In this story from September 2005, actress Ann-Margret shares how an accident she suffered onstage taught her to have faith that He was watching over her.
Opening night. The audience takes their seats. The makeup artist applies a few finishing touches on me before I go out onstage. Think I’m not nervous? A bit fearful? Even after 50 years as a performer I still get the jitters. What if I forget a lyric? What if I miss a cue? What if I trip during a dance number? A million things could go wrong. I take a deep breath. Trust, I remind myself. Trust that everything will be all right, no matter what goes wrong.
I first learned the meaning of that word as a little girl growing up in Sweden. It was during World War II and Daddy went off to build us a life in America. He would send for us soon. I cried every night at first because I was so afraid without him. I’m sure my mother was too. But her faith got her through. “You can trust God. He will always be here with us, even when Daddy is not,” she told me. And sure enough, five years later, we were reunited with Daddy in New York City.
Faith and trust? You can’t be in show business, or any business, without them. I was discovered at age 18 by the legendary George Burns. I made my film debut in Pocketful of Miracles and shared a marquee with Elvis Presley in Viva Las Vegas. I was very honored to receive two Academy Award nominations. But there were plenty of tough periods in my career. Sometimes all I had going for me was trust.
Especially during my biggest struggle, after a live performance in September 1972. The opening number of my show in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, called for me to be lowered slowly onto the stage by a descending platform. The first six performances went off without a hitch. But as I stepped onto the platform for the seventh show, I felt it begin to wobble. Something’s wrong. Then the platform tipped, throwing me headfirst into space. All I remember was staring two stories down at the stage hurtling up at me.
I woke up three days later in the hospital. My jaw was shattered. I had five facial fractures, a broken elbow and a gash down my left leg. My jaw was wired shut; my arm was in a sling. Would I ever perform again? Trust, I heard. Trust in God. I vowed that I’d make it back to the stage in time to perform at the Las Vegas Hilton on November 28. Nobody thought it was possible, but each day I got a little stronger, trusting I would make a full recovery. I wanted to show that I was back to normal. I realized the only way to do that was if I did my stage show again—soon.
Then came dress rehearsal. The finale of the Hilton show required me to climb high atop a giant drum and fall backward into the arms of awaiting dancers. A blind fall. The thought of it made me shudder.
“Why don’t we just eliminate this part?” the director suggested.
“No way,” I said. I had to face my fears. I emerged from behind the curtain to thunderous applause from my family sitting in the first row. The rehearsal went well. Then came the big finale. I felt fear rising inside me. Still, the dance steps came automatically. Before I knew it I was standing high above the stage. At my cue I took a deep breath. Closing my eyes, I fell backward into the air.
The memory of my last fall came back in a rush of panic and fear. Trust. It was the only thing I could do. Trust. In that instant, plunging through the air, helpless, a kind of freedom took over, a liberation from fear. I was in God’s hands and it felt beautiful.
In the 33 years since that rehearsal the lesson has never left me. When trust removes fear, faith flows in.
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