Bionic Woman Lindsay Wagner makes a giant leap of faith
She survived domestic violence as a child to become one of the most popular TV stars of the '70s. Now Lindsay Wagner is healing others. Catherine Scott meets the Bionic Woman.
There can be few girls who grew up in the '70s who didn't want to be the Bionic Woman, with her superhuman strength and speed.
As Jaime Sommers, Hollywood actress Lindsay Wagner quickly became a household name and the show, along with its forerunner the Six Million Dollar Man, frequently topped the TV ratings.
The show made Lindsay a star at just 22, but behind the blonde hair and blue eyes lay years of misery as her family struggled with domestic abuse.
"I would bottle it all up inside and cover it up by being the funny one. The more I hurt the funnier I became," says the 59-year-old who is now a spiritual healer and in Sheffield to promote her Quiet the Mind, Open the Heart workshop.
Lindsay struggled at school despite being exceptionally bright. Years later, in her mid- 30s, while visiting a school for children with dyslexia Lindsay recognised herself.
"No-one really knew about dyslexia when I was at school. On one hand I was being told that I was really bright, and on the other being told I was lazy and should try harder, but I was trying as hard as I could, I just couldn't make sense of the words."
But it is because of this undiagnosed dyslexia that Lindsay got into acting.
"I really wanted to be a psychologist but there was no way I could get the grades."
The father of a child she babysat for was an acting coach and he had suggested years earlier that she try acting as way of dealing with her bottled-up emotions.
"He was one of my angels," says Lindsay. "There have been a few people in my life who have guided and helped me and I call them my angels. Acting class was a place where I could express my emotions in a safe environment. It helped me realise that I had nothing to be ashamed of. Domestic violence can be very isolating. I was only 12 and it really helped."
Talent scouts spotted Lindsay when she was still quite young but her "angel" advised against becoming a child actor because of all the problems that can bring.
"He told me that as an adult I would make a better actor and I would know when the time was right."
Time has aged her face, and yet as she talks passionately about her spirituality it comes alive and the years disappear. There is no trace of make-up and it is clear that she has not succumbed to the pressure of cosmetic surgery. The nearest she has come is using acupressure which, she says, can create a surgery-free face lift.
Lindsay says she had always had a certain interest in spirituality and felt that there was more to life than conventional religions said.
"I was brought up a Christian, but I felt that everything was so rigid. I wanted to be close to God, but all these religions seemed to distance me from him."
So in her late teens she started to study other eastern and western religions.
It was therefore not totally surprising that when she fell terribly ill at the age of 18 with ulcers, she turned to spiritual healing.
"I was about to have an operation, and some friends offered to help me. I would have done anything rather than have an operation and I agreed."
The friends were part of the Church of Religious Science and for six weeks Lindsey lived on skimmed milk and water and underwent a series of healing techniques including meditation and visualisation
"After six weeks I was cured. It made me realise there was a lot to more to life," she says. They made her realise that every time she got ill it followed some family crisis.
"I was good with dealing with the crisis, but then I would get sick. It made me realise that the mind, the body and the soul are totally linked."
It was two years after this experience that Lindsay says she woke up one morning and realised that the time was right for her to become an actress.
She telephoned a friend at Universal Studios to be told that there was an actors strike on. But Lindsay went along anyway and managed to get in to see some casting directors. One of them loved her and immediately cast her in the hit TV series Marcus Welby MD.
And within days she had something every young actor wanted in the '70s, a contract with Universal, which made 70 per cent of the prime-time television shows.
The speed and ease of her move from waitress to actress did not pass young Lindsay by.
"Call it fate, karma or destiny, I don't know but somehow it was meant to be. I knew that if I couldn't be a psychologist then I was going to help people another way, acting was a way I could communicate my message to people."
As a contracted actor, Lindsay was put in many Universal shows, including a mini film with the Six Million Dollar Man in which Jaime Sommers suffered a sky-diving accident and was only saved using bionics. But at the end of the film, Jaime's body rejects the organs, killing her.
But the popularity of the character led to Universal bringing Jaime back to life in true TV fashion using cryogenics, and giving her her own hit show – The Bionic Woman.
You could be forgiven for thinking the Bionic Woman was a good old-fashioned action adventure in which the good guys, the Americans, defeat the bad guys, the Russians. But to Lindsay it was far more.
"It was my chance to communicate a bigger message to children. I worked with the writers, always pushing for it not to be so black and white, not just tunnel vision of the good guy, bad guy, but looking at the bigger picture.
"Even Jaime's powers were a metaphor for human potential."
Although she doesn't really want to talk about the recent remake of Bionic Woman starring ex-EastEnder Michelle Ryan, she says she felt they missed an opportunity to continue what she had started, and made the show too dark. The US writers' strike meant the series was shelved after just five episodes.
The original 58-episode series earned Lindsay an Emmy and also meant she could pick and choose future roles.
"I wanted to make sure the films I made helped people. They dealt with child abuse and domestic violence; things that television at the time just wasn't tackling. It had to be more than just pure entertainment."
But as cable television exploded onto the scene it became more of a challenge to get ratings and Lindsay decided to take a break from acting and focus more on spiritual healing.
She got involved in a programme for perpetrators of domestic violence in prison and then ran her own support group for men coming out of jail, wanting to return to their families.
Lindsay, who has been married four times and has two grown-up children, now does counselling and group workshops, which is why she is visiting Sheffield.
Her visit to the UK came about through a chance meeting with carer Karen Stowe, who was struggling to cope with the demands of caring for her 16-year-old disabled daughter Sophie.
Karen, from Redcar, Cleveland, underwent a course with Lindsay in America and was determined that others in England should benefit from the experience.
The "Quiet the Mind and Open the Heart" workshops aim to change people's perspectives of their problems. Lindsay says: "We have the capability to change the way we feel about things, even if we cannot change the circumstances.
"I help people deal with all kinds of everyday life problems – things we think are so difficult, but which are not really, it's just our perspective of them."
And for Karen it has been a life-changing experience.
"I was really struggling to cope with being a carer. I did some work with Lindsay in America over the summer and it has had such a positive effect over me, I thought it would be fantastic for other people to experience it too.
"Nothing about my situation has changed, but Lindsay has helped me change my viewpoint and the choices I make. I'm more able to cope now."
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