How Marlee Matlin Helped Gary Busey Hear Again

Marlee Matlin on The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Marlee Matlin on The Celebrity Apprentice (NBC)

Marlee Matlin knew something was wrong fellow “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant Gary Busey – and she couldn’t even hear him!

“I took one look at Gary, watched how he tilted his head and struggled to listen and I knew immediately he had some sort of hearing loss,” says Matlin, 45, who has been deaf since she was 18 months-old.

“I went right up to him and offered the assistance of my friend, Bill Austin. I told him he shouldn’t worry; everyone wears (hearing aids) from President Clinton to Buzz Aldrin to the Pope and that Bill helped fit them all.

“Bill immediately flew into New York and in a couple of days fit Gary with his first set. The change, as we all saw, was dramatic.,” she says.  “Now as for the crazy part of Gary, well, that stayed the same but that’s why I love him. He’s so different but has a good heart.”

We caught up with Matlin – an Oscar winner in 1986 for “Children of A Lesser God” —  via email this week and asked for more scoop about her time on one of TV’s biggest reality shows.

Tell us more about your signer, Jack…
I’ve dubbed him “The Octopus.” He literally had his hands going in eight different directions at once as he signed and spoke for the entire room. Normally you would hire two interpreters to do what he had to do for 10-14 hours a day but he did it all himself without any breaks that interpreters normally get. He and I have been working ever since I finished “Children of A Lesser God” twenty-five years ago.

There’s a lot of fighting on the show.  Is it hard for you to keep up?
Jack does the best he can physically under the circumstances. It’s up to me to figure out if I need him to repeat. But I’m more apt to ask people to just take turns and talk in order to be fair to me and to Jack. In the end (it’s like) the lesson that I try to teach my children every day; make sure to listen when others are talking and when it’s your turn, talk in a way you’d like to be talked to! Pretty simple, eh?

See Gary Busey’s New Hearing Aids In Action:

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What advantage do you feel you had in the competition?  Did you have a basic strategy?
As a person who is deaf, I don’t spend a lot of time talking but do spend a lot of time observing and listening (through my interpreter). So much of what goes down in the Boardroom happens because people do a great deal of talking but don’t take the time to hear their cast mates. At the end of the day, my strategy was simple: be myself, listen, watch and learn. And if I spoke, I had to make sure I was confident in myself and that it was the truth. I knew even before walking in there that Mr. Trump despises weak wills and B.S

You previously appeared on “Dancing With The Stars.”  What made you want to do another “reality” show?
One was an opportunity to work with Mr. Trump.  But the second, and more important reason was to raise a lot of money for my charity which, as charities go, hasn’t gotten a great deal of attention – hearing loss and deafness. There are so many millions of kids out there, particularly in Third World countries who can’t afford to see a doctor or have their hearing tested, let alone get hearing aids. Starkey Hearing Foundation works so hard with the limited funds they get to help these children and I just wanted to be part of the effort to raise awareness that kids like this need help.

This season is being billed as all about “crazy” — how do you feel about being lumped in with that?
Some people call them “crazy,” others call them “creative.” I mean, isn’t that what show business is about anyway? LOL. In the meantime, if that’s what people want to lump me into, that’s fine. I’ve worked on many films where there were just as eccentric types running around (some have been my costars!)

In week two, you seemed to get quite upset with Dionne Warwick.  Were you surprised that other contestants would be so insensitive?
I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a situation as I was during that brief moment when I heard that a deaf character in a children’s book would be “too sad” and that kids wouldn’t understand. I’ve written three children’s novels for children featuring deaf characters and I’ve spoken in front of thousands of classrooms and not once did I ever sense that a child was feeling sad for me. It really took me by surprise. It reminded me of when I was growing up and kids made fun of my voice or just after I won the Oscar when some critics said I won the Academy Award out of pity. It was simply inappropriate.

What can you share about your recent trip to Africa?
This month, my husband and I found ourselves with some free time and we decided that we’d always wanted to go to Africa; why not take a trip and make it productive and do something good by helping Starkey? So, I reached out to Bill Austin and his wife Tani who head up Starkey Hearing Foundation and asked if I could come along.   Next thing we knew, we hopped on a plane and flew to Kenya where we assisted in fitting over 500 kids with free hearing aids. We took a brief break and had a chance to go on safari with Bill and Tani as well as visit a Maasai village, before we hopped on another plane to Uganda where we fit over 1500 kids in Kampala with free hearing aids. The looks on the faces of the kids were just priceless and the memories of that trip were far better than any five star hotel or resort that we could’ve gone to in Hawaii.

You have accomplished so much in life, personally and professionally. Any mountains left to climb?
I’ve done a lot but I must say I had a blast doing stand up comedy at the Trump Roast for Comedy Central. Someone said I just came out of my comedy closet and should do more comedy. Maybe that’s in the cards. Anything is possible, except “American Idol”. LOL.

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