By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
It was a struggle, to be certain. A studio would option a script only to table it a few months later. The producer they'd been working for went out of business, forcing them to move their office into the living room of the apartment. At one point they started peddling a film production guide just to live off the sales. Martin would say they were on the fringes of the entertainment industry.
Perseverance is the key, he'd add. That's the number-one thing. Not talent. Not money. Perseverance. Are you going to talk about it or are you going to do it? Keep going, no matter what.
They lived and worked in L.A. for six years, sweating like this. They never married, as Carol wasn't interested. Why bother anyway? They were together and they were working all the time. Martin was always on the phone, calling someone. Carol always grilling an agent or drafting a fax. They both toiled on their computer at home, writing up stories, editing drafts of scripts, trolling for contacts and money.
"They had a great bond together," says Alexandra Scott, a friend who knew the couple in L.A. "He made Carol feel like she was the most beautiful woman. I'm not saying it was all roses, but he gave her self-confidence. He built her up. If she found flaws in herself, he'd say, 'Don't be ridiculous, no one cares about those things.' He was crazy about her."
They'd been together for eight years when Martin went in for what he thought was minor knee surgery.
Martin figured it was the tennis. He played a lot of it. He also skied. It must have been arthritis from those sports making his knee stiffen up, shooting a mild but ceaseless pain up his thigh when he walked. When he woke up from the surgery, on April 1, 1997, he couldn't feel or move his left foot.
The doctors initially thought a tourniquet set just above the knee had been tied too tight. They assumed the foot was sort of asleep, that it would soon awaken. Every day Martin waited for feeling to return. It never did, not even a year later. Sometimes he'd fall over when he walked and Carol would have to pick him up. She got him a foot brace, then a cane. He was in his bathroom prepping to attend a friend's wedding when he fell again, shattering his femur.
"I heard a piercing scream," Carol recalls. "Just a piercing scream. I ran to the bathroom and Martin's on the floor. I didn't know what to do. Martin was a pretty big man, but somehow I got him off the floor, got him onto a chair with rollers, lifted his legs, and pulled him across the living room and into the bedroom, and got him on the bed."
Martin insisted Carol not call an ambulance. He insisted he was all right, despite what Carol had just heard, seen, and done. He calmed her down, convinced her he was fine. Carol so wanted to believe him. But they never went to that wedding. Instead, the next day, they went back to the hospital. Martin stayed there for six weeks, recovering.
His foot never regained sensation. And, once out of the hospital, he kept falling down, even with his cane and leg brace. Then his neck started hurting. A neurologist suggested it might be an old car accident coming back to haunt him. Martin decided to have neck surgery. A few days before that operation, another doctor delivered a more accurate diagnosis.
"This doctor simply tells us Martin has Lou Gehrig's disease, and that he's going to die sometime in the next three to five years," Carol remembers. "I was sitting in the lobby. The doctor comes out and says, 'Carol, Martin's going to die in a couple years. Would you like some grief counseling?'"
Lou Gehrig's disease is the colloquial name for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It's a disorder of the neurons that control muscles. The nerve cells gradually die, for reasons no one has yet been able to determine. Without input from nerves, muscles die off as well. The disease most often strikes in late middle age, and usually men.
ALS is degenerative. Basically the muscles shut down slowly, one group after the other. In a typical case, the first to go would be the muscles in the legs, then the arms. At the end everything goes, including the muscles that control swallowing and breathing. Many ALS patients choke to death on their own phlegm.
Throughout the course of the disease, hearing, vision, and the ability to smell stick around. Brain function is unaffected, which is a mixed blessing. A person's emotions and intellect remain intact while his body deteriorates.
"It's a miserable disease because it makes you regress to becoming as dependent as a baby is," explains Walter Bradley, M.D., of the Kessenich Family MDA ALS Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. "You need to be lifted on and off the toilet. You lack hand function so you can't wipe your bottom."