Jeff Bridges on cancer: I fought by surrendering, it’s not the same as giving up

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Fair warning, we’re about to get deep, man. Jeff Bridges, Dude and National Treasure, had filmed four (out of seven) episodes of the FX series The Old Man when production was shut down in March 2020 due to the pandemic. At that time Jeff also went to the doctor about something that felt like “a bone” in his stomach, which turned out to be a 9 by 12 inch tumor. Ten months later, while undergoing intensive chemo for lymphoma, Jeff caught COVID. Throughout his diagnosis, treatment and recovery, Jeff has shared updates and commentary at his own pace, in his own, inimitable way. So it is with a recent article from AARP, where Jeff digs into the mindsets that got him through it all:

On getting COVID on top of Cancer: “I had no immune system to fight it. Chemo had wiped that out, which made it really, really tough.” Unable to walk, turn over or breathe without an oxygen feed, he faded quickly during the first days of his five-week hospitalization. “For me, cancer was nothing compared to the COVID.”

On ‘surrender mode’: “I remember the doctor saying to me, ‘Jeff, you’ve got to fight. You’re not fighting.’ But I didn’t get it anymore. I just didn’t know how to do that. I was in surrender mode. I’d say to myself, ‘Everybody dies, and this is me dying.’ And I’d hear myself go, ‘Oh, well, here we are, on to the next adventure.’ ”

‘The obstacle is the way’: When Bridges was preparing for his role in The Old Man, before his cancer diagnosis and the advent of his own COVID, the show’s producer hired a technical expert, Christopher Huttleston, a former CIA senior operations officer, to help the cast portray senior CIA agents. “I asked him about the philosophies of CIA guys in the battlefield. He told me a lot of them are into stoicism. So I studied up on stoicism and got a lot out of it.” Part of that study was familiarizing himself with a principle based in part on a quote by Marcus Aurelius, which is often referred to as ‘the obstacle is the way.’ “For me, in that hospital bed, the obstacle was death. And that was the way. I kept thinking, Here’s the problem, you know? Here’s the challenge. I asked myself, ‘How are you going to go about it?’ And I thought, I’m a dancer, man, and I’m a musician. I’m going to jam with this situation, you know?”

Not the same as giving up: “I couldn’t understand how you’d fight it. So I fought by surrendering, which is not the same as giving up.” Bridges takes a breath, carefully picking his next words. “What I really felt at the time was love. Love was certainly magnified for me during this time. Not only from the people around me, but also the love in my own heart for them. So what I did was more like giving in to love, you know?”

On finishing filming after recovery: Bridges sounds astounded when describing his return to the set of The Old Man to finish Season 1. “So cut to two years after taking that break,” he says, breathing deeply as he remembers. “I come back to work, and, man, it was like a dream, as if we’d just had a long weekend or something. I was seeing all the same faces in the cast and crew. Very bizarre. Everybody showed such dedication and hung in. We finished it. I appreciate that.”

[From AARP]

“I’m a dancer, man, and I’m a musician. I’m going to jam with this situation, you know?” And the “situation” he’s talking about is death. Oof it gives me chills. There’s so much to cherish about him from this piece (the full article is worth a read, once you get over the writer’s fixation on Jeff’s feet in the first couple paragraphs). He straddles a line where he sounds like a high-as-a-kite-hippie and a sage all at once. There was something I found deeply moving about how all the research he’d done just for his acting prep, ended up being what helped him through in his real life. Like, if one were cosmically inclined to believe such things, the role that required him to study stoicism came at a precise time so he’d be prepared for the moment to come. But that’s enough heavy talk for now, and I think Jeff would agree. Let’s all pour a White Russian, take his word as gospel and abide.

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14 Responses to “Jeff Bridges on cancer: I fought by surrendering, it’s not the same as giving up”

  1. JanetDR says:

    Deep! This really resonated with me. Thanks Dude

  2. Lightpurple says:

    I love him. I literally crashed into him once and he apologized to me! The sweetest, most gracious man. The dude abides; may he continue to do so with all that love

  3. Pointillist says:

    I can’t believe Covid was more difficult for him than cancer. I really love the excerpts from this interview. I wish him well.

    • WiththeAmericann says:

      I can believe it. I watched a loved one not be able to turn over in bed while on oxygen, oxygen plummets when you move if you have bad Covid. Meanwhile sucking for air and it’s not coming.

      A level of exhaustion that causes surrender for sure.

  4. K says:

    I think the way to win your own battle with serious illness is to fight your own way
    Not one of us will win the battle with death when it’s our time. Illness…yes. Sounds like he saw that and accepted it. I hope when my time comes I am that courageous.

  5. FHMom says:

    Like his dad before him, he is a national treasure. There aren’t too many Stories of Hollywood families that have happy endings. The Bridges seem to have succeeded. Cancer is a ruthless b*tch. Much strength and luck to anyone dealing with illness.

  6. SarahCS says:

    What an amazing guy, we’re so lucky to have him.

  7. Caribbean says:

    There are a few stars that I know I have always loved, Tina Turner is at the top of that list.

    There are a few stars that were just There, and I never realize how much I would grow to love them; Jeff Bridges and Dolly Parton top that list.

  8. JJ says:

    Reading the excerpt and this sum-up gave me chills, too. Very moving. And this is damn good writing (“…the role that required him to study stoicism came at a precise time so he’d be prepared for the moment to come… Let’s all pour a White Russian, take his word as gospel and abide.”), thank you Kismet.

  9. Lala11_7 says:

    I too went through a life changing debilitating medical issues while I was dealing with long Covid19 ALL last year…I can say that my chronic medical issue that had me hospitalized for a month in 2021 the first 10 days in PCU…was NOTHING compared to the long Covid I dealt with from March of last year until March of this year…so I FEEL him on that…and I also went through a similar emotional/psychological state…there was a point where I felt pure peace and just had Doris Day singing “Que Sera…Sera” in my head😉 I’m so happy that Jeff is being so transparent about one of the MOST difficult thangs!

  10. Kate says:

    Wow I really love what he said about surrendering to love. That can’t be easy or natural for many people to do when faced with death. He must be really present in his life to have that ability not to let fear take over.

    • Regina Falangie says:

      “Giving into love” is what stuck out to me too. It’s exactly where I am with my life and how I’m trying to go forward. Not having to do with death at all, just how I approach people and situations. I tend to rush to judgment, lash out and make decisions based on fear and anger, I’m trying to lead with love. It’s verrrrrrrrry difficult. But I am seeing good results. Not always but when I do choose love, at least I have no regrets later. And I remind myself that even if I don’t get the desired outcome, maybe the love I show will have a delayed reaction but I’m just not there to see it.

  11. Jamie says:

    I once almost choked to death. On a Weight Watchers chocolate snack cake. It was the most violent experience of my life, a parallel track of my mind racing to find a way back to breathing and my body as a unified entity conducting an “all hands on deck” gathering of energy to keep the unit, i.e., my body, intact and alive. So I have the teeniest notion of what Jeff Bridges was talking about. The will to abide is mighty.
    Of course, our takeaways differ. He became even more suffused with Love. I swore to eat only “real” chocolate cake moving forward. If I’m going to choke to death, it’s gonna be on delicious, rich foods.
    Kismet, you have a gift for diving straight into the heart of the matter, be it big or small. Life & Love & Surrender to the mess and glory of our lives, your arrows hit the bullseye. Thanks for this uplifting piece.

  12. HeyKay says:

    I have enjoyed Jeff Bridges movies.
    I’m glad he has his health back.

    Cancer is an FN nightmare for the patient and their loved ones.
    Healing, support and peace to all in the fight.

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