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Mary Hart Seizures

Since 1981, the syndicated entertainment news TV show Entertainment Tonight has enjoyed consistent popularity, and remains a popular draw as it comes to the close of its 35th season. In 1982, Entertainment Tonight engaged Mary Hart to serve as one of its hosts. Hart would go on to be the face and voice of the show for the next 29 years, finally stepping down at the end of the 2011-12 season. Hart kept the show lively and light, keeping up a cheerful banter with each of her various cohosts, keeping the focus on TV, movies and music, and away from controversy. The formula remains part of the show’s enduring success Mary Hart and the rest of the Entertainment Tonight crew, though not known as hard-hitting journalists, were never known for having a negative impact on the world. Regardless, they did have a negative impact on at least one member of their audience. In 1987, a woman in Albany, New York started to get seizures. After two years, the local hospital where she worked terminated her employment because the seizures made it impossible for her to do her job. She sought help from doctors who believed the seizures were real, but who didn’t take seriously her claim of what was causing them. This woman (who is to this day unidentified) was convinced that the seizures were caused by the voice of Mary Hart, which she frequently heard on televisions in the hospital. It was so bad that even when the show’s up-tempo theme song came on, she might be triggered, even if Hart hadn’t started talking yet. Of course, if she couldn’t turn the TV off before hearing Hart, the seizures would invariably begin. She sued the hospital for wrongful termination, but it was a difficult thing to prove, and not many people took this unusual claim seriously. Neither the doctors nor the family and friends of the woman believed her, but she persisted in seeking help. Finally, in 1991, Dr. Venkat Ramani, a professor of neurology at Albany Medical College, ran tests on her and confirmed that indeed, Hart’s voice was directly responsible for the seizures. It was not imagined, nor was it psychological: that was the cause. The woman was relieved. Dr. Mark Dichter, an expert on epilepsy at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, weighed in, saying that it was likely the pitch and quality of Hart’s voice that was causing this, and not the content of Hart’s words.

Perennially perky actress, model and TV host Mary Hart in 1989.

The condition is called reflex epilepsy.  It’s not common, but it’s very real.  Sufferers react to certain pitches or tones that bother them and them alone.  There is no other documented case of Mary Hart’s voice inducing seizures, but it’s entirely possible they exist, or that certain people could be triggered by certain voices.

Hart got the news of the Albany nurse soon after the story broke.  She felt terrible, and wanted to call the woman to say how sorry she was.  The very suggestion that she call her might seem insensitive, but there was some thinking that maybe the only problem was the way Hart’s voice carried over the airwaves.  Regardless, the nurse was afraid to talk to her, in case it might bring on another seizure.  Instead, Hart took it to the media, appearing on the David Letterman Show to talk about it, and to let the country know that she and the rest of Entertainment Tonight felt terribly about it.  Hart kept her job, and the nurse presumably followed the only course of action you can take when dealing with reflex epilepsy: she avoided the show.  The nurse, preferring to keep her anonymity, never spoke publicly about the matter, so it’s unknown how the hospital dealt with her lawsuit, or whether she went back to work.  The woman would now be 71 years old and possibly still working.  If she is, she’s got to find some relief in Mary Hart’s retirement from the show five years ago.

This was the inspiration of a 1992 Seinfeld episode, in fact.  One of the Seinfeld writers heard the news item and decided to write a story about Kramer having Mary Hart-induced seizures.  The producers of Seinfeld contacted Entertainment Tonight to ask if they would allow Hart to lend her voice to the episode, but the request was refused.  Years later, they changed their tune, possibly because Seinfeld had turned out to be such a popular show.  When asked if they’d allow Hart’s voice to be used in the episode when it ran as a syndicated rerun, they were happy to do so.  No doubt the Albany nurse makes it a point to avoid that one.

Seinfeld’s Kramer (Michael Richards) gets up from the floor during Entertainment Tonight, 1992.

In case you missed it, here’s Entertainment Tonight from October 5, 1987.  Nothing remarkable about it; just a typical episode.


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