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5 Celebrities Who've Undergone Coronary Bypass Surgery

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News of Burt Reynolds' recent quintuple bypass surgery reminded me of when my Dad had the same operation back in 1997 at the ripe old age of 73. His age plus the dangers of anesthesia plus such a blocked-up ticker prompted the cardiologist to prepare us for the worst, but thanks to a combination of modern medicine and Dad's upbeat attitude when it comes to hospital stays (it's better than a hotel because pretty young girls give him sponge baths!) he's still going strong 13 years later. Here are a few other famous folks who owe their lives to just-in-time heart surgery.

1. David Letterman

The then-52-year-old Late Show host had a history of high cholesterol, and his father had died suddenly of a heart attack at age 57, so he knew deep down that he was at risk for heart disease. In early 2000, Dave's doctor saw something iffy during his stress test and scheduled Letterman for an angiogram. During the January 14, 2000, broadcast Dave's fear was palpable as he discussed the procedure with guest Regis Philbin (who'd undergone an angioplasty a few years back). Not only did he dread the procedure "“ which involved inserting a needle into the groin "very close to your deal" to inject dye "“ but he (like most folks) didn't like the idea of his rib cage being cracked open if the angio results were bad news. David viewed the films at 8:00AM with his cardiologist, saw the severe blockage in his left main artery, and phoned his executive producer at 8:30 to let him know that he wouldn't be reporting for work that day; he was undergoing quintuple bypass surgery. Five weeks later Dave was back on the job with his rib cage wired shut and veins from his legs grafted into his coronary arteries.

2. James Garner

Oh dear, talk about your bad timing"¦shortly after Rockford Files star James Garner was tapped to be a spokesperson for the beef industry, he was rushed to Cedars-Sinai hospital for emergency quintuple bypass surgery.

Garner survived, but the Beef Council was forced to rethink its advertising strategy since the actor's heart blockage only reinforced the "red meat equals cholesterol" climate of the late 1980s. Garner's eschewing of vegetables in the spot just provided more fodder for late-night TV monologues.

3. Bill Clinton

While he was president, Bill Clinton squeezed in a daily jog whenever his schedule allowed. However, he earned a lot of snarky press (and a Saturday Night Live skit) when alert paparazzi shot pictures of him jogging into a McDonald's. The truth was out "“ the Commander-in-Chief had a weakness for Big Macs. Growing up as a good ol' Southern boy, it's safe to bet that he also gorged on less-than-healthy (but nevertheless delicious) meals of fried catfish, chicken-fried steak, fried okra, and greens cooked with bacon fat as a youth. In 2004 the former president could no longer ignore the chest pains and shortness of breath he'd been experiencing after a minimal amount of exertion. Medical tests revealed severe blockage in four of his coronary arteries, and bypass surgery was performed. All was well until February 2010, when Clinton experienced serious chest pain and ultimately received two stents to open up arteries that had become 90% blocked. Many pundits immediately accused Clinton of falling off the heart-smart menu wagon, but experts have since pointed out that genetics play almost as large a role in heart disease as diet. Some folks are just predisposed to plaque-filled arteries.

4. Rue McClanahan

One of the two surviving Golden Girls went in for a routine physical in November 2009. An irregular EKG led to further tests, which led to the operating room for emergency bypass surgery. The 75-year-old actress had been scheduled to be the guest of honor at "Golden: A Gala Tribute to Rue McClanahan" at San Francisco's Castro Theatre just one week after her unexpected surgery and was forced to beg off, stating: "My darlings, I'm just devastated that I'm going to have to miss my own tribute. Unfortunately, my doctor has laid down the law and I'm currently having some maintenance on the old ticker." All looked well for Rue until January 2010, when McClanahan suffered what her reps described as a "minor" stroke (a not all that uncommon occurrence for older folks after undergoing major surgery).

Maybe it's not exactly foreshadowing, but you can watch a clip of Rue as Blanche Devereaux after having a pacemaker implanted.

5. Regis Philbin

time-for-regisRemember what I said earlier about cholesterol and genetics? TV host Regis Philbin underwent his first angioplasty back in 1993 to clear out some clogged heart arteries. The experience, he said at the time, scared him and he began an exercise regime and paid close attention to his diet. Nevertheless in 2000 he had a second angioplasty, and in 2007 he started experiencing those same ol' symptoms "“ chest pains and shortness of breath. He told his Live with Regis and Kelly audience: "Darn it, I don't want to do it. Nobody wants to do it, I guess. But they tell me. And I had a second opinion, I did all those things [tests for heart disease], and so they're [the doctors] all in agreement that it should be the bypass." Surgeons unclogged three of Philbin's arterial arteries and he was back on the job five weeks later.

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The Sweet Surprise Reunion Mr. Rogers Never Saw Coming
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For more than 30 years, legendary children’s show host Fred Rogers used his PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood to educate his young viewers on concepts like empathy, sharing, and grief. As a result, he won just about every television award he was eligible for, some of them many times over.

Rogers was gracious in accepting each, but according to those who were close to the host, one honor in particular stood out. It was March 11, 1999, and Rogers was being inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame, an offshoot of the Emmy Awards. Just before being called to the stage, out came a surprise.

The man responsible for the elation on Rogers’s face was Jeff Erlanger, a 29-year-old from Madison, Wisconsin who became a quadriplegic at a young age after undergoing spinal surgery to remove a tumor. Rogers was surprised because Erlanger had appeared on his show nearly 20 years prior in 1980 to help kids understand how people with physical challenges adapt to life’s challenges. Here's his first encounter with the host:

Reunited on stage after two decades, Erlanger referred to the song, “It’s You I Like,” which the two sang during their initial meeting. “On behalf of millions of children and grown-ups,” Erlanger said, “it’s you I like.” The audience, including a visibly moved Candice Bergen, rose to their feet to give both men a standing ovation.

Following Erlanger’s death in 2007, Hedda Sharapan, an employee with Rogers’s production company, called their poignant scene “authentic” and “unscripted,” and that Rogers often pointed to it as his favorite moment from the series.

Near the end of the original segment in 1980, as Erlanger drives his wheelchair off-camera, Rogers waves goodbye and offers a departing message: “I hope you’ll come back to visit again.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About Firefly
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© 2002 Twentieth Century Fox

As any diehard fan will be quick to tell you, Firefly's run was far, far too short. Despite its truncated run, the show still offers a wealth of fun facts and hidden Easter eggs. On the 15th anniversary of the series' premiere, we're looking back at the sci-fi series that kickstarted a Browncoat revolution.

1. A CIVIL WAR NOVEL INSPIRED THE FIREFLY UNIVERSE.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels from author Michael Shaara was Joss Whedon’s inspiration for creating Firefly. It follows Union and Confederate soldiers during four days at the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. Whedon modeled the series and world on the Reconstruction Era, but set in the future.

2. ORIGINALLY, THE SERENITY CREW INCLUDED JUST FIVE MEMBERS.

When Whedon first developed Firefly, he wanted Serenity to only have five crew members. However, throughout development and casting, Whedon increased the cast from five to nine.

3. REBECCA GAYHEART WAS ORIGINALLY CAST TO PLAY INARA.

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Before Morena Baccarin was cast as Inara Serra, Rebecca Gayheart landed the role—but she was fired after one day of shooting because she lacked chemistry with the rest of the cast. Baccarin was cast two days later and started shooting that day.

4. NEIL PATRICK HARRIS WAS ALMOST DR. SIMON TAM.

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Before it went to Sean Maher, Neil Patrick Harris auditioned for the role of Dr. Simon Tam.

5. JOSS WHEDON WROTE THE THEME SONG.

Whedon wrote the lyrics and music for Firefly’s opening theme song, “The Ballad of Serenity.”

6. STAR WARS SPACECRAFT APPEAR IN FIREFLY.

Star Wars was a big influence on Whedon. Captain Malcolm Reynolds somewhat resembles Han Solo, while Whedon used the Millennium Falcon as inspiration to create Serenity. In fact, you can spot a few spacecraft from George Lucas's magnum opus on the show.

When Inara’s shuttle docks with Serenity in the pilot episode, an Imperial Shuttle can be found flying in the background. In the episode “Shindig,” you can see a Starlight Intruder as the crew lands on the planet Persephone.

7. HAN SOLO FROZEN IN CARBONITE POPS UP THROUGHOUT FIREFLY.

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Nathan Fillion is a big Han Solo fan, so the Firefly prop department made a 12-inch replica of Han Solo encased in Carbonite for the Canadian-born actor. You can see the prop in the background in a number of scenes.

8. ALIEN'S WEYLAND-YUTANI CORPORATION MADE AN APPEARANCE.

In Firefly’s pilot episode, the opening scene features the legendary Battle of Serenity Valley between the Browncoats and The Union of Allied Planets. Captain Malcolm Reynolds takes control of a cannon with a Weyland-Yutani logo inside of its display. Weyland-Yutani is the large conglomerate corporation in the Alien film franchise. (Whedon wrote Alien: Resurrection in 1997.)

9. ZAC EFRON'S ACTING DEBUT WAS ON FIREFLY.

A 13-year-old Zac Efron made his acting debut in the episode “Safe” in 2002. He played Young Simon in a flashback.

10. CAPTAIN MALCOLM REYNOLDS'S HORSE IS A WESTERN TROPE.

At its core, Firefly is a sci-fi western—and Malcolm Reynolds rides the same horse on every planet (it's named Fred).

11. FOX AIRED FIREFLY'S EPISODES OUT OF ORDER.

Fox didn’t feel Firefly’s two-hour pilot episode was strong enough to air as its first episode. Instead, “The Train Job” was broadcast first because it featured more action and excitement. The network continued to cherry-pick episodes based on broad appeal rather than story consistency, and eventually aired the pilot as the show’s final episode.

12. THE ALLIANCE'S ORIGINS ARE AMERICAN AND CHINESE.

The full name of The Alliance is The Anglo-Sino Alliance. Whedon envisioned The Alliance as a merger of American and Chinese government and corporate superpowers. The Union of Allied Planets’ flag is a blending of the American and Chinese national flags.

13. THE SERENITY LOUNGE SERVED AS AN ACTUAL LOUNGE.

Between set-ups and shots, the cast would hang out in the lounge on the Serenity set rather than trailers or green rooms.

14. INARA SERRA'S NAME IS MESOPOTAMIAN.

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Inara Serra is named after the Mesopotamian Hittite goddess, the protector of all wild animals.

15. THE CHARACTERS SWORE (JUST NOT IN ENGLISH).

The Firefly universe is a mixture of American and Chinese culture, which made it easy for writers to get around censors by having characters swear in Chinese.

16. THE UNIFORMS ARE RECYCLED FROM STARSHIP TROOPERS.

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The uniforms for Alliance officers and soldiers were the costumes from the 1997 science fiction film Starship Troopers. The same costumes were repurposed again for the Starship Troopers sequel.

17. "SUMMER!" MEANS SOMEONE MESSED UP.

Every time a cast member flubbed one of his or her lines, they would yell Summer Glau’s name. This was a running gag among the cast after Glau forgot her lines in the episode “Objects In Space.”

18. THE SERENITY SPACESHIP WAS BUILT TO SCALE.

The interior of Serenity was built entirely to scale; rooms and sections were completely contiguous. The ship’s interior was split into two stages, one for the upper deck and one for the lower. Whedon showed off the Firefly set in one long take to open the Serenity movie.

19. "THE MESSAGE" SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE SHOW'S FAREWELL.

Although “The Message” was the twelfth episode, it was the last episode filmed during Firefly’s short run. Composer Greg Edmonson wrote a piece of music for a funeral scene in the episode, which served as a final farewell to the show. Sadly, it was one of three episodes (the other two were “Trash” and “Heart of Gold”) that didn’t air during Firefly’s original broadcast run on Fox.

20. FIREFLY AND SERENITY WERE SENT TO THE INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION.

American Astronaut Steven Ray Swanson is a big fan of Firefly, so when he was sent to the International Space Station for his first mission (STS-117) in 2007, he brought DVD copies of Firefly and its feature film Serenity aboard with him. The DVDs are now a permanent part of the space station’s library.

This post originally appeared in 2014.

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