The CSI: NY star discusses his cancer diagnosis and how it inspired his new book The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place.
Actor-author Hill Harper
Tavis: Pleased to have Hill Harper back on this program. The talented actor continues his role on “CSI: New York,” of course. What, eight seasons now?
Hill Harper: This is eight seasons, yeah.
Tavis: And is out now with a new book called “The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in its Place.” Hill, good to have you back on the program.
Harper: It’s great to be here.
Tavis: I’m not going to lie – when I first saw this book come across my desk, my first reaction was, “So Hill Harper is Suze Orman now?” (Laughter) This Negro is acting, and then he’s writing books about relationships, now he’s writing books about wealth.
Harper: You know what?
Tavis: I thought that initially until I actually got in the book and I understood, honestly and seriously, understood why you were compelled to write this, and there’s a back story to why you’re writing a book about “The Wealth Cure,” and I’ll let you tell the story.
Harper: Well, it’s a combination thing. With my foundation, the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, I deal with a lot of young people, a lot of old folks, a lot of – and we talk about what do you want your life to look like, what do you want to do? Most of them come back with an excuse that’s centered around money, meaning, “I would go to school, Hill, but I don’t have the cash,” “I’d start this business, but I don’t have.”
So I wanted to delve into money, wealth and all of that, but in the midst of writing that I was actually in Atlanta shooting a movie for “Colored Girls” with Tyler Perry, and I woke up one morning and I couldn’t swallow. I called a friend of mine who’s a doctor in Atlanta. Immediately we did a biopsy. I was diagnosed with a pretty serious form of thyroid cancer.
In the midst of writing this book about money, wealth, your life, and it made me take a real step back. That’s what the cure relates to in the title, “The Wealth Cure.” But I realized one thing – I realized that the same methodology the doctors were using to cure me we could use to cure our financial issues.
So I applied the same techniques – diagnosis, treatment plan, compliance, maintenance, and then hopefully thrive. That’s really the basis of what makes “The Wealth Cure,” the book.
Tavis: I want to come back to “The Wealth Cure” in just a second, but first, if I can, since you raise it, talk about your personal cure, your health cure. You and I have known each other for a lot of years and I can’t imagine what it must be like at your age, at your young age, when everything’s flowing for you in the right way, you’re on a big hit TV show and best-selling books.
Harper: You think you’re invincible, yeah. (Laughs)
Tavis: You think you’re invincible and all that stuff. How do you handle a doctor telling you you have cancer?
Harper: You know what? It really got me, I’ll be honest. My father passed from cancer in 2000, his brother died of cancer before that. My grandfather died of cancer. So the male line, that Harper line of men, cancer has gotten us. I knew that there was some genetic proclivities, so when I got the diagnosis I was like, “Oh, you know what, am I really going to go the same route?”
The blessing is this – early detection, and this is – I talk about anything, preventative work is great, but if you find something that feels unright and you wake up, you can’t swallow – I could have easily said, “You know what? I’ve just got a sore throat this morning. Something’s just not feeling good this morning,” and gone on.
But the good thing is I knew something was wrong. If you have an intuition that something’s wrong, go get it checked out. It’s so important. So I’m doing well now. We had surgery; I had a complete thyroidectomy. Let’s knock on some wood. Do you have real wood on the set, Tavis?
Tavis: No, this ain’t real. This is PBS, man. (Laughter) You know that ain’t – this ain’t –
Harper: Okay, that’s not going to work.
Tavis: This ain’t “CSI.” You know that ain’t real, man. You can knock on it, though.
Harper: Okay, I’m going to knock on it anyway. (Laughter) So if the doctors are right it was all contained in my thyroid. They cut it out, it’s gone. To be honest, what I was most worried about was my career, because your vocal nerves wrap around your thyroid, and if a small, little mistake is made, you’re hoarse for the rest of your life. If they cut both nerves, you can’t talk.
Tavis: It’s weird – not weird, but it’s interesting you would say that. I was just reading my friend, I’m sure you know Harry Belafonte, but dear friend of mine, and I was just reading his book, and I did not know the extent to which the raspiness, which I find very soothing about listening to Mr. Belafonte, his voice is so soothing. But that raspy sound that he has has to do with this very thing.
He had throat surgery, specifically in his case nodules, and you know Harry Belafonte, of course, was a great singer. That surgery went wrong, they took those nodules out, and his voice never came back. That raspy Harry Belafonte sound you hear now has to do with the surgery that he had that he thought was going to be corrective, and it went the other direction.
He talks about it in his book, but I raise that now because I can imagine – your voice is your career.
Harper: It is my career, and for the first two weeks after the surgery I couldn’t really talk, and I was so worried. The doctors said it was fine, because they did all this nerve monitoring, and they said your voice will come back, I promise you. But listen, it’s a blessing.
There’s so many people out there that are so many things that are far worse than my condition, number one. Number two, I had the best healthcare available to me. So I feel so blessed, so fortunate, and I’m good, man, I’m good. In part, I weave a lot of that into this book, and so it’s not Suze Ormond, Dave Ramsey on this side and it’s not “The Secret” on this side. It’s somewhere in between.
Tavis: There are five of them you laid out earlier; I don’t want to give all five away because I want people to go purchase your book, of course. But take a couple of them and draw the parallels from your cure to “The Wealth Cure.” That parallel you made?
Tavis: Pick a couple of them and make the link for me.
Harper: Well, let’s talk about what a lot of talk there was a few months ago and even now, when we see the Occupy Wall Street movement and we’re talking about big banks, we’re talking about debt.
We look at personal debt and all these fingers being pointed at government debt and all that. One of the startling numbers I came across when I was doing research for the book is that back in 1980, as a country, we were carrying $365 billion in personal debt. It skyrocketed by 2008 to $2.6 trillion dollars.
So as much as we want to talk about governmental debt, it’s really the government reflecting our behavior. I believe it’s about the overvaluation of money – the idea that many of us have assigned this idea of money as a result rather than what it really is is a tool to be used to create the life you want.
So that’s where health comes in. Health is the exact same thing. Health is actually the foundational tool to help us live the life. Now if you do certain things, if you feed it correctly, if you provide the resources it needs to operate in the most effective way, then you could have that foundation solid and then go on to live the life you want to live.
Now if you start to abuse it and you start to do wrong actions with it, just like we’re seeing the abuse of money, just like we’re seeing wrong actions taken around money, people, predatory individuals that have the power and the resources to prey on individuals and take their money, we’re seeing wrong action, we see really bad result. In terms of your health, wrong action, bad result.
Tavis: You mentioned the country, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you this, because we all know how hard you campaigned for Barack Obama to get him elected the first time. I know you’re going to campaign just as hard this time around. You’re on his finance committee, so what a great time to ask a guy who’s on the finance committee for the campaign and written a book about “The Wealth Cure.”
Your sense of how the president is going to navigate this obviously shaky economy, and a lot of people, even African Americans, who like him personally are concerned about his handling of the economy. What will you be saying about these particular issues relative to him on the campaign trail?
Harper: Well, I think that a lot of the issues we’re dealing with as far as the economy, they are things that have been – and people don’t like to hear this, I’ll be honest, but they are things that have been set up long before he took office. But folks want results right now, as well they should.
Harper: At the same time, I guarantee you that there’s no one else working harder, there’s no one I know that’s smarter doing the work, attempting to figure it out. Now, the president’s main job ultimately is to hopefully provided leadership for the country and when things come across his desk either sign them or not sign them, veto them, send them back.
It’s tough when you’re dealing with a Congress that’s not sending you anything. He can’t create it himself. He can’t go into Congress, write the bill, and then send it to himself and then sign it. I think that we have to highlight some of the things he’s done right, and hopefully he’ll replicate some of those things, things he’s done within the auto industry and saving those jobs. I think that that’s important.
We look at healthcare, we have 40 million Americans that have healthcare right now that didn’t have it before, and speaking as somebody who had cancer and got great healthcare, that’s very important to me.
When we start to highlight the things that are working, that he has done well, I think that’s important. The economy, part of it’s going to be us taking responsibility. That’s why when we see movements like Occupy Wall Street, and when we see folks out there demanding change, it’s about us, it’s about the people making that happen.
Tavis: It is ultimately about us in many respects.
Tavis: Government has a role to play, no doubt about that, but so much of what ails us, even though there aren’t the jobs that there ought to be and we hope that will be addressed at some point in the not-too-distant future, I hope, but what’s the advice you offer to everyday people who find themselves in the situation right now where they need their money situation to be cured
Harper: Right, right. Well, the first is you’ve got to have a diagnosis. We’re all under individual situations that it’s specific, and I talk about it in the book, different ways to break out your own diagnosis. The biggest crippling factor that I talk about in the book is our own personal debt that we carry. So many of us are crippled with credit card debt, which is the most expensive money – I talk about the difference between smart money and dumb money in the book.
Many of us have been taught that a dollar is a dollar is a dollar – it’s just not true. Smart money is that money that when your head hits the pillow it’s either worth the same or more by the time you wake up. Dumb money is when your head hits the pillow, it’s whatever you bought with it –
Tavis: It’s depreciated, yeah.
Harper: – it’s depreciated, it’s worth less. So anything you’re carrying credit card debt on, as hard as it is to say, going to have to figure out a way to get rid of that debt first. You’ve got to, because you’re going to be stuck. One of my favorite quotes in the book that I say is you can’t be free if the cost of being you is too high.
For so many of us, debt has saddled us with this cost of being us, and we’re not free.
Tavis: He’s a wonderful actor and a wonderful writer, and I recommend the new one. It’s called “The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in its Place,” written by “New York Times” best-selling author Hill Harper. Hill, good to have you back on the program.
Harper: Such a pleasure.
Tavis: Good to see you, man.
Harper: Thank you.
“Announcer:” Every community has a Martin Luther King Boulevard. It’s the cornerstone we all know. It’s not just a street or boulevard, but a place where Walmart stands together with your community to make every day better.
“Announcer:” Nationwide Insurance supports Tavis Smiley. With every question and every answer, Nationwide Insurance is proud to join Tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. Nationwide is on your side.
“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.