Robby Benson began his career at the age of 12, on the Broadway stage, and became a teen heartthrob in the '70s, starring in films such as Ode To Billy Joe, Ice Castles and One and One, which he co-wrote. He was also the voice behind the Beast in the 1991 Disney film, Beauty and the Beast.
But many of Benson's fans may not know that over the past three decades, he's also survived four separate open heart surgeries. He chronicles his journey in his new memoir, I'm Not Dead ... Yet! And as he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, the title was deliberate. "I have had people come up to me and say, "I haven't seen you for a while, I thought you were dead," Benson says.
On surviving show-business as a child actor
"I was one of the fortunate ones because I grew up in the theater. So there's a huge difference between growing up in the theater or, let's say, growing up on TV, where you're supposed to look cute, memorize some lines, hit a mark and then you get paid thousands and thousands of dollars. And you lose perspective."
On how he hid his heart condition while acting in Hollywood
"My best acting was always in the doctor's office when I would get an insurance check-up. When I was in the room — and I was in the room alone, let's say putting on a gown — I would be doing push-ups and sit-ups so that when they came in it was like, 'Whoa.' They hardly even listened to my heart."
On why he never shared his secret with anyone
"John Marley, Rod Steiger, both of these men would take me aside and we'd have long conversations about this, about that, and it would eventually get very personal and they would tell me that they had heart problems. But they could never say a word about it, and it's a secret. And they said, 'You know, Robby, if by any chance you ever run into this, make sure you never tell anyone. You must keep it a secret because it's career suicide in Hollywood.' "