Heart Attack & Fine
Actor Douglas Taylor is alive (again) and well in Austin, Texas
By Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Sept. 20, 2002
Douglas Taylor wasn't dead for all that long, really. "Between three and five minutes, they think," he says, almost a year after the heart attack -- the second heart attack -- that wrenched him from the world of the living.
The first heart attack occurred on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 16, the day before he died. He had been in his apartment, preparing for a trip to the Laundromat. "There were piles of clothes all over the place, and rows of quarters on the coffee table. I was getting everything ready to go. Usually, I'm in rehearsal -- I was doing Dan Dietz's Tilt Angel with Salvage Vanguard at the time -- but we had that afternoon free, so I was trying to catch up on things." Other things, though, caught up with him first.
"It turns out that there was a problem with two major arteries. One of them was 100% blocked, the other was 95% blocked. One wasn't working at all and the other one was sweatin' -- and it just gave up. And I started to feel really bad. And I called my friend Cyndi [Williams], I was gonna ask her to take me to the hospital. And, luckily, she was on her computer, so I got her machine. If she hadn't been on her computer, she would've said 'Hang on, I'll be there in 20 minutes,' and I would've been dead -- and so far gone that the doctors wouldn't have been able to revive me. But I couldn't reach Cyndi, so I hung up."
And dialed 911.
"I don't remember dialing 911," says Taylor. "The last conscious memory I had, I was standing at the foot of my bed, holding the phone, and I was watching the phone fall out of my hand. And I was thinking to myself, 'Well, that's the stupidest thing I've ever done.' And I fell over onto the TV stand, busted my lip open and broke out a tooth. And when I woke up in the hospital, this side of my face was all red and swollen. And my mother and sister were there in the ICU, and my mother says the first thing I said was 'I have to do the play!'"
Well, he never did do the play; the critically acclaimed Tilt Angel was staged with Robert Pierson in the role Taylor would have performed. But maybe that wasn't due to the first heart attack; maybe that was due to the second heart attack -- the one that killed him. The one that provided the epiphany that's changed his life.
"Monday morning, in the hospital, I had another heart attack," says Taylor. "And I died. And they brought me back. And Monday morning, unbeknownst to me, my grandfather also had a heart attack -- and passed away. And so I was there while people were waiting for him. On the other side." He pauses for a moment and looks away, frowning slightly, as if weighing something in his mind.
"Well, I've been telling this story for almost a year now," he says, "so I don't see why I shouldn't tell it to everybody. Okay: When I died, I went to heaven. I was there. I didn't see the tunnel of light that people talk about, but I saw a group of people standing off in the distance, and they were all backlit, they could've been anybody. Until I got closer, and then I recognized them as my great-uncle Glen -- my grandfather's brother -- and my grandmother, a woman that was like a grandmother to us, my aunt Wanda, and a whole group of people that I didn't recognize. But I knew that I knew them from somewhere. And the only thing they would say to me was, 'We're not waiting for you -- go home.' Because they were waiting for my grandfather."
Douglas Taylor, the 40-year-old actor who briefly died and was brought back to life, looks earnestly into my eyes. He sits there, having said what he's just said, and he smiles. "It was a wonderful, wonderful experience," he tells me, "and it's given me a very peaceful feeling. Not just about life, but about the afterlife. Because I know that in -- knock wood -- 40 years, when it's my turn to go, they'll be waiting for me."
And all I can think is: Whoa.
Aloud, I say: "Well, goddamn."
And Doug Taylor continues smiling.
But what's he doing here, specifically, until the Reaper comes for real?
Taylor's people are from Texas, and if his father hadn't been in the military and hopping the family from base to base, he'd probably have been born in Texas himself; he's performed as Alamo hero Davy Crockett for the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum; he seems, with his deep voice and his confident stride, like nothing but a Texan. But there's possibly another reason?
"In the last year and a half," says Taylor, who since the mid-Eighties has performed in over 50 stage plays around Austin, "I haven't done anything that wasn't an original work. Nothing that wasn't a world premiere of some kind. And that's Austin -- that's Austin, Texas. That's Script Works, that's the Vortex, Hyde Park Theatre, the Blue Theater, the Rude Mechs -- all of these places that nurture new work, that will go out and find playwrights and say, 'Listen, we don't have a lot of money, but -- here -- we want to produce this show for you.' They're actively interested in supporting new work."
Like Davy Crockett in Texas?
"I'll tell ya," says Taylor. "While I was doing Davy in the daytime, from March until August, I was in four other shows at night." He counts them off on his fingers. "Seven Deadly Sins for the iron belly muses, Liquid Princesses for Austin Script Works, Celebrity Crush for Refraction Arts, and Blah, Blah, Blah for Bayou Radio. All originals.
"And there's another thing I love about the theatre community here," he continues. "This isn't New York, this isn't Chicago or Dallas or Houston. It's hard to do theatre in other towns. I've been there, and they're filled with people snarling tooth and claw trying to get somewhere, you know? In Austin, you go to an audition and you know half the people there, and there's not that kind of animosity. And if it's not you who gets the role, well, thank God it's Travis Dean, thank God it's David Jones -- people you love to see on stage, because you admire their talent. There's more of a basic love of theatre in this town, a sense of everyone being in it for that love, that you don't get anywhere else. We're in a totally different realm."
But, hold on, four plays and Davy Crockett? Right after the heart attack?
"I think I pushed myself a little hard this spring and summer," Taylor admits, grinning. "I needed to prove to myself that I could get back out there and do it again, that all the gears were going in the same direction and I hadn't lost the ability to memorize lines. Especially the memorizing part. Because you're dead for however many minutes, sometimes it can cause brain damage, and I wanted to make sure I could still get the lines down." He smiles and leans back in his chair. "And now that I know that I can do it, I'm gonna take a little break."