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Marilu Henner Shares the Secrets of Her Rare Diagnosis

Best known for her role as Elaine O’Connor Nardo on the popular late-70s and early-80s sitcom Taxi and for her numerous co-starring roles in films such as Cannonball Run II, Ladykillers, and L.A. Story, actress Marilu Henner has been bestowed with a very unique genetic gift.

While many people have fairly sharp memories, Henner is one of just a handful of people who have been confirmed to have what’s been dubbed as a ‘highly superior autobiographical memory”.

Some might assume that having such a vivid memory would be overwhelming. After all, who doesn’t have a few memories that we’d prefer to forget. Fortunately, for Henner, however, being able to remember more than most people can has been much more of a blessing than a curse.

Drawing strong parallels to the central plot device featured in the 1990 science fiction film Total Recall and the 1966 Philip K. Dick short story it was based on “We Can Remember it for For You Wholesale”, Henner is incapable of forgetting even the most mundane and minute details of her life.

While in Total Recall, the film’s lead character Douglas Quaid, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, undergoes a technologically-assisted procedure in which he is implanted with vivid memories of a Martian vacation that he never actually took, Henner’s unique ability is au naturale.

Obviously having a near-photographic memory would come in handy as an actor, but Henner’s outstanding ability to recall every last detail of her life goes far beyond just being able to recollect specific sights and sounds. Not only has this led to her being at a tremendous advantage in her professional career, but it’s also had a significant impact on many other areas of her life.

Join us as we take a deep dive into Marilu’s profoundly fascinating condition.

Facts Verse Presents: Marilu Henner Shares the Secrets of Her Rare Diagnosis

Henner’s Gift Is Almost Uncanny

Just give her any random date, and she can recall it with astonishing clarity. For example, when asked about April 30, 1980, Henner, without any hesitation, said that not only was that a Wednesday, but she also spent the day in Cancun with her boyfriend and soon-to-be first husband.

If that’s not impressive enough, Henner further remembers wearing a cream-colored jumpsuit, harem pants, and a strapless top with a turquoise jacket. And as far as the day’s activities, on that date, she claims to have drank tequila for the first time, something she wouldn’t do again for the next 25 years.

Now, you might already be beyond impressed, but Henner further gave reason for us to marvel by accurately describing the weather as being beautiful that evening. The following day, apparently there was a downpour of rain, and the plumbing at the resort she and her boyfriend were staying at went out.

Describing her powers in terms that are more relatable to us normies, Henner has said that her ability is akin to how most of us are able to remember basic things like our eye color, addresses, or phone numbers, but instead of being limited to those simple items, she’s able to recall basically everything with the same degree of ease.

For the majority of people, vivid memories like these are usually only associated with significant life events like the day their child was born or their wedding days. Likewise traumatic events such as a car accident or 9/11 tend to be permanently fixed in people’s memories. Just ask anyone that was alive for the latter event, and they’ll probably be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when the towers fell.

Our memories tend to present themselves a lot like impressionist paintings. While we might not be able to recall all of the tiny little details, we do normally remember at least the broad strokes, thus forming a picture that, from a distance, might appear to be a bit blurry, but when we zoom in, we can find a few noteworthy specifics that stand out.

While that might be an accurate description of how most folks’ memories work, that’s not what Marilu Henner has experienced. She’s able to recall most of her life’s details in almost photographic detail.

Her condition, Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory or HSAM, is very uncommon. In fact, only about one in every 100 people worldwide are said to be identified with it. This exceedingly rare condition allows people to recall events from most of the days that they’ve live with remarkable accuracy and detail.

HSAM was first described in 2006 by a doctor named James McGaugh, who serves as the founding chair of the department of neurobiology and behavior at the University of Califrornia-Irvine. Dr. McGaugh is also the founding director of the University’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Henner’s Memory Has Always Been Sharp

In an interview published in the magazine Brain and Life, Henner said that even when she was as young as five, people were already asking her parents what was up with her memory. After visiting her family’s home, visitors would be amazed by Henner’s ability to recall precisely the last time they were there and everything that happened.

Her extraordinary abilities led to her earning the nicknames “Little Miss Memory”, “The Memory Kid”, and UNIVAC, the latter of which being a reference to a popular line of computers produced by Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation.

Whenever someone in her family wanted to know when something happened, she was always the first one to be asked. While Henner admits that everyone in her family was very smart and had reasonably good memories of their own, they all knew that there was something exceptional about hers.

Being one of six children, Henner’s profoundly specific memory made her stand out from the rest of the pack – and for that, she says that she was quite grateful.

Henner Didn’t Know What Made Her Special For Decades

The first person to be diagnosed with HSAM was a woman named Jill Price. In 2000, Price found Dr. McGaugh’s name online and shot him an email defining her ability.

In that email, Price described how whenever she would see a date flash on the TV screen or anywhere else, she would automatically go back to that day in her mind and remember exactly where she was, what she was up to, what day it fell on, and other specific details.

After Dr. McGaugh and several of his colleagues worked with Price for six years, they published a piece in the neuropsychology journal Neurocase in February 2006 entitled “A Case of Unusual Autobiographical Remembering”.

Not long after that article was published, a producer over at 60 Minutes heard about the doctor’s research and proposed running a story on the subject to one of the show’s correspondents, Lesley Stahl.

Stahl, however, wasn’t that impressed by the story and told the producer that she didn’t think that the condition was all that uncommon as her friend Marilu Henner possessed the same kind of memory. To make her point, Stahl took the producer and Henner out to lunch.

While enjoying their meal together, the producer mentioned that their wedding was on June 15, 1998. Henner then interjected by asking why they got married on a Monday of all days. That’s when the producer realized that she did, in fact, have HSAM.

It was three years later that Henner learned that the condition was, in fact, quite rare indeed. Dr. McGaugh had put out word that he was in search of more people like Henner and Price, and at that time, only about a dozen or so had come forward.

Around that time, Henner and four other people with HSAM appeared on a segment for 60 Mintures in which she underwent an MRI brain scan, answered a bunch of questions, and shared detailed stories that showed off her memory prowess.

After her appearance on 60 Minutes, Henner worked as a consultant for the television series Unforgettable, which was about a police detective with HSAM named Poppy Montgomery who used her detailed memory to help crack cases.

HSAM Helps Henner In Many Surprising Ways

Naturally, one of the first questions that Henner gets asked by curious parties is whether her memory helps her remember her lines. Although, clearly her unique ability comes in handy in that way, she says that it’s even better for enriching her characters.

Henner claims that it’s what’s behind her lines that makes the most profound difference in her performances. Since she’s able to recall all of her life’s experiences in vivid detail, she’s able to channel those memories directly into her roles, thus enriching them in ways that other actors can’t.

As such, whenever people approach her and say that they suspect a friend or relative has the condition, her first knee-jerk reaction is to tell them to go enroll in an acting class.

Aside from acting, Henner’s memory also helped her out a lot in school. Although, she claims the biggest reason she did so well academically was the fact that she was one of six kids, all of whom were exceptionally smart. As they say, iron sharpens iron.

For some people with HSAM, the condition can be quite frustrating and understandably overwhelming. For instance, Jill Price told Dr. McGaugh that her experience with it was “nonstop, uncontrollable, and exhausting’. Fortunately, Henner says that she finds great joy in her memory and considers it a gift.

She says that people frequently inquire whether it’s hard for her to remember all of the bad things that have happened to her. While that seems like a very reasonable and well-intentioned question, Henner replies by saying that most people are going to remember all their bad memories anyway. In her case, however, she’s able to cushion all of those negative memories with the abundance of happy ones she has.

She Wants To Help Others Improve Their Memories

Knowing that the vast majority of people aren’t gifted with her phenomenal memory, Henner does have a few tips for ordinary people hoping to improve their memories.

Henner’s first tip is to explore what she calls your “primary track”. This entails focusing on the things that we remember better than any other things in life. For example, if your most vibrant memories are attached to travel, then that’s where you should focus on while trying to fill in the surrounding blanks.

After that, Henner says that we should try to use our senses to help us recall more minor details. As you might have heard before, scent is one of the strongest memory-inducers.

Another way that Henner says that we can all improve our memories is by feeding your body with healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, and lagumes. If it’s good for your body, it’s good for your mind. So, cut out the junk food, stay hydrated, and try to prioritize your health as much as possible.

Henner’s next tip is to try our best to ‘sear in’ our memories by constantly taking note of the little sensory details in our lives. As we go about our day, take moments to pause and really pay attention to what we’re hearing, seeing, smelling, and experiencing. At the end of the day, run through your memory like a montage to try and hold on to as many details as you can.

Last but not least, Henner recommends getting yourself a ‘memory buddy’ – someone close to you that you can bounce memories off of. With your memory buddy, you can reflect on shared experiences while doing your best to fill in gaps in each other’s memories.

Marilu Henner’s remarkable memory no doubt has helped her keep her acting career alive and well over the years. In the 90s, she made a return to television, appearing on the CBS sitcom Evening Shade. She went on to make numerous guest appearances on other shows like Cybill, ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Neighborhood. She’s also enjoyed numerous roles in made-for-TV films and big-screen offerings such as Bob Hearts Abishola and The Mimic.

At 70, she’s still going strong and her memory is every bit as sharp as it’s always been. We’re looking forward to seeing what kinds of projects she continues to work on as she enjoys her golden years.

On that note, we’ll go ahead and wrap things up, but before you move on to another one of our facts-packed videos, take a moment to show us a little support by dropping us a line or two in the comments.

Did you know that Marilu Henner has a photographic memory that allows her to recall nearly every detail of her life and that at 70, she’s still very active in the entertainment industry? Let us know, and as always, thanks for watching!

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