Primary Progressive Aphasia

Harold Gulskin was an amazing acting coach who told his students “to emphasize the words of the script over any analysis of their characters’ motivation.” (His students included Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and James Gandolfini.) That is, he did not believe in The Method. He believed in the script, and the actors reading that script.

His wife, Sandra Jennings, said the cause was probably a pulmonary embolism. He learned a decade ago that he had primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia, she said, and had been living in a care facility in Park Ridge.

Primary Progressive Aphasia robs people of their linguistic abilities. Word by word, they can no longer understand names and term; bit by bit, they can no longer find their own words in their minds; great big verbal parties become warehouses of nothing. Their other cognitive skills, and their memories, remain intact, for several years, until their brains and everything else fall apart.

This is what killed my Dad.

Reading Gulskin’s obituary moved me greatly.

As primary progressive aphasia gradually took away Mr. Guskin’s ability to speak and communicate, Ms. Jennings helped coach his students, filling in words he could no longer conjure and explaining his intentions.

Ms. Weisz said: “Even when he was down to about 20 words, I knew what he meant to say. We had a shorthand by then, and he would say, `No, no, no,’ when I wasn’t hitting the truth.”

My father was a stutterer well into adulthood. Learning how to speak out loud flawlessly and beautifully was I think to him his greatest achievement. That he was robbed of this toward and at his life’s end was utterly galling to him and our family. God bless Mr. Gulskin’s.

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