Mandy Patinkin - Actor, Singer, Prostate Cancer Survivor
by Laura Shipp
(photos by Kharen Hill)
Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die. If you ask Mandy Patinkin to quote his infamous line from Rob Reiner’s 1987 movie The Princess Bride, he’ll likely oblige. And he’ll do so in an accent befitting a swashbuckling Spanish swordsman on a quest to find the sixfingered man who killed his father.
While many actors prefer to dissociate themselves from this type of early-career role (one which happened to amass a substantial cult following), Mandy embraces it. He maintains he is grateful for his fans, and for Inigo Montoya’s longevity.
But don’t think that Inigo Montoya is Mandy’s only memorable performance. His Broadway debut as Che in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita earned him a Tony award. His numerous film credits include Alien Nation, Ragtime, Yentl, and Dick Tracy. He won an Emmy for his role on Chicago Hope and has starred in the television shows Dead Like Me and Criminal Minds. He has released several solo albums, and his most recent gig is a concert series with fellow Tony winner and Evita costar Patti LuPone.
“Aside from my wife and children, cancer was the greatest gift I was ever given.”
When it comes to his career, the unpretentious actor/singer makes his own rules. For instance, when I contacted his publicist to arrange this interview for Coping, he returned my call personally to work out the details.
When it comes to his personal life, he likes to keep things in proper perspective. His wife and children always come first.
In March 2004, his life was shaken when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 51, roughly the same age his father was when he died of pancreatic cancer some 30 years earlier. Mandy says he couldn’t help but think of his father when he got the call from his doctor. “I felt lightheaded and overwhelmed, and I was weeping on the phone,” he says.
But the good thing for Mandy was that cancer research had come a long way since his father’s diagnosis. Because of his young age and because his cancer was found early, Mandy’s physicians recommended a radical prostatectomy. Mandy admits that he was concerned about the side effects of surgery. His doctor reassured him saying, “The most important thing to attend to is that we get rid of the cancer. That is our number one job. You’ll be able to have a sexual life. You’ll be able to function. You might have to adjust to some changes, but you’ll be fine.”
Mandy got the point. “What’s more important, having a sex life or getting rid of cancer?” he says. He had made his decision – attack the cancer first and worry about the side effects later. He had the radical prostatectomy, and the surgery was successful.
“Ever since I got cancer and went through the surgery and recovered,” Mandy reflects, “I’ve realized that aside from my wife and children, cancer was the greatest gift I was ever given.”
He goes on to say, “I always appreciated my life, my wife, my kids, my music, the fact that I get to do what I love. But I took my life for granted. I would say I didn’t, but I did. I was kidding myself. And after cancer, every day, including this second while I am talking to you, is precious to me – every sunrise and sunset, every walk in the park, every visit with my children, every time I hold my wife, every time I get to perform.”
Now that he’s a survivor, Mandy is conscientious about sustaining his health and wellness. Every morning, he downs an antioxidant-rich smoothie, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t eat at least one of the five foods thought to help fight cancer – broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, blueberries, and cooked tomatoes. He does whatever he can to keep his stress levels low – daily meditation, regular exercise and physical activity, quality time with his family, philanthropy. His current mantra is simply “Be happy.”
“And I’m so very aware, as I never was before cancer, that I may live to 100,” he pronounces. “I hope I do. I probably will never die from prostate cancer; I don’t have a prostate anymore. But I know that life could be over in 5 seconds, or 50 minutes, or 50 years. I just hope I get 50 years rather than 50 minutes.”
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For more on Mandy or to check out his concert schedule, visit www.mandypatinkin.org.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2009.