Jeff Bridges Gets Philosophical About His Brush With Death After Cancer, Covid-19 Battles

AARP Annual Movies For Grownups Awards - Red Carpet - Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AARP
AARP Annual Movies For Grownups Awards - Red Carpet - Credit: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for AARP

Jeff Bridges said the cancer tumor in his stomach had shrunk considerably in the years since he was diagnosed with lymphoma, but he’s still feeling the aftereffects of a mid-chemo battle with Covid-19.

“For me,” Bridges told AARP Magazine in a new interview, “cancer was nothing compared to the Covid.”

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Bridges first revealed his lymphoma diagnosis in Oct. 2020, and in Sept. 2021, he shared a positive update, saying his cancer was in remission. But in between all that, in Jan. 2021, while undergoing chemo, he contracted Covid.

“I had no immune system to fight it,” Bridges said. “Chemo had wiped that out, which made it really, really tough.” Bridges added that he struggled to walk and breathe and ultimately spent five weeks in the hospital.

“I remember the doctor saying to me, ‘Jeff, you’ve got to fight. You’re not fighting,’” Bridges recalled. “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.’”

In characteristic fashion, Bridges waxed philosophical about his brush with death. He credited a former CIA operations officer, who worked as a consultant on Bridges’ show The Old Man, for teaching him a bit about stoicism, and a particular Marcus Aurelius quote known as “the obstacle is the way.”

“For me, in that hospital bed, the obstacle was death,” he said. “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?’”

Bridges went on say he “fought by surrendering,” which was different than “giving up.” Ultimately, he continued, “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?”

As for his current health status, Bridges said the tumor in his stomach — which was once about nine-by-12 inches — has now shrunk “to the size of a marble.” He is still battling some lingering effects of Covid, however, such as brain fog and ragged breathing. Still, he was fit and emboldened enough to recently begin filming season two of The Old Man.

“I sometimes just wake up and say, ‘Oh God, I gotta do it again. I gotta get up and do all this stuff I don’t want to do,’” Bridges admitted. “Fortunately, we’re all so creative, telling ourselves stories about why we feel all that. ‘That’s why I feel bad. And, oh yeah, I forgot about that one.’ And it just rolls on while you’re lying there in bed, and then you get up and get going.”

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