Chris Kattan reveals years of dark secrets due to broken neck -- Four surgeries, lies and hiding from the world
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 03/28/2017
Chris Kattan is opening up like never before, sharing the distressing details of his near-fatal neck injury and subsequent life-altering rehabilitation.
Chris started his story from the beginning when discussing the struggles he's been through over the last 15 years in a lengthy interview with People.
The first boot from Dancing with the Stars' 24th season recalled, "I was doing a stunt and I knew something was wrong but I didn't think it was serious. It wasn't until, maybe, two day later -- when my arm started to atrophy -- that I got checked out and the doctor told me that I'd broken my neck."
Chris decided to keep his condition private rather than ask family, friends and co-workers for help.
"My dad was once fired from a job on a sitcom because he said he couldn't do a certain physical thing on the trampoline," Chris said of his father, actor Kip King, who passed away in 2010. "I remember how upset my dad was. I think that was one of the reasons I decided not to tell anyone. I thought telling people about a physical drawback might cost me a job."
To avoid becoming paralyzed, Chris first underwent a minor procedure to hopefully restore his neck and back mobility.
"I just couldn't imagine a piece of a car or a machine or a piece of metal in my back. It just didn't make sense to me, so I got what was called a noninvasive surgery from a gentleman that was [practicing Eastern medicine]," revealed the Saturday Night Live comedian of the procedure, which reportedly consisted of a fusion of levels in his neck.
Weeks apparently followed of hospital stays, physical therapy and constant bed rest despite Chris' desire to go outside.
"My body had to learn to communicate with my nerves again... but I was bedridden... What really sucked is that I felt I couldn't tell other people. I didn't tell my agents, I didn't tell my managers. I lied about what was really going on. I didn't let them see me because I didn't want my work to be affected," he said.
Although Chris was advised by doctors to spend about six months in recovery, he was determined to return to work after only 60 days.
"When I went back to work, I was hiding my own wounds or my bandages and my posture and things like that," admitted the actor. "People started saying, 'Chris, you don't look very good,' and 'You look sick,' and 'Are you on drugs?' and all these things. I just said, 'I'm not. I'm doing okay, I'm fine.' But I never told them what was really happening because I just wanted to be polite."
It soon became apparent to Chris that the noninvasive surgery failed to correct his problems.
"The pain was still there. I was getting numbness in my fingers, my toes. The doctor said my blood was not reaching my nerve endings. I started developing very dry skin and my hands would start to bleed from it, the dry skin," Chris told People. "[Co-workers] were like, 'What's wrong with you?' I let people judge me because I thought, 'I needed to just keep going.'"
Chris underwent a more traditional surgical procedure several years later to basically put "bolts" through his spine down his back.
"The doctor said I'd been so close to almost being paralyzed for the rest of my life," Chris said of his decision to go through with such a frightening operation. "The rehabilitation process was really serious this time."
Chris attempted to date during his recovery time but found it very difficult since he couldn't even bathe or dress himself. Once he could use a walker in about four weeks and go out in public -- like to the grocery store -- fans and paparazzi took notice of his apparent fragile condition and speculation sparked.
"People were like, 'What's wrong with Kattan? He looks sick. He's on drugs, look at him. What's wrong? No wonder he's not working.' But I didn't take their criticisms personally because I knew what the real answer was. But then they started comparing me to others. Like, 'Why isn't he working and Will Ferrell is? He left SNL and he's not doing anything, what's wrong with him?'" Chris admitted.
"It was hard but I just kept saying, 'Okay, I got three months left. I got two months left. I'm going to get better.'"
Chris eventually began doing standup comedy and booking gigs again. He felt he was getting his life back until numbness returned in his fingers two years later, according to People.
The solution? Another painful surgery, which equaled more time out of the spotlight.
"It was the same process, just a different area on my back. So that was another six months to a year of not being able to work and for me to be silent again and people criticizing, 'What's happening again? Why isn't he working? Why is he off the radar?' And then it became, 'He was this A-level, great comedian but he's not doing anything. Look at Will, he's doing so great!' That hurt me a great deal," Chris disclosed.
Timing is often everything, and in this case, Chris was scheduled to go under the knife again one day after his 2008 wedding to model Sunshine Tutt.
"I actually postponed my surgery until the day after my wedding so we could go through with the ceremony," Chris said, confessing that his recovery played a significant role in his marriage to Sunshine only lasting two months. "When you are on morphine, it's not a very good time to decide whether you should get divorced or not. But emotions were so high between Sunshine and me."
When the divorce made headlines, Chris wondered whether it was finally time to reveal his health battle to the world -- a crisis that affected all areas of his life, personal and professional by this point.
"Again, I didn't know, Should I tell [people]?... Maybe I should have been honest about that and tell everybody, but I didn't," said Chris, who had informed his mother and close friend Parker Posey about his neck and back problems.
Two years later, Chris had to undergo another surgery when his dad was in the hospital dying.
"He went in for a blood transfusion and he stayed in the hospital for a year, never made it out," Chris revealed of his father. "That was really heartbreaking because he was my best friend. I had to get someone to drive me to see him because I was still learning how to walk again. That was probably the hardest time of my life."
The star of A Night at the Roxbury continued, "I thought about telling people what was going on, but I would see other actors, big names that I won't share, in the hospital or rehab getting the same procedures I was. I'd ask them, 'What are you telling people?' and they said the same thing I did, 'Nothing.' I realized it wasn't just me and I thought that meant it was the right choice."
Chris said that thanks to prescription painkillers, the public began perceiving his behavior as "erratic" and he was arrested for DUI in February 2014. But regardless of how bad things got, Chris continued to hide in embarrassment. He told People that he didn't want to ask for help, so he would just stay home.
Chris was hoping Dancing with the Stars' 24th season would serve as his official comeback, but the actor and his pro partner Witney Carson were the first couple eliminated from the competition after the show's judges called his performance "stiff" and home viewers criticized his "robotic" movements and "hunchback."
"It was a lot of hurtful things," Chris confessed, adding that it all added up and "something clicked" in his mind.
Chris finally realized it was time to share his story -- and the truth.
"It really opened my eyes. I think this is going to be the last time I ever hide any kind of ailment or problem that I have. It just doesn't work. It just doesn't work in my favor at all. It just doesn't," he told the magazine. "Living through that misery made me stronger. I'm just grateful to get another shot."