The Drive For A Healthy Life

TAXI star and bestselling author Marilu Henner will share with Savannah how she lives smart

 Do you remember what you were doing the night that the twelfth episode of Taxi’s second season aired in 1979? Marilu Henner does, and not just because she was one of the show’s stars. Henner has what is known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM), which enables her to recall dates and events in her life with an extremely rare and uncanny accuracy. Fans of Ms. Henner will get a chance to hear more about her memory ability, as well as her adventures in television and her commitment to healthy living, at this year’s SmartWomen Luncheon & Expo.

Henner’s story begins in Chicago, where she was one of six brothers and sisters who all grew up singing, dancing, and performing in community theater.

“My family owned a dancing school,” Henner recalls. “My father built my mother a 3-car garage that was never used as a garage. It was turned into a dancing studio immediately.”

As a teenager, Henner starred in theater productions in Chicago, and was asked by a friend to audition for his new show called Grease. She starred with the original company of the now iconic show, but chose not to follow the production when it moved to New York. She was coping with the recent death of her father and was eager to get her college education at the University of Chicago. But as Grease got bigger and a national tour developed, she was asked again to audition.

“I was on the way to the library when I got the call,” Henner says. “I looked back and forth between the library and my car a few times. Finally I threw my books in the car, drove to the airport, caught a plane to New York, got the part and started on the road as a professional actress.”

Henner’s work caught the attention of a casting director who would invite her to audition for a variety of roles, even some that she wasn’t right for. One show being developed included the character of a 33-year old Italian New Yorker with a 16-year old daughter. Henner was 25 when she auditioned, and the show’s creators liked her so much that they changed the character.

The show was Taxi.

“Those years were unbelievable,” Henner says. “You can’t beat Taxi. It was five years of great writing and great characters.”

Taxi would become one of the most popular shows on television, winning multiple Emmy awards and turning most of its ensemble cast into household names. Henner went on to star in feature films, Broadway shows, and another popular television show, Evening Shade. More recently, she appeared in The Celebrity Apprentice in 2008 and returned to Donald Trump’s office this year for The All-Star Celebrity Apprentice.

During her time under the studio lights, Henner was developing another passion that grew from the loss of her parents.

“Both of my parents died in their fifties,” Henner says. “After my father died, I ballooned up in weight because I was eating my feelings. I was often up and down in weight because I had developed bad habits. I was a yo-yo dieter.”

Seeing her mother in the hospital led Henner to an epiphany about health.

“I noticed how my mother’s body tried to rally for her even as she struggled through treatment,” Henner recalls. “I started to think about how much your body will rally for you if you treat it well and do the right things for it. I started to really respect the human body.”

“After my mother passed away, I became this obsessed student of health,” Henner says. “I read every book and medical journal I could get my hands on, and spent years developing a program that worked for me.”

After seeing how much knowledge she had accumulated, a friend suggested to Henner that she write a book about health. Performing in Chicago on Broadway, Henner did not have an opportunity to sit down and write, so she created notes for the book with a tape recorder in between performances.

“I would be speaking into a tape recorder about the effects of dairy products while putting on false eyelashes to play Roxie,” Henner recalls with a laugh.

The finished book, Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover, was released in 1998 and was a New York Times bestseller. Henner now has nine successful books to her credit. She also shares a variety of health information, including recipes, on her website, Most recently, Henner has developed a radio broadcast, The Marilu Show.

“I love writing and sharing information with people,” Henner says. “I want people to know that healthy living is doable. I’m looking to inspire people to take responsibility, let go of the same old bad habits and excuses, and change things up a bit.”

Henner’s latest book is Total Memory Makeover, in which she discusses HSAM, the unique memory ability that made her the subject of a two-part special on 60 Minutes. Though her level of memory is rare, Henner believes that anyone can develop their own memory into a great tool for learning.

“Your memory tells your story,” Henner says. “You can look at your past and really understand the mistakes, red flags, successes, and you can see how far you’ve come. You can bring the information from your past to your present to inform a better future.”

To learn more about Marilu Henner, visit her website at

Photos courtesy of Jeff Katz Photography.
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