How will Kevin Nealon's major health scare affect SNL 40?

Feb 13, 2015 at 6:41 p.m. ET
Image: Dana Patrick

Saturday Night Live is getting ready to celebrate 40 years on the air, and though Kevin Nealon will be a part of the celebration, he's going into Sunday night's special episode without much information.

"I can tell you that nobody's told me not to say anything, which is because there's nothing that I know. Nobody's told me anything," Nealon said, adding that he was happy to be a part of the special and will be enjoying seeing all the past guest stars, hosts and musicians get together.

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Nealon will enjoy it as much as anyone else, and he sometimes has to remind himself that he was even part of the groundbreaking series. "I see my name associated with it and I say, 'Wow, I was on that show? For nine years? Wow.'"

It's frightening to think, but there might have been a chance that Nealon wouldn't have been around for the reunion at all. He's been very open about a scary incident he had a few years ago that led to an eye-opening diagnosis of a condition known as AFib, which is an irregular heartbeat.

"For me, I first experienced [AFib] about 13 years ago. I was with my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife. I was trying to impress her with how active I was because I was older than her. I was swimming in the pool with her and I got out and my heart started beating really fast."

Nealon immediately headed to a local hospital, where doctors tried shocking his heart to correct the issue. When that didn't work, he went home to speak with his own doctor, who advised he start taking a blood thinner to reduce his risk of stroke. Nealon found his first medication didn't fit with his lifestyle as it required a lot of monitoring and diet restrictions, so he and his doctor worked together to find a medication that worked better for him.

After his own struggles, it was important to Nealon to spread the word about the condition and help others who have it or might get it. "A lot of people that have AFib, they don't know it because it's so slight. Or people know that they have it and they don't want to talk about it, which is unfortunate because it's important for other people to hear about it so they're aware of it. Because it could be potentially a problem."

Breaking his silence wasn't a decision Nealon took lightly, fearful that he would lose out on work gigs because of it. But, thanks to working with his doctor and finding the right medication for him, Nealon happily enjoys a regular life.

"It's like people who maybe get migraine headaches," Nealon said. "It didn't really affect my life because I [have] it under control. And I'm perfectly healthy now. I'm not experiencing any of those symptoms."

It's great to hear that Nealon is doing so well and that he will be part of the SNL celebration. He ruled the anchor desk of Weekend Update desk for nine years and has a lot of memories from his time on the show.

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"Getting to hang out with those incredible musicians that I grew up listening to, like Mick Jagger and James Taylor and Eric Clapton and Paul Simon. The list goes on and on. And those hosts like Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Tom Hanks — it's endless. There were some moments that I remember, like the Chippendales sketch with Chris Farley. And another time [when] Chris Farley got hung up on the Weekend Update lettering when he was supposed to be hoisted up by a cable. Chevy Chase having trouble reading the cue cards when he was co-hosting Weekend Update with me."

Even as hilarious as things got on the set, Nealon was one of the few who rarely, if ever, broke character or cracked up. There was a very important reason for that. "When I was on the show, Lorne Michaels was of the mind that that was kind of hacky, to break up," he said. "Because you weren't getting a laugh for the material that was written, you were getting a laugh because you were laughing and it was more like a Carol Burnett episode. He really discouraged that. So out of fear, I did not break up. There's been a lot of breaking up in the last couple of decades. It's almost like they knew that was a way to get a laugh, so they would do that."

In addition to everything else on his plate right now, Nealon is also still touring and doing his stand-up. He has even spent some time recently out on the road with Dana Carvey and Dennis Miller, two previous SNL cast members who will be joining him at the 40-year anniversary.

Nealon has also been working hard on Laugh Lessons, an AOL original series where legendary comedians teach little kids how to be funny. It's as hilarious as you imagine, and the idea came to Nealon from watching his own son play with friend Garry Shandling.

"[Shandling] was over at my house and my son was about 4 years old at the time. Gary was kind of teaching him prat falls. He was hitting him in the back of the head softly with a pillow and he would say, 'Gabriel, pretend I hit you hard and then fall.'"

The rest, as they say, is history. Nealon thought the idea would make for a good show, and he soon had Ellen DeGeneres on board as a producer. The series is heading into its second season and can be seen on AOL and YouTube.

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When he's not making people laugh, Nealon works hard to keep raising awareness for people who have AFib and other conditions that put them at high risk for blood clots. He and some other celebrities, including legendary golfer Arnold Palmer and NASCAR racer Brian Vickers, have posted their stories on For every person who visits the site and watches one of the video stories, Janssen Pharmaceuticals will make a contribution to Mended Hearts, a nonprofit organization that helps patients who suffer from heart disease and blood clots as well as their families and caregivers.

Be sure to check out the site to learn more about Nealon's story, then catch the SNL 40th Anniversary Special when it airs on Sunday at 8/7c on NBC.