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- A tumbleweed propelled across the landscape as
winds, gusting up to fifty-five miles an hour, appeared from nowhere and my
driver, Billy Cardhart, slowed our four-wheel drive to avoid hitting it. I
shifted a little in my seat and Billy sense that something was on my mind.
When I arrived in Santa Fe to begin filming The Lazarus Man, Billy signed on
to drive me to and from the Hughes Ranch. We became fast friends. He told me I
was one of his favorite actors ever since my performance as Jake Spoon, in
Lonesome Dove and that he came out of retirement to drive me. He had driven
all the big stars that had come to Santa Fe to make westerns-Henry Fonda, Kirk
Douglas and Dean Martin were a few.
Springtime comes reluctantly to these
parts. Cold winds blow down from San Juan Mountains that climb to thirteen
thousand feet above Santa Fe, a longtime artist's haven and now a weekend
refuge for Hollywood types. Writers, producers and directors come for the
solitude, the spectacular sunsets and the vast sky that seems to be held up by
the mountain peaks.
Billy had been a great source of wisdom and
entertainment on those long drives out to the various ranch locations.
everyone in Santa Fe you have to bear with the fickle weather. Blustery skies
can turn to snow storms as late as May, and newborn calves have frozen to
death overnight on the open range as temperatures unexpectedly drop well below
freezing. But the most dangerous and least predictable seasonal change is the
wind; wind that will blow incessantly from sunup to sundown and sometimes
throughout the night, lashing at the mountains and the valley floor and
hoisting blinding dust clouds that light from the most powerful halogen
headlamps can't penetrate.
This was shaping up as such a day. Up at
the crack of dawn, the winds were already gusting to seventy miles an
As we approached the set, Billy finally asked the question that had
been on his mind since he picked me up: "Why the pained expression,
When I didn't reply, he gave it his best guess.
to pick up the show, ya know," he said.
The Lazarus Man was finishing up
its first season and renewal time is always tense for the cast and crew. In my
entire career I had not enjoyed a role as much. I was the star of a
As a young boy I often played cowboys and in lieu of a horse, ran
around the neighborhood and down over the hill, slapping my thighs with open
palms making galloping horse sounds, even whinnying at the end of an extended,
exhausting run. This was better, I was on a real horse and the entire cast and
crew depended on me.
"They either will or they won't," I said, not yet
ready to reveal what was really troubling me.
"Then what are you makin'
those faces about?" he said.
"Oh, it's nothing," I said, not very
After so much time Billy knew better.
The truth was I had
a lump that was unnerving. I had found it several weeks prior and was not
ready to talk about it, not to anyone.
The show was picked up but instead
of playing a cowboy I found myself waking up in a hospital room waiting for my
As soon as he walked in, my stomach knotted. He didn't have to say
anything. The look on his face was enough.
"I think we've got a problem,"
he said. "My pathologist thinks this is something we need to check out
For the next several days the news was not good and I found my
self wondering how this could be happening to me.
I'm the leader. The guy
on the white horse.
Throughout my life, even when I had very little
to show for it, I believed myself to possess personal power, the power of the
love of my parents, the power of having had the right kinds of teachers and
coaches, the power of friends and faith, the power of believing that no matter
what the situation, this guy Robert Urich could deal with it. Never in my mind
was there a doubt that someday I would do something significant-not just in
the way of professional accomplishment, but in a way that meant something to
As an actor, I had always played heroic guys capable of going
the distance, tough guys with compassion. At the top of every movie script you
ever get-as soon as your character is introduced, there is a brief character
description. Of my character in Spenser: For Hire, it said, "He is capable of
going the distance whatever the distance might be. He is handsome. These were
my roles-guys who had what it took, and I certainly thought of myself as a guy
Lying in that hospital bed, I was stripped of that. A loss of
control is terrifying. The anchor line has been severed and you are at the
mercy of the raging gales and the angry seas. You can't be talking about me.
I've got cameras and dolly tracks and horses and wranglers and stunt men and
assistant directors calling me. There are scripts arriving for my notes. You
can't be talking about me. I'm Dan Tanna. I'm Spenser. I'm The Lazarus
No. I'm Robert Urich. I've got cancer.