Remember Robby Benson? He’s the blue-eyed heartthrob that wowed audiences on Broadway (“Zelda,” “The Rothschilds” and “The Pirates of Penzance”) and in films (“Ice Castles,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” “The Chosen,” “Tribute,” “Running Brave,” “Harry and Son,” “The Last of Mrs. Lincoln”), married performer Karla DeVito (they met while working together on “Pirates” and yes, they are still happily married after nearly 35 years) and they raised a son and a daughter. Benson also directed over 100 sitcom episodes and pilots, including episodes of “Friends” and an entire season of “Ellen.” Yet Benson was playing a dramatic role that was a real, not reel, life experience: Four open-heart surgeries.
Benson has penned the medical memoir “I’m Not Dead …Yet!,” a funny, explicit look at surviving heart surgeries for a congenital valve defect while continuing a dynamic creative career in and out of Hollywood. Benson’s goal is to help open heart patients and their loved ones get through surgery and recovery with knowledge and humor. Benson originally conceived the book for the iPad as a cutting edge use of technology to create a multi-media experience for the reader. The “flagship” iPad version includes 20 songs, four career film clips, five calming slide shows of his photography scored by Benson, and preface and epilogue read by the author.
It’s his second book; Benson first added “author” to his resume with the release of “Who Stole the Funny? A Novel of Hollywood” (HarperCollins, 2007). The book was praised by “Variety” as “an irreverent and hilarious stroll down the dark alleys of Hollywood’s TV landscape.”
And so the chapter continue, in a way that Benson, 59, is most proud. He has been teaching for the past 28 years; this is his last year. It would be nice for people to know he came from New York University. As a Professor of Film at NYU’s famed Tisch School of the Arts in the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, Benson received the honor of being nominated for both New York University’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 2006, and the David Payne-Carter Award for Teaching Excellence in 2010. In2013, he moved onto Indiana University in Bloomington, where he is Professor of Practice in the Department of Telecommunications. “Great students, great university,” he says. “The people who work here are good . . good people, good souls. I’m so lucky. I’m deep into teaching my film production students how to make movies (short films for them) and hopefully, be wonderful storytellers through their scripts and through production. I’m extremely fortunate,” He pauses, laughs and adds, “no matter how hard I work!”
Benson created what could be seen as the most important program at IU, so special we ‘ll let him tell the tale. “ It’s called ‘Hoosiers For Life’ and it allows all student athletes who leave school for any athletic possibilities, to be able to come back to Indiana University retroactively and free, in order to finish their education and get their diploma and be able to have a career after sports.”
Indeed, that’s a big deal for the university. Although the seed was planted by Benson, he insists the university “should get all the credit. It’s one thing to have an idea; it’s quite another to have a university, especially a huge, athletic university, listen and then actually put the idea in motion. There is already the first athlete who has come back to take advantage of what IU offers their student-athletes and also is, in their own way, of saying ‘Thank you.’”
Benson tried to tell the story behind his idea and what became the IU standard in the 1977 film “One on One,” starring Benson and Annette O’Toole, but, he says, “the studio was more interested in a mainstream David vs. Goliath underdog/romance film.”
Robby Benson: A man with true heart. And class.