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How a role on “Community” helped one actor recover from open-heart surgery

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You may not have realized it while watching last night's Community — I certainly didn't, and I was watching the show for Nerve's new TV column — but awesome character actor Stephen Tobolowsky, who guest starred as a Who's The Boss obsessed professor, was recovering from open-heart surgery as the episode filmed. As in, "it has only been a few weeks since doctors had my chest open" recovering. And now he's written a piece for The Atlantic about how his great experience on set helped him on his road back to wellness. Obviously surgery is a scary prospect, but Tobolowsky brings up some pre-operation fears you may not expect:

The obvious one is the moment when they call you back to get prepped for surgery and you kiss your wife goodbye. And you both realize it may be for the last time.

Another scary moment is at the other end of the tunnel. When you wake up, you have no idea what will be left. Will you ever be the same? Will you ever work again?

Enter “Community.”

While the actors didn't know about Tobolowsky's circumstance, the writers and producers — who in fact created the role with him in mind — went out of their way to work around his needs, even tweaking the role so the character would only need to sit or stand. (As I recall, that was true last night.) After a thankfully uneventful shoot in which Tobolowsky got to catch up with members of the cast he'd worked with before, he concludes:

Because of the generosity of spirit shown to me by those in the know at “Community” and their willingness to step over the line of comfort and give me a job at a moment when I was most afraid, I was able to feel the most overlooked element of the recovery process — a sense of purpose.

Isn't it nice when one of your favorite shows goes out of its way to help someone awesome, and in the end you the viewing audience still get to see the spectacle of an all-black version of Fiddler on the Roof? Such good vibes all around! And, in case you missed it (and live in the US), here's the entire episode via Hulu: