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100 years strong: an interview with joe brown

Ring in spring

Suzanne Somers An Exclusive Interview www.coawfla.org www.ballingerpublishing.com

Presented by Spring Council Agingmagazine of west for Florida 2016on lifestyle seniors 1


30 Coming of Age Spring 2016


Suzanne Somers

An Exclusive Interview interview by Kelly Oden

Born on October 16, 1946 in San Bruno, California, Suzanne Somers is best known for her role as the quintessential ditzy blonde, Chrissy Snow on the hit television series, Three’s Company. The model, actress, businesswoman and writer has had both a successful and turbulent life: an abusive, alcoholic father, a pregnancy at a young age, a controversial exit from a hit show, breast cancer, and a home-destroying fire. But through it all, Somers has remained upbeat and determined to make the best of life. A prolific COA:Tell me a little bit about your childhood. What kind of little girl were you? What were your interests? Suzanne Somers: I’ve written extensively about my childhood, initially in my first big bestseller, Keeping Secrets, about growing up the child of an alcoholic. It was the first time anyone had told the story from that perspective. We always heard about the saga of the alcoholic but this gave another angle as to what happens when you live with the disease. What does it do to you? For me, my childhood was filled with fear; the nights were extremely violent and we had a closet upstairs that we locked on the inside so we could hide to keep safe. What does that do to you as a child, huddled together trembling? What kept me sane was my mother who was the sweetest person that ever graced the planet, but I hated seeing her so upset all the time. It’s

author, Suzanne has more than 25 books under her belt on topics including memoirs, cookbooks, health and wellness and more. Her latest book TOX-SICK, confronts the many chemicals our bodies are faced with in the modern age and offers solutions to avoid them.An advocate of healthy living, Suzanne’s company also offers a line of organic skincare, supplements, health and wellness solutions, fashion, and, of course, the iconic Thighmaster. Turning 70 this year, Suzanne Somers is living proof that age is just a number.

traumatic for children to see their mothers cry and I didn’t know how to help her. Doing the “work” and in my case due to a traumatic life event, I found myself face-to-face with a therapist who essentially helped me to save my life.You never know when you’re going to find yourself face-to-face with an angel. Through her and a lot of emotional unraveling I was able to heal. Today even though my father is no longer alive, I have nothing but love and gratitude for him. I focus on all the good parts; what I learned as a result of his disease, what I learned about me, in this “work.” I realized I loved him and admired his good qualities; his quick wit, his charm, his savvy and smarts, all the gifts that alcohol tried to bury. My father got sober for the last 20 years of his life and allowed me to write the book, bravely allowed me to take our family on the Phil Donahue Show and the Oprah

Winfrey Show and discuss our family disease. I know that book helped a lot of people and all the intense emotional work I had to do leading up to finding the answers for myself has brought me to a place in life where it all makes sense. I don’t dwell on negatives, I don’t have anger and I truly found that forgiveness is a gift I gave to myself. My interest as a little girl was cooking. I loved it. I was given a book called Susie’s Cook Book and I thought it was written about me. It taught simple little recipes that a child could concoct and feel that satisfaction of presenting something that not only looked beautiful but that made people make wonderful sounds like “mmmm...” It was a Golden Book and it was golden in many ways. It gave me confidence that there was something I could do well. Looking back, it makes sense that I have written nine or ten cookbooks.

Spring 2016 lifestyle magazine for seniors 31


suzanne somers AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW COA: How did you get into acting? What drew you to pursue it as a career? Suzanne Somers: I never had a plan for my life. I used to dream of being on a stage as a child, but it was escape into a fantasy of a life that I saw in magazines that others were living. My biggest fantasy was that Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher would have car trouble and would come to our house for help and would meet me and ask me to come live with them. I never connected the dots that I had talent and that was why I always got the leads in all the school plays and musicals. In high school, I played Adelaide in Guys and Dolls and Walter Winchell (a famous columnist at that time) heard about this performance and attended closing night. When the show was over, he came up on stage and singled me out and said; “You’re going someplace sister”! I received a scholarship to college as a result of that performance but only two months into college I found myself pregnant (the first time I had ever had sex if you could even call it that), and I was forced to leave school and get married and have our baby. I couldn’t stay with him because I was too young (17 years old) and didn’t even know what love was other than what I felt for my baby. I was the first person among my peers in my hometown to get a divorce

(quite the scandal), and I needed to make money. I did not receive child support, and I had too much pride to ask for any assistance from the state so I eked out a living by making chocolate desserts for the local restaurants and sewing little girls dresses. Then I heard you could sign up to be an extra in movies and so I did that. The extra work led to getting a speaking line here and there, which allowed me to get a legitimate agent and one thing led to another until I was cast as the mysterious blonde in the Thunderbird in the movie American Graffiti and that was pretty much what launched me into this unbelievable life. COA: You played “the most perfect dazzling creature” in American Graffiti. It was a small, but memorable role. Did you have any idea how iconic it would become? Do you still keep in touch with the other cast members? (We interviewed Cindy Williams last year and she mentioned how stunningly beautiful you were!) Suzanne Somers: Honestly, for me American Graffiti was just another job (ironically it was one night’s work) and I had no idea that this one line and this one shot of me in the car was going to hand me a career that I never would’ve dreamed possible. Johnny Carson discovered me sitting in the commissary at NBC Burbank. I had written a small

I do feel and will always feel that being fired for asking to be paid what the men were being paid was unfair and that I deserved the respect of a negotiation rather than immediate termination. 32 Coming of Age Spring 2016

book of poetry called Touch Me (1973) and I was waiting to see if I got a gueststarring part in a sit com. I nervously gave the book to Johnny on a Wednesday and on Friday of that week I made my first national TV appearance on the Tonight Show. It wasn’t until then that I realized the impact of American Graffiti. I thought the Carson people loved my poetry, but really it was because my credit was on the back flap (my only credit) as the mysterious blonde and that’s how I was introduced: Johnny said we’ve all been wondering who she is, well we found her. I walked out from behind that famous curtain and the audience reacted wildly and it was one of the most shocking moments of my life. COA: Your iconic role on Three’s Company really catapulted you into the public eye. Tell me a little about your experience working with John Ritter and your other cast mates. Suzanne Somers: I studied John Ritter when I first was awarded the part of Chrissy Snow on Three’s Company. Other than school productions, I had never studied acting. I knew from the first instant I set eyes on him that I was watching a genius comedian. John Ritter and Dick Van Dyke are the two greatest physical comics of our time. He choreographed those flips over the couches, as any great dancer would do. I’m a fast learner. I know the “good stuff ” when I see it and clearly John Ritter had what they describe as “it” so I watched him and learned from him. The chemistry between Jack and Chrissy was one of those magical things that rarely happens and I find it tragic that he left the planet so early, so unfinished, I believe we only touched the surface of what John Ritter was capable of bringing to us.


Coming of age

Suzanne Somers as the loveable, ditzy blonde, Chrissy Snow, from the hit television show Three’s Company.

COA: Your exit from Three’s Company was controversial. How do you feel about it now with the benefit of time? Suzanne Somers: I was fired from Three’s Company for asking to be paid commensurate with the men at that time. I was on the number one show with the highest demographics of any woman on television between the desired advertising demos of women 18 to 49, yet all the men including John were making a minimum of 10 times more than I, and in some cases 15 and 20 times more. I felt going into the negotiation that I was in a power spot, but they decided instead to use me as an example; that if they could fire the number one woman on television that all the other women would be terrified to feel that they,

too, could get paid the same as the men. Interestingly, as dramatic as it was losing this incredible weekly opportunity, the controversy propelled me up and beyond the show itself and in many ways all these years later it still gives me notoriety. The person I have become and the career I have had with all its facets might never have happened had I just stayed on the show and then went on to another and another. I was literally blackballed from all of TV, incapable of being hired, but out of all negatives you have to find the positives. Las Vegas welcomed me with open arms. The audiences wanted to see more of “that girl from Three’s Company” and in 1987 I was named “Female Entertainer of the Year” along with Frank Sinatra as

male entertainer. Imagine how that felt. I do feel and will always feel that being fired for asking to be paid what the men were being paid was unfair and that I deserved the respect of a negotiation rather than immediate termination. It was as though they wanted to punish me, as well as fire me and they did it in a way that was humiliating. I was forced to finish out my contract or they threatened a lawsuit. So they would write me in at the end of the show for a one-minute appearance. I was given no contact with anybody else in the cast, I would be met by a security guard at the back gate of the studio and he would walk me in like a criminal. They concocted a little “side set” with a wing chair, a floor lamp, a telephone and bad lighting, and for one minute at the end of every show, Chrissy would do a one-way dialogue as though she was speaking with Jack and Janet saying how much she missed them but that her aunt was still sick and she hoped that the aunt would get better soon (which was never going to happen). I would leave every week crying because it was so humiliating. I finished out that season, no one ever said goodbye, and none of the cast members interacted with me again. Many decades later and one month before John died, we talked and began the healing process, but so much had been missed and wasted. Then there was a reunion I arranged with Joyce DeWitt to appear on my Internet talk show, which was wonderful and very healing. That’s life.

Spring 2016 lifestyle magazine for seniors 33


suzanne somers AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

Suzanne Somers as a 2015 contestant on Dancing With The Stars.

COA: You are an intelligent, wellinformed woman. Did it bother you that you were often cast as a “ditzy blonde” in many of your early roles? Suzanne Somers: As I said before, my impetus for work early in my career was to make enough money to provide the basics for my son. I never did anything I was ashamed of and I’ve always held my head up high. When you are broke, you have got to do what you’ve got to do order to survive. If that means dressing up as a squirrel and passing out nuts for the American Walnut Association on Market Street in San Francisco, then that is what I had to do. I believe I did quite well. Many years later my son Bruce said to me, “I never knew we were poor, mom.” Kids only understand love. COA: How do you feel the television sitcom has evolved (or de-evolved) since your Three’s Company or even your Step by Step days? Do have any current sitcom favorites? Suzanne Somers: I come from an era of Norman Lear, James Burroughs, and Garry Marshall, writers of such genius and impeccable timing that I am biased. The talent always finds its way to the top and there are different vehicles for comedy today then there were in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was on television at the perfect time; there were only three channels— ABC, NBC, and CBS—so if you were on the number one show, pretty much everybody was watching you. Today is so diffused with the Internet and Netflix and Hulu and Showtime and DirecTV that the choices are so vast, no one person can ever get the kind of focus that I was able to get. But there are many comics I love watching: Steve Carrell, Jimmy Kimmel, Adam Sandler, Kathy Griffin (just off the top of my head) and are all genius. I thought the cast of Friends was spectacular as was Two and a Half Men. Right now I don’t have a favorite but it’s really because I spend more time watching movies, documentaries, and way too much news. 34 Coming of Age Spring 2016

COA: Tell me a little about your experience on Dancing with the Stars. I understand you had a bit of a wardrobe malfunction on your last night?

how I thought I was going to be able to do Dancing With The Stars by day and a 90-minute show in Vegas every night, so the universe took care of me. Again you have to look at all negatives as positives.

Suzanne Somers: That wardrobe mishap was pretty frustrating; of all the dances I did during the entire series that was the one that wrapped around me the best. Its theme was from the movie Lady and the Tramp and the song was called “He’s a Tramp” and its rhythm is the way I move and the way I sway and sing (in fact I added that song to my Las Vegas Nightclub Act). Right before the show, the producers decided that my dress should be a little shorter so it was brought up one inch hurriedly and the hem was not finished in a way that clamped down tight. I did a flip and a turn with my leg raised and my heel got caught in that hem and I could not extricate it. It was so frustrating because I lost seconds trying to gather myself. We did finish the number but I knew it was going to seriously affect my scores (and it did) and that was my swan song.

COA: You are a prolific author with at least 25 books under your belt. Many of your books deal with health and wellness. What led to your passion for healthy living?

But anyway I’m glad I did it. My body got into great shape and got me prepared for my opening in Las Vegas, which was only a week away. In looking back I wonder

Suzanne Somers: Let’s go back to that theme of finding the positives in negatives; my diagnosis of breast cancer 15 years ago was a disguised gift. It forced me to look hard at the role I had in playing host to this terrible disease; what was in my diet and lifestyle habits that allowed my body to degrade to the point where a “new self,” which is essentially what cancer is trying to do, was beginning to grow? I am proud I was able to think clearly enough to say “no” to standard of care treatment. The idea of pumping my body full of chemical poisons felt absurd. When I turned it down I was told that I was most likely going to die and I said, “I honestly believe I will die if I do what you tell me.” So I changed my life; I decided I would eat as though my life depended upon it (which I believe it does), I


Coming of age decided to eliminate all chemicals as best I could from my food, from my personal products, from my household cleaning products, and that I would begin to value sleep as the repair mode it was designed to be. I was young and I thought that staying up till 3 o’clock in the morning writing my books gave me an edge; what it did was degrade my body and gave it no time to do the necessary repair work that happens in a seven to eight hour sleep cycle. One book organically led to the next; for most women when they reach their fourth decade they start experiencing unexplained weight gain. I had figured out at that point that eliminating sugar and most grain, leaving only a diet of protein, fats, and vegetables was not only a healthy protocol but that the weight would literally fall off (and it did). I sold over 10 million of my nine SOMERSIZE books and had a devoted and loyal following of people who bought my food products and appliances. We had SOMERSIZE conventions and cruises and it was really a wonderful experience. The next venture was tackling hormonal imbalance which nobody (particularly doctors) knew about and I found myself on a search going from doctor to doctor being offered everything but what I needed; antidepressants, sleeping pills, cholesterol-lowering pills, and antianxiety medications. I refused all of them and I do recall saying to one doctor, “Are you joking? Is this the best you have to offer women?” When he had no suitable answer, I decided I had to find an answer for myself. I heard about an endocrinologist in Santa Barbara, California, Dr. Diana Schwarzbein, who was working with something called bioidentical hormones. The day I met with her my life changed. I’ve written several books on the joys of replacing lost hormones not only for quality of life but also for optimal health. I feel so strongly about the positive effects of natural hormone replacement we’ve started a website, a free service to women of vetted qualified doctors who

understand the new approach to aging. It’s called Foreverhealth.com. My next series of books started dealing with the epidemic of poor health due to toxicity. We are under the greatest environmental assault in the history of humanity; our food has been degraded with pesticides and herbicides, our soil is damaged from all the chemicals, add to that polluted air and we are living in dire conditions at this time. My latest book TOX-SICK brings to the reader the top environmental doctors in this country who understand that the conditions that we are experiencing today—autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, skin problems, bloating, constipation, gas, and yes, cancer—are all related to the unbelievable assault of toxicity on human beings. The good news is if you start today and you want to be well you can turn your health around, but it takes a lot of work to “green your life.” I’ve done it; I eat organic food, I only eat organic and grass-fed meat protein, I grow as much of my food as I can, I use no chemicals in my house for cleaning, and no pesticides outside. I live in the mountains and we have mice and I put peppermint oil around the base of each room so when mice even think of entering my house they hate the smell and they run away as fast as they can. It’s humane and nothing about peppermint oil is harmful.

COA: How did this topic become important to you and what are some of the simplest ways the average person can avoid chemical exposure? Suzanne Somers: The answer to eliminating toxins in your body is to detoxify. Each of the environmental doctors in my book TOX-SICK explains their approach to detoxification; it’s a lot of work and it’s a pain in the butt, but in order to thrive and survive today we must take the initiative to heal. By the way, it’s a lot more work to be sick. We have to do what we have to do in our lifetimes to make it; we’re not going to be able to undo the damage already done to the planet. I am mostly concerned about the degradation of our food; the body requires fuel to operate at optimum. Food is fuel. And yet I see people take better care of their cars than they do to their bodies. If you owned a

We are in control, we can “turn the ship around” but it takes commitment and diligence. I am in super health today. I have none of the conditions my friends are battling; I sleep eight hours nightly without drugs, I take no pharmaceutical or over-the-counter drugs. Instead I eat clean, good organic food, organic butter, cream, sour cream, olive oil, and coconut oil. I don’t clean my home with any toxic cleaners and my skin care of course is a given using SUZANNE Organics. Spring 2016 lifestyle magazine for seniors 35


suzanne somers AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Remember what it was like when you were younger when you went to bed and you knew you were going to sleep eight hours? Remember when gaining weight wasn’t the issue it is today? Remember when your moods were stable and your skin did not have rashes and your hair was silky and lustrous, and your libido was operating at maximum? If you want all that back, then bioidentical hormones are your answer. They will restore quality of life (maybe for the first time in your life) and they will keep you healthy. Women who are reproductive usually do not get cancer (unless it’s environmental) because nature has provided hormones in a balanced way that protects us from getting cancer. In today’s world they’ve extended life to 90, 100, even 110 years but science has not thought about quality of life. So what’s the point Maserati you would never consider to live longer but end up in a nursing putting inferior fuel into that car, yet home? It’s never too late to star t our body is a much more magnificent bioidentical hormone replacement. It machine than a Maserati and we fill it will eliminate so many (and maybe all) with inferior fuel; crap such as chemicals of the pharmaceutical drugs that you and processed foods. And then are feel you must depend upon. From the surprised when the doctor says you day I star ted replacing my hormones have cancer. with bioidenticals I’ve never looked back. I’ve never felt better and I don’t COA:You are also an advocate for the use of bio-identical hormones think I’ve ever looked better. It’s a secret and the benefits of their use, I didn’t want to keep, I wanted to be particularly for menopausal able to share it with all women—that women. How do bio-identical we deserve the last half of our lives to hormones differ from other be vibrant, healthy, upbeat, and juicy. It’s hormone treatments and what all possible. are some of the benefits? COA: You had some negative S u z a n n e a S o m e r s : a B i o i d e n t i c a l pushback from The American hormones are biologically identical to C a n c e r a S o c i e t y a a n d a o t h e r the human hormone, an exact replica organizations in the mainstream of what we make or once made in our medical community about your belief in, and advocacy of, natural bodies. It’s like filling the tank; through therapies. How do you handle the lab work you put back exactly your criticism? personal deficiencies so that your body can operate at full speed again. Rather Suzanne Somers: You have to than taking a sleeping pill to sleep, get consider the agenda. Cancer is a $200 your hormones balanced; rather than billion a year business and yet progress taking drugs to eliminate water and to has been slow and in most cases a dismal lose weight, you balance your hormones. failure. The cancer business doesn’t want the answer to be simple but hear me on this: I do not fear cancer. I doubt 36 Coming of Age Spring 2016

that I will ever get it again because of the daily diet and lifestyle choices that I make. If for some reason I get hit by some massive chemical assault I now understand that detoxing my body and whatever that takes be it daily coffee enemas or colonics and far-infrared saunas and enzyme therapy, that I could handle it and heal myself. I never tell people what to do; all I try to do is offer another “option,” another way. When you’re diagnosed with cancer it’s as though there’s only one way to do it, standard of care: chemo, radiation and harsh aftercare drugs. What if you didn’t have to do that? What if it was about making the changes I write about and not allowing for a terrain in your body to be so vulnerable that cancer would have a shot at growing again. I also believe my beliefs and my ability to handle this lousy disease is a big par t of my healing. COA: You and your husband have been married for nearly 40 years. What’s your secret to a long and happy marriage? Suzanne Somers: I have great pride about our marriage. We’ve been married almost 40 years but together almost 50 years. I think often about how it has remained a love affair this entire time (and it is). We give each other a lot of attention; the reason you’re initially attracted to someone is that they shower you with attention and then for so many, once married, with the responsibilities of children and work, etc., you forget about that. We didn’t. It wasn’t that we were so smar t, it’s just that it felt good. I tell him he’s beautiful almost every day. I feed him unbelievable food every night at dinner, food that elicits great compliments but also I know will keep him strong, healthy, and vibrant. He brings me coffee in bed in the morning and gives me so much attention and tells me I’m beautiful. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it just makes me feel good. Then I star t every day happy.


Coming of age

I turn 70 next year and I am determined to make 70 a cool age. COA: You’ve also spoken in the past about the difficulty (at least in the beginning) of a blended family. Tell me about that struggle and about your relationships with your children and stepchildren now. Suzanne Somers: When we fir st blended our family there were no rules; it was a new terrain and it was painful for all of us. There are no children who want new parents; it doesn’t matter how nice you are to them (in fact, the nicer you are, the more they resent you). At first I tried to “parent” and that is absolutely the wrong thing to do! It’s met with resentment and who could blame them? My son felt threatened that I now had a husband and it wasn’t all about him. His children felt loyal to their mother and threatened by our relationship. It took years of everyone trying their best but then, finally, in family therapy where we all ended up, including ex-spouses, we were all able to have the opportunity to unload and express our feelings. It allowed each of us to be “heard” and from then on it just got better and better. I would say today that we are a real family and the greatest things that happened are our grandchildren. They don’t know about “blood,” they only know about love. The grandchildren were the final “glue” that brought us all close together. We have six grandchildren and I love them all with all my heart and I love when we’re all together as a family, which we are often.

Suzanne Somers: I turn 70 next year and I am determined to make 70 a cool age. I never thought I could feel this good, be this healthy, or look this good. Because of bioidentical hormone replacement I have a great libido and the desire. My goal is to help others who have bought into the negativity that surrounds aging to know that we are the lucky ones; you see, we older people have something that no young person can have or buy and that is wisdom and perspective. And those of us who are not all clouded up on pharmaceutical drugs are clear thinking and able to be a vital force. What does this planet need more than anything else at this time? Yes, wisdom. We need to be that person that the younger people can come to for advice in the way it used to be with the “elders of the tribe.” The problem today is that our “elders” are so “pilled up” that the wisdom has gotten locked inside someplace deep in their brain that they will never be able to access. This is the tragedy and this is why I talk about using natural remedies for healing and for aging because in the end, you will be the lucky beneficiary in every way. At 70 years old, I am not a drain on society. I am a productive member of society and that’s how it should be. I’m planning on celebrating my 80th onstage in Vegas in a wildly successful show. I plan on still having my “juice” in every way, and I believe it’s going to come true.

COA: Our readers are mature adults and you are an excellent example of aging not only gracefully, but healthfully as well. What are your secrets and what advice do you have for those entering their mature years?

Spring 2016 lifestyle magazine for seniors 37

Suzanne Somers/Coming of Age/Spring 2016/By Kelly Oden  

Suzanne Somers Interview

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