Pittsburgh Speaker Series: Alan Alda

On October 8th I had the pleasure of going downtown to the Renaissance Hotel to meet Alan Alda along with seeing his presentation at Heinz Hall. Alan Alda is mainly known for his first acting career in the hit series, M*A*S*H.” He has also played in a number of other movies throughout his years, which has led him to become an award winning actor. My favorite movie he has played in recently was the movie with Ben Stiller, “Tower Heist.”

Something a lot of people don’t know about him is how he found a passion for science. He had a show for 12 years on PBS where he would interview scientists. He was really invested in the idea of having scientists communicate with the public on their findings, but in ways that we can understand.

Alda’s presentation focused a lot on a horrible tragedy he experienced. One day he was up on a mountain in Chile, conducting an interview with a scientist for his show. They were getting ready to shoot and he got this sharp pain in his stomach and was soon lying on the ground in pain. The medics took him down to this small, dimly lit hospital and luckily, the best doctor in the world was there and was able to perform surgery. He found out that part of his intestine was bad and it needed to be cut out or he would die very soon. He went into surgery, feeling okay. But when he woke up and learned the surgery went well, he felt this overwhelming feeling of joy and had never felt this way before. He learned that he wanted to keep this feeling forever.

He thought he needed to recall memories of his life that made him who he was today, moments he thought to be special. He started out with telling the story of how he got into acting. His dad was a Burlesque actor and they traveled all over the country together. He got to watch the shows over and over again. He talked about how from the audience, you get to see the illusion, but from side stage, where he was at, you got to see how they made the illusion. He was fascinated by the acting, the chorus girls, and the whole show. He knew he wanted to be an actor.

Alda went on to tell a story about how he got sick with Polio and his dad bought him a dog to make him feel better. He loved the dog so much and it meant everything to Alda. One day they fed him Chinese food and the dog choked on a bone in the food and died. They took him to a taxidermist to get him stuffed because his dad felt so bad, and when they got him back he had a terrifying expression on his face and just placed him in the center of the living room. People were scared of the dog every time they walked into the house.

He told multiple other stories in which he wrote books about and memories that made him realize who he is today and how precious his life is. But in the end he realized that, “The only thing we have is the present moment.” He talked about how we have to live in the now. We can’t worry about the 5 second before now and the 5 seconds to come, but the 5 seconds of the now.

We also learned that every fee he makes from the tour he is doing, he is donating to a fund that helps further research in Science in a center at Stony Brook University named after him, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

Overall, Alda was very humorous in his presentation and personable. It was a joy just to listen to him speak and tell his stories. It was inspirational getting to hear his story and experience that made him who he is today. It was a different view than most people see, because many people only know him from his place in M*A*S*H or any of his movies. It was a great presentation and hope to see him continue on.

Allison Dushack

Alan Alda

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