The Devil Wears Prada star, 60, revealed in his new book, Taste: My Life Through Food, out Tuesday, that he was diagnosed with cancer about three years ago, after doctors found a tumor at the base of his tongue. As Tucci underwent high-dose radiation and chemotherapy to eliminate the tumor, he had to be strapped to a board with a specially-made surgical mask over his face and a bite block in his mouth with just a small opening for him to breathe.
D Dipasupil/FilmMagic Stanley Tucci
"It was horrible," he told The New York Times.
Through the weeks of radiation, Tucci lost his appetite, developed vertigo and ulcers in his mouth and started having trouble tasting his food. Anything he consumed started to taste like cardboard "slathered with someone's excrement," Tucci said, and he worried he would never be able to taste again, even more than he feared dying.
"I mean, if you can't eat and enjoy food, how are you going to enjoy everything else?" he said.
At one point in his recovery, Tucci cooked risotto Milanese for actor Colin Firth as they filmed the 2020 movie Supernova. Firth told the Times it was the best version of the dish he'd ever had, but Tucci "was convinced it tasted awful and was mortified."
"He simply wasn't tasting what we were," Firth said. "One was left to imagine how distressing this was, because most of the time he put on a very brave and matter-of-fact face."
Tucci, who is now in remission and has said his cancer is unlikely to return, did regain his sense of taste. Years later, though, he still has issues swallowing, which Tucci was dealing with as he filmed his hit CNN series Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy, in which he ate his way through different regions of his grandparents' home country.
"It was hard because I could taste everything, but I couldn't necessarily swallow," he said, remembering a time he struggled to eat steak Florentina. "I had to chew it for 10 minutes to get it down my throat." And in some cases Tucci could never get his food down, and he "just had to get rid of the food."
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There have been some benefits — Tucci found that since his radiation treatments, he can digest lactose and sugar again, which he had struggled with since his 20s. But some teas make his "mouth so dry, it's like eating chalk," and foods like steak, sushi and pad thai are too difficult to bother eating.
Tucci first shared that he had cancer in a September issue of Virgin Atlantic's inflight magazine Vera, and said that the experience changed his outlook on life.
"[Cancer] makes you more afraid and less afraid at the same time," he said. "I feel much older than I did before I was sick. But you still want to get ahead and get things done."