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Interview with George Kennedy Actor & Movie Star

George Kennedy

May 2, 2005
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Topic: Movies, Hearing Loss and Hearing Aids
Beck: Hi Mr. Kennedy. It is a pleasure to meet you. I've been watching your movies for a few decades now, and it's an honor to shake your hand.

Kennedy: Thanks Dr. Beck. It's a pleasure to be with you.

Beck: Before we get to your hearing loss and your hearing aids, I was wondering if we could spend a few moments speaking about movies?

Kennedy: Sure, that's one of my favorite subjects!

Beck: Like any craft done well -- movie making sure looks easy. What are your thoughts on the process of movie making?

Kennedy: You're right. When it's done well, it does look easy. People have no idea how complicated and difficult it really is. When you think of a movie, most people imagine a two hour finished, polished product. But to get to that two hour product, it can take hundreds or thousands of people many months of full time work. I have been so fortunate and I really am appreciative of the success I've had. I had the good fortune of speaking with Orson Wells many decades ago and he said "Success is primarily luck anyway." And I have been very lucky. Of course, Orson Wells was enormously talented and brilliant - so who am I to argue with him!

Beck: What's your favorite "George Kennedy" movie?

Kennedy: Well, I don't think most people think of it as a "George Kennedy" movie, but it was a film titled "Charade."

Beck: I saw that movie....it was in the early 1960s and it took place in Paris?

Kennedy: Yes. It was in 1963 and it starred Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn and other talented people too. The music was by Henry Mancini and it was a fabulous film. I think it still stands up today.

Beck: I agree. Mr. Kennedy, would you tell me a little about your hearing loss?

Kennedy: Well, I think it's somewhat hereditary. My mother was hard of hearing. My father died when I was 4 years old, so I can't really say anything about his hearing. Of course, I also attribute some of my hearing loss to being in the infantry in World War II. It's probably a combination of heredity and noise exposure.

Beck: You're probably right. You've identified two important areas -- noise exposure and genetics! Certainly either can cause hearing loss in isolation, and of course the likelihood of hearing loss increases when you combine those two factors. Your high frequency hearing loss is significant and you probably don't perceive most consonant sounds without hearing aids. In general, you'll have a difficult time in background noise and cocktail parties will be difficult too. A typical complaint associated with this type and degree of hearing loss is "I can hear people speaking, but everyone sounds like they're mumbling." The most important sounds for comprehension of speech are the high frequencies, and that's where your hearing loss is most significant. So to you, many people will indeed sound like they're mumbling, as your unaided ears can't hear the high frequencies, which are needed for the words to be clear.

Kennedy: Yes, that's been my experience on occasion. I can't hear whispers, and I can't hear soft female voices either. Children are difficult for me to hear too. It has less to do with loudness, and more to do with hearing clearly, as you just mentioned. I've also noticed that I can better understand people I'm familiar with. If I know their voice, their speech pattern and the words they generally use, I can do a better job understanding them. If I don't know them, I might take a shot at it, and sometimes I'm right, and sometimes I'm wrong!

Beck: Yes, that's true. If you are familiar with someone's speech patterns, you're better able to "fill-in-the-blanks." That's a great observation. Mr. Kennedy -- It's wonderful that you're wearing hearing aids, and speaking about it openly. I think it really helps many men get over the stigma associated with hearing loss, when they see "tough guy" movie stars and other people in the limelight wearing hearing aids.

Kennedy: Thanks. I can see why many people would not want to wear the "stereotypical" hearing aids of the bygone era, such as the hearing tube that looked like a trumpet coming out of your ear, or the wires and cords...but a lot of men nowadays have hearing loss. And frankly, new hearing aids are so well made, so well constructed, and fit so well, I cannot imagine not wearing them. The stigma may still exist, but when people investigate hearing aids, they'll be surprised at how small they are, and how good they are.

Beck: Have you worn hearing aids before the 2004 Starkey Gala?

Kennedy: Yes, I've worn hearing aids for about 5 years. Bill Austin made me a set back then, but the new digitals from Starkey are louder, clearer and they have a wonderful fidelity that makes them very nice, very easy to hear you, and very easy to understand!

Beck: Thanks Mr. Kennedy. It's a pleasure to meet you, and thanks for you time today.

Kennedy: Thank you too Dr. Beck, and thanks to Bill Austin for the hearing aids and for the Starkey Gala, to provide hearing aids for people in need.

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George Kennedy

Actor & Movie Star