State of the Unions: For Marilu Henner, a Marriage to Remember
Naturally, her gift makes marital spats over who said what pretty futile. “Since her memory is factual, there’s no point in arguing it,” Mr. Brown, also 64, said with a comical sigh. “She can tell you everything that happened on Christmas in 2005.”
The couple met 47 years ago as students at the University of Chicago, but it took three decades — and a few divorces — before they really connected in 2003. At the time of their wedding, which was covered by The New York Times, Ms. Henner, with television credits that span from her breakout role on “Taxi” in 1978 to a recent stint on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” was focused on raising her two pre-teenage boys.
Mr. Brown, who already had three grown children of his own, took on a role most parents dread. “He’s been their go-to guy completely when it comes to talking about sex,” Ms. Henner said.
Mr. Brown said, “You definitely get better as a parent with more experience.” He oversees BrownTrout, which publishes calendars, desk planners and pocket organizers.
That isn’t to say that Ms. Henner blushes at the mere mention of physical intimacy. Hardly. A fast-talking redhead with sea glass-green eyes, she went on to reveal that she and her husband “definitely keep it sexy.” How often? They’re glad you asked. “We talk about our five show weekends,” Ms. Henner said. Mr. Brown grinned and chimed in, “It’s like a Broadway schedule.”
The two are just as forthright about the not-so-sunny times in their relationship. About a year after the two wed, Mr. Brown’s family business started to decline. “All of a sudden, I wasn’t as successful as I had been or as I thought I had been,” he said softly after a long pause. “I had a lot of self-doubt. I had a lot more work to do to keep afloat and I was unhappy.”
At about the same time, Ms. Henner questioned her own career viability as a woman of a certain age in Hollywood. “I thought, Oh my gosh, am I going to be like a lot of the other actresses even though I write the books and do the speaking engagements?” she said. (Ms. Henner is a best-selling author of 10 books.)
That shared uncertainty ended up strengthening their bond, though Mr. Brown’s reorganization of the business caused a rift with other members of his family.
Ms. Henner believes that her appearance on “60 Minutes” buoyed her image as an actress. “I was always the sexy girl, not that I played bimbos,” she said. “All of a sudden people saw me as somebody who was as smart as I am.”
In person, the two glow like incandescent light bulbs. They work out daily — she favors Pilates; he exercises with a personal trainer — and eat a mostly vegan diet. Health has been a vocation for Ms. Henner ever since the publication of “Marilu Henner’s Total Health Makeover” in 2000. (A book blurb by Carol Burnett reads, “Marilu is the healthiest person I know … she makes me sick!”)
Ms. Henner briskly summed up her take on wellness: “Being healthy is hard. Being unhealthy is hard. Pick your hard.”
Mr. Brown, who jokingly vowed to follow the rules in her health books at their wedding, was found to have bladder cancer and early-stage lung cancer three months after the two started dating in 2003. Ms. Henner quickly pointed out the exact date — “It’s 13 years on Nov. 24” — since he has been cancer free.
Mr. Brown’s rebound and their love story are at the center of their first literary collaboration, “Changing Normal: How I Helped My Husband Beat Cancer.” The book came out in April.
Writing it together brought out their differences and pulled them apart. Ms. Henner extensively outlined before she wrote; Mr. Brown scrawled in long form like Ernest Hemingway.
“He had his ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ tangents,” said Ms. Henner, who grew up with five siblings in Chicago and gets over things easily. Her husband, a self-described “pouter,” rolled his blue eyes.
In the end, they opted for a he-said-she-said format.
When asked what makes their relationship work, Mr. Brown said, “We’re both building something for the future and she makes me a better partner.”
She said, “I always thought that the person I married would be this great partner, but I didn’t think that he’d become my best friend.”
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