Actors and Concussions

moviecameraAfter I wrote yesterday’s post, I got to thinking about a few more things related to the topic of concussions and head injuries.  One of these things centered around movies and television shows about sports.  And I began to think about the actors who appeared in these movies, and wondered about the risk that they expose themselves to.  And it’s not just pieces about sports.  What about the latest action movie, with fight scenes and bomb blasts and so on?  Whether it’s a stunt man/woman, or the lead performer, people are getting hit in the head on a fairly regular basis.  And I don’t see these people wearing a football helmet, or being kept off the set if they do have a concussion. (I tried to find the clip from the “Seabiscuit” movie where a jockey is thrown from his horse and dragged through the barns at break-neck speed suspended from the horse’s saddle by his foot.)

Three years ago, there was a bit of controversy surrounding the efforts to bring the Spiderman story to the Broadway stage.  In an effort to simulate some of the special effects of the movies in the franchise, a scheme was devised whereby various actors were projected across the stage by a means of ropes and pulleys.  At the first preview performance, lead actress Natalie Mendoza (who was one of those who was scheduled to “fly” across the stage,” was struck in the head by a piece of equipment as she stood off-stage.  It was revealed later that she did indeed suffer a concussion.

Now, I’m trying to restrict this article to things that happen either on-screen or on-stage.  Actors and other entertainment personalities are famous for their antics which often get them in trouble.  For instance, last year Lindsay Lohan’s attorney claimed that a supposed concussion she suffered in a prior automobile accident was the cause of her most recent incident of bad behavior.  Whether this was true or not, I consider this as falling within the realm of a traffic accident not directly related to Ms. Lohan’s career choice. (Lifestyle choice, perhaps, but . . .)

Stuntwoman Leslie Hoffman, who has worked at the top levels of the field for 35 years, has for as long time struggled with what she calls “post-concussion syndrome.” As recently as a year ago, she was still being denied recompense by the Screen Actors Guild for her injuries.  She is at the fore-front of a movement to enlighten the public as to the existence of this disorder, and the fight for its victims to be recognized and validated.

Another good example of this type of situation revolves around martial-arts actor Jackie Chan.  Famous for doing his own stunts, often very elaborate and carefully choreographed, Chan has suffered countless broken bones over the years.  Some of these have been relatively minor.  However, while filming “The Armor of God” in 1986, he incurred a serious fall in which he fractured his skull and required emergency brain surgery.  Reportedly, as soon as eight hours after the fall he was “doing fine,” however he has a permanent plastic plug in his skull and partial hearing loss in his right ear.

So, what to do?  Make our stunt-men and -women wear helmets?  Do more of the dangerous work using computer graphics instead of real bodies?  I’m going to let others debate that issue, but it is one that bears watching.

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