‘MacGyver’ Star Battling Eye Disease

Television viewers who saw the weekly series MacGyver last season watched as Peter Thornton, MacGyver’s boos, battled against blindness. But for actor Dana Elcar, who plays Thornton, the storyline is not fictional.

Glaucoma is gradually taking Elcar’s sight. He now has less than 5 per cent of his vision.

But in a sense, Elcar, 63, is seeing more of the world than many people ever do. He is full of energy, full of hope and , above all, full of life itself.

“I’ve never been a person who wakes up in the morning and says, ‘Gee, what am I going to do today?'” Elcar said.

Instead, he asks, “How am I going to get everything done?”

“It was a gift I learned,” he said. “There are some things in life that are not worth fighting. I “can’t fight blindness. I”ll lose. I don’t want to lose. I want to win.”

“I am winning. I’m on the upstroke. But that doesn’t mean I don’t fall down.”

Sheltered from the sun by a patio umbrella, Elcar sat next to his wife, Marianne, in the Marion home of her parents, Jerry and Joan Torrance, on Wednesday and told his story.

Elcar, who will be back with MacGyver star Richard Dean Anderson for their seventh season this fall, said he is much like his TV character. But beneath that businesslike, down-to-the-brass-tacks exterior, there is an underlying quality that runs much deeper than those exhibited by Thornton. “I have a new challenge,” Elcar said. “I have to learn how to live with a physical inconvenience.”

He was first diagnosed with glaucoma about 30 years ago and has been undergoing eye-drop treatments since then. His sight did not begin to deteriorate until three years ago when, one day, he discovered dark spots in his field of vision.

Despite surgery, his sight has gotten worse, especially in the last year and a half.

“I want to alert everybody about how sensitive the eye is,” he said, adding that people should not neglect annual exams. “(Glaucoma) can creep up on you.”

Taking that precaution may help a person preserve his vision, he said.

“Eventually, (glaucoma) can do its work anyway,” he said. “But you may have 25 years more vision instead of losing it in 10 years or 12 years.”

Continuing to work back home with the Santa Paula Theater, managed by Marianne, is one of Elcar’s professional goals.

He serves as the artistic director for the theater, about an hour north of Los Angeles.

“She’s the best goodwill ambassador Marion has,” he said of his wife.

But what about personal goals?

Elcar paused for a moment and said quietly, “To get to know my children (Marin, 11, and Dane Alexander, 7) and my wife better.”

After months and months of struggling with his illness, Elcar described what has made him feel good after feeling so much pain.

“This,” he said, throwing back his head and stretching out both hands toward his in-laws’ farm. “Being alive. Having something to do that’s positive.”

He added: “There’s a touch of my son’s hand in my hand.”

Elcar said the more open and accepting people are life’s experiences, the more positive their lives are and the more things come their way.

“The more open you are, the more it comes back to you,” he said and suddenly grinned. “And I want things to come my way.”


Tammy Kingery,  Marion (Ind.) Chronicle Tribune, July 11, 1991. 


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