Courage Award Caps Hyler Comeback Story
By: Mike Fleming
Published: Thu, October 01, 2009, 5:10 PM
In her first public appearance since being hit by a speeding car while crossing the Pacific Coast highway 13 months ago, manager Joan Hyler is being presented tonight with the Courage Award at the 2009 Visionary Ball. The event is being held by the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery, whose doctors saved her life.
â€œIt felt like the right time,â€ said Hyler of her coming out party. â€œI am back working fulltime in my office. My clients are doing well. I walk to a certain extent, with a cane, and use a wheelchair to ambulate to lunches. I have mobility, and can clock a full day of business, lunch and drinks. None of my major functions were lost, nor was my energy or ability to sell. I can outthink most people who can walk and dance.â€
The award is being presented by Bruce Vilanch, who logged enough bedside time to know how far Hyler has come.
â€œWe thought it was over when they brought her in,â€ Vilanch said. â€œThey wanted to amputate her legs, she wasnâ€™t breathing on her own, wasnâ€™t responsive,â€ Vilanch said. â€œAs the night wore on, the waiting room filled with enough clients and friends that it looked like a SAG strike meeting. The staff realized then that she was an unusual patient, especially later, when she came back after four months in a coma to defy everyoneâ€™s expectations. She had to learn to speak again, and is now relearning to walk. Itâ€™s still an uphill climb, but at least she can climb.â€
Hyler was constantly surrounded a core group that included Vilanch, WME senior agent Brian Swardstrom, ex-husband Larry Scissors, her sister Nancy Berlin and longtime clients like Diane Lane, Alfred Molina, Amber Tamblyn, Amber Heard and Karen Allen. Hyler never felt bitter, and said a steady outpouring of industry support helped.
â€œOne day Iâ€™d wake up, and thereâ€™s Bill Paxton and Alan Hergott, sitting at the foot of my bed,â€ Hyler said. â€œFor whatever, reason, the community rallied around me, and it sustained me.â€
As her speech returned, Hyler began working the cell phone from her hospital bed. Most of her clients hung in and waited as she balanced work with rigorous half-day long rehab sessions. Sheâ€™s now down to two hours of a daily rehab routine that includes Pilates, yoga, riding a stationery bike. She can feel strength returning to her legs.
â€œWhen I built up to half an hour on the bike, that was a victory, as was walking on a cane with mild assistance,â€ said Hyler. Another high moment came last February, when Swardstrom and producer Peter Spears took her to a restaurant for the first time since the accident.
â€We went to Kate Mantilini, it felt familiar, the food was great and it was so good to be away from rehab,â€ she said. â€œThe unknown was certainly daunting at times, but the positive momentum built on itself. My face was untouched, same with my teeth. Most of the injuries were localized to my legs, so Iâ€™m still pretty.â€
In the years Iâ€™ve known Hyler, her ability to find humor in adversity has always been one of her most endearing qualities. She seems back to her old self, her speech slowed but improving each time we chat. Sheâ€™s not driving yet, but is looking forward to it, planning to trade in her Jaguar convertible for something bigger and heavier.
Hyler is also planning to write about her recovery, part of a memoir of over 30 years of deal-making that began at ICM in New York, where she grew up alongside Sue Mengers and Sam Cohn, before Stan Kamen brought her to WMA. Hylerâ€™s early clients included Madonna, Andy Warhol, and Meryl Streep.
â€œNew York was the epicenter of the business then, run by Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Streep,â€ Hyler recalled. â€œThey are still around, and so am I.â€