Actor, Michael Chicklis, discusses his caregiver story and his mom’s struggle with the disease and his family’s advocacy for the fight against Alzheimer’s.
Emmy Award-winning actor Michael Chiklis was raised to put family first. Even after decades of living a Hollywood dream come true — starring in hit shows like “The Shield,” “The Commish,” “Coyote” (which he also executive produces), and the film “Don’t Look Up” — the roles Chiklis cherishes most are husband to his wife, Michelle, and dad to daughters Autumn, and Odessa.
Growing up in Andover, Massachusetts, Chiklis and his older brother, Peter, saw their parents, Charlie and Katie Chiklis, set this example of putting family first. “They just wanted better for me and my brother, and they did everything they could to provide that,” Chiklis says.
After watching Chiklis’ passion for acting grow, the family made sacrifices to send him to the Boston University College of Fine Arts, which ultimately helped launch his theater career. “Acting is a hard profession — it’s filled with self-doubt and all kinds of difficulty along the way,” Chiklis says. “Having that support system buoyed me throughout my life, so I’m forever in my parents’ debt.”
Chiklis’ mother was a “maverick of a woman” — a classically trained singer and horticulturist who worked for years as a hospital administrator. Katie planned to spend life after retirement traversing the globe and began by visiting her ancestral countries of Greece and Ireland. “She was going to check off places on her bucket list, and she had just started that process,” Chiklis says.
Her travels took a surprising turn in 2006 when she drove alone from Boston to Los Angeles, arriving unannounced on Chiklis’ doorstep. During the visit, she gave Chiklis her health care power of attorney — an early sign that Katie knew her health was declining. Soon after, Peter approached Chiklis with concerns about changes in their mother’s behavior, which the actor witnessed at Thanksgiving later that year. “Everyone was gathering around the table and Mom wasn’t around,” Chiklis says. “I look in the bathroom and she’s standing over the sink, staring at it in a puzzled way while the water is running — she couldn’t remember how to turn off the faucet.”
Katie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 67. Chiklis suddenly found himself in the role of long-distance caregiver, frequently flying to Boston to visit his mother and oversee her care throughout her 13-year battle with the disease. “It was horrendous to see someone as brilliant as my mother — so vivacious, full of life and excitement — and see this thing take her mind,” Chiklis says.
In 2019, Katie died from complications related to Alzheimer’s, leaving a devastating hole in the Chiklis family. “I don’t usually use the word ‘hate,’ but I hate this disease,” Chiklis says. “I hate it because it stole my mother’s golden years.”
A year later in 2020, while still mourning their loss, the Chiklis family embraced an opportunity to honor their beloved mother and grandmother and fight back against Alzheimer’s. Autumn and Odessa began hosting informal open-mic concert nights on Zoom, dubbed “Chikchella,” to connect virtually with friends during the pandemic. As the event grew in popularity, the Chiklis family, longtime Alzheimer’s Association supporters, decided to turn it into an activity for The Longest Day® — an Association fundraiser held annually on the summer solstice.
The family worked together to organize a larger Chikchella for the June 2020 event, with Autumn and Odessa leading efforts to raise funds and awareness for the Association in Katie’s name. Chiklis, an accomplished musician who released an album in 2016, played the guitar and sang at Chikchella, while family and friends from across the country read poetry, played music and delivered monologues. The Chiklises held Chikchella again in June 2021 for The Longest Day, and over the course of the two events have raised nearly $15,000 for the Association.
Chiklis hopes Chikchella will help fund research advancements so others don’t have to experience the loss of a loved one to the disease. “Unfortunately, Alzheimer’s is affecting way too many people,” he says. “So let’s try to make this a thing of the past and move on to the next worthy cause.”
Source: ALZ: a magazine of the Alzheimer’s Association, Summer 2021
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