Nearly a year after a car accident put him into a two-week coma, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock actor Tracy Morgan spoke publicly about his recovery for the first time. With his attorney by his side, Morgan sat across from Matt Lauer during a live appearance on The Today Show. There were signs that he was not the man I had watched for seven years on one of my favorite sitcoms. A large metal cane sat at his feet. His voice was softer and his speech more tentative than fans of the notoriously boisterous comedian had grown accustomed to. He spoke of “good days and bad days,” with the bad days involving short-term memory loss and irritability. He sounded hopeful about a return to comedy, but added, “I’m not 100 percent yet.”
Still, for a man whose condition had been shrouded in secrecy for so long, he was impressively close to his usual self. When word got out that Morgan had suffered a traumatic brain injury, many feared the worst. The longer he stayed out of public view, the less likely it seemed that he would one day be able to get back to work in movies and TV. But in his brief return to television, Morgan has shown that his charisma and wit still remain, and that there’s reason to be optimistic about his continued improvement.
Morgan’s case is fascinating for those interested in the scientific and humanistic implications of traumatic brain injuries. When concern over the mental health of NFL players began to swell several years ago, societal awareness surrounding concussions and other head injuries greatly increased. Sports leagues around the country have devoted more attention and financial resources to helping athletes, both young and old, avoid and recover from TBIs.
Morgan’s injury had nothing to do with athletics, and thus was not as well-documented as it might have been had it occurred on, say, a football field or hockey rink. But the excellent 2014 documentary The Crash Reel provides a window into the types of experiences that Morgan may be having as he continues to rehabilitate. The movie follows Kevin Pearce, an elite professional snowboarder who suffered a severe TBI following a half-pipe accident. In addition to Pearce, the film features various other TBI patients with varying levels of cognitive impairment. Bearing in mind the absolutely devastating effects that these injuries can have on their victims, it is encouraging to see Morgan in relatively good condition.
The news of Morgan’s crash last summer offered an odd juxtaposition of comedy and tragedy. He had long been known as both a talented comic actor and a bit of a loose cannon, so it was startling to see someone who had hardly been associated with anything serious in his entire life suddenly facing questions about his mortality. The Tracy Morgan of The Today Show was one that hadn’t been seen before. The man known as a bottomless well of non-sequiturs and oddball behavior was now moved to tears over the death of his friend and colleague James McNair, and lamenting the fact that his fiancee and daughter, who almost always traveled with him, could have very easily been in the vehicle, too.
Though he has more developmental and emotional hurdles to overcome, Morgan seems determined to make audiences laugh again. It’s a credit to those who treated his TBI that he’ll even be able to do so. Morgan repeatedly and effusively thanked the doctors and nurses who have overseen his recovery, leaving out any mention of miracles or divine intervention as the source of his healing. In giving Morgan a second lease on life, modern medicine and its practitioners have come up big for his family and his many fans.