Tatum O'Neal Says She's Regaining Her Memory After Near-Fatal Stroke
The 59-year-old actor was also in a six-week coma following an overdose.
During her life, Tatum O'Neal has been candid about her struggles with substance use, and now, the actor has revealed that she suffered an almost fatal overdose in 2020. In a new interview with People, the former child star shared that the overdose caused her to have a stroke, which left her in a coma for six weeks. Tatum is continuing to heal both physically and mentally—including regaining her vocabulary and her memory—and has furthered her journey towards sobriety. Read on to find out more about the 59-year-old star's health battle.
O'Neal overdosed on a combination of drugs.
According to People, in 2020, O'Neal had been taking prescription medications, some of which were for rheumatoid arthritis and pain in her neck and back. But, when she overdosed in May of that year, it was determined to be from a combination of prescription medications, opiates, and morphine.
A friend found O'Neal in her Los Angeles apartment, and she was taken to the hospital. She was in a coma for six weeks and diagnosed with aphasia, "a disorder that affects how you communicate," which "usually happens suddenly after a stroke or a head injury," according to Mayo Clinic.
O'Neal "had damage to her right frontal cortex," her son, Kevin McEnroe, told People. "At times, it was touch and go. I had to call my brother and sister and say she was thought to be blind, deaf and potentially might never speak again." He explained, "She also had a cardiac arrest and a number of seizures. There were times we didn't think she was going to survive."
O'Neal shares her children—Kevin, Sean, and Emily McEnroe, all of whom are in their 30s—with her ex-husband, tennis player John McEnroe.
She woke up to find she couldn't communicate.
O'Neal explained to People how it felt waking up after six weeks in a coma.
"I woke up in a coma without any words, without anything," she said. "I didn't know where I was. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to do. And I had no, no, no words at all—nothing. And nobody could figure out what was going to go on, if I was going to die or if I was going to live. And I lived. It is a miracle."
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She's recovered her speech but cannot read or write.
Now, three years after her overdose and stroke, O'Neal is still in recovery. She shared that while she can now speak, she "still can't really read and write yet." The Paper Moon star added, "It is what it is … I wish I was able to do the more actual reading and actual writing, which I loved to do my whole life." She is also working on regaining her memory.
As for her substance use issues, she said that she attends meetings regularly to achieve sobriety. "I don't want to drink anymore and I don't want to use anymore, but I'm doing much better about that," she shared. "And I'm doing so many meetings. I'm impressed with myself about the meetings. That I'm trying so hard with sobriety, just everyday, sometimes three or four times a day on Zoom. And that helps me so much."
She's been open about her addiction struggles.
For years prior to her stroke, O'Neal had been forthcoming about her struggles with drug addiction, including in her two memoirs: 2004's A Paper Life and 2011's Found: A Daughter's Journey Home. She's also opened up about her difficult and traumatic upbringing with her mother, Joanna Moore, and later with her father, Ryan O'Neal. The youngest Oscar winner of all time started to do drugs in her teens and tried to take her own life at 13.
In a 2011 interview with Nightline, O'Neal admitted that she became addicted to heroin after her divorce. "The drugs that I liked to do, not painkillers, that's not what I'd like to do. I'd rather do heroin or crack, something of that nature," she said. "Something really illegal, something really destructive."
In 2008, she was arrested while trying to buy crack cocaine in New York City. She later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and agreed to participate in a drug treatment program.
A 2017 interview with The Independent explained that for her addiction, O'Neal had tried 12-step programs and rehab, as well as alternative treatments and therapies, such as EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing).
She's feeling more hopeful about her future.
O'Neal told People, "I've had a hard, hard, hard, hard, hard life. And I rarely cry, but I am crying a lot more lately and that's a very good thing for my life and in general as I keep going forward in my life." The Bad News Bears star added, "Am I sure where I'm going to go next? No, and neither is my kids sure, but I'm totally trying to get better."
Kevin—who has also struggled with drugs and alcohol and is more than three years sober—shared that he's hopeful about his mother's recovery.
"In the world of recovery, there can be a moment where you feel, like, 'I can't keep living this way.' And I think that is what finally occurred," he said. "Now I see an enormous amount of hope. So to me this last chapter where she wants to live, wants to get sober, wants to learn, I think it's a miracle. I think it's beautiful. I've never been more proud to be her son. She's full of love and full of heart."
O'Neal said, "Every day I am trying. I want to be with my beautiful three kids."
If you are or a loved one is struggling with suicide or depression, you can call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or visit 988lifeline.org.