Henderson experienced vision loss. However, there were times before the loss, when she thought about people in that predicament. One example was Season 3 of THE BRADY BUNCH, when Eve Plumb, who portrayed Henderson’s daughter, Jan Brady, had to wear glasses.

 

“I often thought about people with visual limitations,” said Henderson. “I think about people with any kind of limitation because they have a greater challenge in life.”

 

Six years ago, Henderson also had problems seeing, due to cataracts in both eyes. She knew that something was wrong: “My vision was a little cloudy,” said Henderson. “It was no longer sharp. I couldn’t see colors so well. I had trouble seeing printed material, and it became very hard to drive at night.”

 

Her ophthalmologist removed the cataract in her left eye and replaced it with a monofocal lens. Then two years ago, her ophthalmologist removed the cataract in her right eye and replaced it with the Crystalens, a brand of lens unavailable when she had her first cataract surgery.

 

Henderson uses her left eye for reading. “My right eye, with the Crystalens,” said Henderson, “enables me to see distance, and I can read with it.” After her Crystalens implant, Henderson was able to read regular print without using strong glasses. When learning new scripts, she no longer had to, “keep putting on and taking off my glasses. I used to get a lot of headaches. I don’t anymore.”

 

“After my Crystalens surgery, the first thing I noticed after I got home was that the trees outside my bedroom had so many variations of color and how bright everything was. I didn’t notice that before. I could read street signs again.” She now does television commercials promoting the Crystalens surgery.

 

No matter what challenges Henderson faced, she always maintained a pleasant demeanor. “I’m an optimist,” said Henderson. “I’m always, ‘the glass is half full.’ And I truly love people. If I can make someone smile during a day, then that is my gift.”