People with aphasia are in good company. We’ve been covering well-known people with aphasia, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Gabby Giffords. Today we’re going to talk about someone you know from the silver screen: Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas is Spartacus, the iconic role that made him a household name, though he also starred in dozens of other movies. As an actor, speaking is an integral part of his job, but a stroke in 1996 changed his relationship with language. It has been 20 years of recovery — yes, Kirk Douglas is currently 100 years old — and he has learned a lot about the power of words during that time.

After the Stroke

Even though he struggles with aphasia after his stroke, he sees the silver lining to that life-changing event:

My stroke, 11 years ago, was a blessing in disguise. I learned that we take too many things for granted in this world—even speech. We think our thoughts and then we have no difficulty saying it in words. When you have a stroke your mind thinks quickly but your speech reacts very slowly. You have to learn how to use your tongue, your lips, your teeth. I am lucky, although my speech is still impaired, I suffer no paralysis and I didn’t die. I have begun to appreciate the gift of life. Of course, I do my speech exercises every day. When I asked my speech therapist how long would I have to do my exercises? Her answer was, “until you die.”

Which isn’t to say that his recovery is solely a time of blessings and wonder. Douglas speaks openly about the depression that followed losing his ability to speak.

My Stroke of Luck

Douglas was moved to write about his experience in My Stroke of Luck, a memoir published in 2002. The book chronicles his experience with stroke and recovery, but he also passes along lessons learned. This advice comes in the form of exercises from his speech therapist as well as thoughts about resilience. His conversational tone makes his story relatable for both those who have experienced aphasia and for those wanting to understand it.

Tell us your favourite Kirk Douglas movie.

Image: Delius98 via Flickr via Creative Commons license