From my column of Dec.7, 1995: “Good wishes are out to director Robert Altman who underwent heart transplant surgery, Sunday (Dec.3). Altman had known that the surgery was necessary since last March, friends say.” USA Today denied it after a call from Altman’s wife, Kathryn. She was afraid Bob wouldn’t be hired for future ventures.
But indeed he did go on — and did eight more movies, the last being “A Prairie Home Companion,” and Arthur Miller’s play, “Resurrection Blues” at London’s Old Vic. It opened on a Friday and he winged immediately to L.A. for Sunday’s Oscars when he received his honorary award.
In London, Altman, 81, told me he was preparing two films and said he was feeling fine. I asked him, “How’s the ticker — your heart (which was transplanted 11 years ago)?” “Why shouldn’t it be great? It (the heart) is only 40 years old,” he laughed.
Altman repeated the “revelation” to the Oscar audience after his introduction by “A Prairie Home Companion” co-stars Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin. Even they didn’t know Altman was receiving chemo treatments for cancer during the film’s making.
Tuesday (21) night, friends gathered at Altman’s favorite N.Y. eatery, Elaine’s, to toast him. They included Lynn and Bob Balaban — he starred in and co-produced “Gosford Park” with Altman. Others included Annie Ross, who dedicated her performance to him earlier at the Metropolitan Club. Also there: longtime friends Bobby Zarem, Lauren Flanagan and Pat Birch.
Everyone believed Robert Altman was indestructible. The life in his films made him seem so as well.