Brooke Burns made a name for herself saving lives on “Baywatch.” But after a life-threatening experience in her own home, Burns is back and ready to recapture the spotlight.
By Joe Bosso, Photos by John Russo/The Brooks Institute
Brooke Burns remembers
the moment that none of it mattered anymore—the money, the TV shows, the commercials and fashion spreads, the walks down the runway, and the romantic weekend getaways to exotic locales. “All of a sudden, everything seemed so trivial,” she says, her voice quivering with vulnerability. “All I could think was, ‘Oh, no. Am I ever going to be able to hold my little girl again?’ It was the greatest fear I had ever known.”
It was November of 2005, and a careless swan dive into the shallow end of her pool (“I had the bottom painted black,” she says. “Not a very bright thing to do”) resulted in a potentially life-threatening injury. Were it not for a neighbor, a firefighter who had trained as a paramedic, as luck would have it, Burns would surely have drowned. The neighbor rescued her from the pool and called the paramedics. Once Burns was laid out and her neck was immobilized, the paramedics asked her basic but important questions: Could she remember her name? Did she know what day of the week it was? What was her address? “I could remember my name,” she recalls, “but that was about it.” Then came the hardest question, when the paramedics asked if Burns could wiggle her toes. “I was like, “I am wiggling my toes.” And they were like, “No, you’re not.” You could see the grim looks on their faces, and that’s when I started panicking. Suddenly, everything flashed before my eyes and I could remember everything—literally, everything in my entire life—but none of it meant anything to me. All I could think of was my daughter, Madison.”
Madison, then five, was staying with her father, actor Julian MacMahon (best known as Dr. Christian Troy on “Nip/Tuck”), to whom Burns is divorced. “Thank God she wasn’t around at the time,” says Burns. “I couldn’t bear the thought of her being around to see her mother in such a state of helplessness.” Burns was rushed to the hospital, but the prognosis wasn’t good: Her neck had been broken between the C3 and C5 vertebra, a particularly tricky area for a break as it surrounds the area of the spinal cord that controls breathing. Fortunately, there was no injury to the spinal cord itself, but Burns had to endure a series of operations during which doctors put titanium rods and screws to hold the vertebra together. “And then I had to hope for the best,” she says. “It was a very scary time. I had what they call a classic ‘head-to-chest’ break. One millimeter lower and I would have been a paraplegic.”
Miraculously, Burns recovered in a matter on months. While waiting for her bones to fuse to the hardware, she even braved a few Hollywood openings sporting a custom-made neck brace decorated with rhinestones. “Retaining a sense of humor was the best medicine,” she says. “While I was in the hospital, I was wondering if they had to put my head in one of those halos—you know, where they drill into the sides of your head to keep you still? I remember thinking, ‘Well, if they do that, I can always do sci-fi pictures.’”
During her recuperation, Burns went through what she describes as a “cleaning out” period of anything and anybody that wasn’t enhancing her life. “You really do have that feeling [when you think] ‘Life is too short to be wasting time.’ You learn how to take inventory. We all assume we’re going to die of old age at 99 or whatever, but most of the time that’s not the case. I got a good close-up look at that, and it really changes your outlook. Now, every experience I have that I enjoy is ten times better, whether it’s a beautiful day with my daughter, a great glass of wine, or even a terrific cigar, which I do enjoy every now and then.”
A tiny scar on the back of her neck being the only outward evidence of her injury, the Brooke Burns of today remains an alluring presence, and the beau ideal of a woman. The number of websites—pages and pages of them—devoted to the wonders of her physical attributes is staggering. One gets the feeling that half of the world’s male population (and perhaps some females, too) is consumed by a single shared fantasy: Burns, supine, in some sexy little nothing or other, on a bed somewhere, running her long, slender fingers through her hair as she says breathlessly, “Where have you been all my life?”
Burns lets out a laugh—no, it’s more like a full-body cackle, one which is already infamous throughout the industry—at such imagery. “God, that’s so crazy!” she says. “Listen, I certainly don’t mind knowing that people think I’m pretty. A girl always likes to get complimented on her looks. But the thought of people being that obsessed by me, it’s like, ‘Come on. Get a hobby already. A real hobby, like stamp collecting or something. Whittling—that’d make a good hobby. No, see? Even that sounds sexy. It sounds like ‘polishing the carrot.’ Isn’t that what they call it? ‘Greasing the carrot, polishing the pole’—I can’t keep up!” She’s cracking herself up, and there’s no end in sight.
Burns’ carefree manners and jocund repartees might at first seem incompatible with anything serious, but she’s no insufferable popinjay. She speaks quickly but decorously. Her laugh, which can either end or interrupt most any sentence, seems like a defense mechanism of sorts, as if she’s embarrassed to talk about herself. “I like doing my work,” she says. “At first, it seemed as if all people were focusing on was my body. ‘Hey, we need somebody to wear a bathing suit. Call Brooke!’ But it’s nice to know that I’m starting to get hired for my ability at speaking lines—and for the way I speak them. Things feel as though they’re finally falling into place. It’s a pretty sweet time in my life.”
Want more? For the remainder of this article, including more pictures and an in-depth interview, subscribe now - or pick up a copy of SMOKE Magazine at a Tobacconist near you!
SMOKE - Winter, 2007/2008
HTML Copyright © 2007 by Keys Technologies and SMOKE Magazine. All rights reserved.