Celebrity memoirs serve two basic functions. Overtly, they let fans get to know their idols better, and vicariously experience their raise to fame; covertly, they offer celebrities a chance to dish. Kevin Sorbo’s new autobiography, True Strength: My Journey From Hercules To Mere Mortal And How Nearly Dying Saved My Life, leans far more heavily on the former than the latter, although the star of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Andromeda does get in a swipe or two at some presumably deserving targets. But even more than fame-watching and gossip, Strength is a confession of Sorbo’s struggles with poor health, and his attempts to hide those struggles from the public. As much an inspirational story as a narrative about the former model’s rise to cable stardom, the often surprisingly candid memoir offers a look at the effects long-term debilitation can have on relationships and careers.
In 1997, Sorbo was promoting his big-screen debut, Kull The Conqueror, and getting ready to start shooting his next movie, when three strokes and an aneurysm in his shoulder left him partially incapacitated, damaging his brain enough to leave him with permanent blind spots, physical weakness, and a tendency to be overwhelmed by extensive or prolonged stimulus. Given that Sorbo had built a career on playing one of history’s most recognizable demigods, it became imperative for him and Sam Jenkins, his wife-to-be, to hide the extent of his injuries from the public. His condition forced him to drop out of his second film role (Black Dog), and take on a substantially reduced schedule going into the next season of Hercules. But even more crucially, Sorbo’s impairment made him slow down; for someone who’d spent a lifetime going full-throttle, this proved to be a challenge.
Strength plays a lot off of the contrast between Sorbo’s public image as an invincible muscle-man and his more vulnerable status as a real live guy; he often mentions how strangers’ assumptions forced him into difficult situations, and nearly everyone he meets seems to be confusing him for his fictional counterpart. More interesting is his willingness to discuss the psychological problems that arose from his illness. He was already impatient by disposition, and his sudden weaknesses made him irritable, even irrationally angry. It’s a credit to the book and its writer that Sorbo is willing to present himself in a not-always-flattering light. Strength has chapters written by his wife, various Hercules crewmembers (including Bruce Campbell), and his mother, and while none of the writing is remarkable, everyone involved comes across as sincere. Sorbo is a devout Christian, and hosted the documentary The 12 Biggest Lies, which purports to disprove outrageous falsehoods like “Men and women are equal.” But while his book deals with his beliefs, it stays away from overt politics or evangelism, making it more palatable to outsiders without entirely shedding the subtext. The end result, while it most likely won’t have much interest for anyone who isn’t already a Sorbo fan, is a compelling look at a life temporarily derailed.