Michael Douglas, who was diagnosed with Stage IV throat cancer last August, sat down with Matt Lauer for an exclusive interview about his recovery, which aired this morning on Today. Watch it below. After intensive chemotherapy and radiation, the tumor is gone, Douglas says, but, “it’s not a total euphoria” yet. He’ll need to be checked on a monthly basis. His salivary ducts have been closed down as a result of the radiation for a year or two, so his mouth is very dry, particularly at night, and there’s still a fatigue factor. But he’s strong enough to work out and is getting his fingers ready to play Liberace in Steven Soderbergh’s biopic. Yes, he’s looking ahead — from what he knows about this type of cancer, he says hopefully, “I’ve got it beat.”
Like most cancer patients, Douglas says, the diagnosis has changed him. “All of the sudden, the affection from my family, from my friends, and from my fans hit me at a much deeper level then I would have ever imagined before.” With a mother in her late ’80s and his father, Kirk, at 94, he said he feels good about his genes. But, at 66, he now has a timeline for his life. “It’s definitely a third act,” he says. “And so you’re a little more conscious of your time and how you choose to spend it.”
As someone whose father went through whole brain radiation five years ago when she was 30, and went with him to treatments but never saw inside the room, I’m fascinated that Douglas chose to take his children, ages 8 and 10, to a couple of treatments and show them the mask used to “bolt you down like Hannibal Lecter or something.” It was good for them, he says. “They thought it was cool, all the space age stuff. And so it made up for all those days when dad was lying on the couch and couldn’t get up.”
Unfortunately, odds are we can all relate somewhat to what Douglas and his family have gone through, but there’s one side to his story most of us can’t imagine: the paparazzi. “There was sort of a macabre enjoyment out of sort of watching me go down there for a while,” he says. The photos, which showed him gaunt (he’s gained 12 pounds back of the 32 that he lost) made it difficult for family and friends to trust him when he said he was doing okay, and prompted Kirk to return to New York for 10 days. “He came up to the apartment every day to see me,” Douglas says, because of those photos.