George Clooney is one of the most well-known and accomplished actors of the last three decades. He’s won four golden globes and two academy awards for his performances. While his career has been wildly successful, it almost ended back in 2005 when he experienced a severe spinal injury on the set of Syriana. Like his 2009 film, the incident left Clooney’s entire career up in the air.
What happened on the Syriana set?
Syriana is a political thriller loosely based on the memoirs See No Evil by former CIA officer Robert Baer. The film was written and directed by Stephen Gaghan and stars Clooney at the head of an ensemble cast. Clooney had performed well in previous ensembles like Ocean’s 11, so he was a good choice for the role. While safety precautions are taken to avoid injuries, grueling films like Syriana are dangerous for actors.
“There was this scene where I was taped to a chair and getting beaten up. The chair was kicked over and I hit my head. I tore my dura, which is the wrap around my spine that holds in the spinal fluid. But it’s not my back; it’s my brain. I basically bruised my brain. It’s bouncing around my head because it’s not supported by the spinal fluid.”
You can see the brutal moment here (warning: discretion is advised). Clooney was rushed to the hospital, where he underwent several tests and treatments. The pain became so unbearable that Clooney’s mind started to wander to dark places:
“I was at a point where I thought, ‘I can’t exist like this. I can’t actually live.’ I was lying in a hospital bed with an IV in my arm, unable to move, having these headaches where it feels like you’re having a stroke, and for a short three-week period, I started to think, ‘I may have to do something drastic about this.’”
Clooney revealed that he started to think about suicide. He didn’t want to reach that point but he couldn’t envision living with the pain. He even thought of the most polite way to kill himself without making a mess, envisioning locking himself in a running car in his garage. Thankfully, George’s will to live carries him through these dark times and he found ways to manage the pain.
How did Clooney deal with the pain?
Clooney’s friend Lisa Kudrow told him to go see her brother, a neurologist. That’s when it was discovered how bad his injury truly was. The doctor discovered a two-and-a-half-inch tear in his back and a half-inch rip in his neck that was actively leaking spinal fluid through his sinuses and down his nose. He was put on pain medicine that led to anxiety and stomach issues, and Clooney needed another way to manage the pain that wouldn’t destroy him in the process.
He saw a pain management specialist that taught him to readjust his pain threshold. He had to accept his new baseline and let go of how he used to feel. He couldn’t mourn his pain-free life because he will never feel that again. It turns out that people can train themselves into accepting a new baseline and Clooney was able to move forward with his life.
More trouble down the road
Clooney’s new mindset was put to the test when he had another accident in Italy in 2018. He’s lucky to be alive after the severe impact and continues to have surgeries and treatments to this day. However, he almost always has a smile on his face as he uses the power of perspective to deal with the pain.
While it’s still a struggle, he survived the darkest moments and continues to act and make films. Clooney will co-star with his real-life friend Brad Pitt in the upcoming thriller Wolfs, which is still in production.
As for Syriana? Clooney’s performance won him the academy award for best supporting actor.