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George Lopez: Putting On a Happy Face

How humor saved his life

The indomitable actor’s scrapping instincts have been put to the test — during its run ABC moved the show a half dozen times. But he faced his biggest test in 1999 when he was diagnosed with congenital kidney disease, which had made him ill since childhood.

His work ethic kept him on the show and silent about his surgery until the last possible moment — when his kidney function dropped to 18 percent. His wife donated one of her kidneys to him in 2005. It wasn’t long before he was kidding about the surgery. “Tension creates humor as well as honesty,” he says. But kidney disease is more than just new material for his act. It’s a matter of life-or-death education.

Wrapped in acidic humor, Lopez’s health lessons really reach his audience, says labor leader Dolores Huerta, who has known him for years. One show that addressed how diabetes can lead to amputations convinced one of Huerta’s newly diagnosed friends to improve his diet. “[Lopez] isn’t lecturing,” says Huerta. “He’s putting himself in the role of someone who’s going through that.”

Lopez and his wife have now become spokespersons for the National Kidney Foundation, and he speaks at hospitals and camps for children with kidney disease. He also works with The First Tee, related to his other love, golf. The group coaches kids through golf, which, he says, “teaches patience and temperament. It’s about people, and you can also do it alone.”

Golf has also fostered friendships with, among others, golfer Lee Trevino and actors Cheech Marin and Samuel L. Jackson. This year Lopez served as host of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, conferring on Lopez the unofficial title of golf’s comedic ambassador.

Lopez finds being on the green as liberating as comedy. “A sense of humor has been a constant in my life and helped me become free,” he says. And free to hit holes-in-one in his work, community service, and home.

Chime In: The Power of Humor
Like actor and comedian George Lopez, these Latinos have witnessed the power of humor in their lives. Here they share their experiences:

Ruth Sanchez, 65

Delray Beach, FL

The comedy Blazing Saddles and [Mexican comedian] Cantinflas allow me to confront my seriousness and laugh at life and myself. A good laugh makes me feel alive. I also smile daily as a form of prayer to express gratitude.

Felix Contreras, 49

Silver Spring, MD

My parents, my brothers, and I used humor as a bonding mechanism. Our favorite was slapstick. We watched lots of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. My wife, two sons, and I share lots of laughs.

Ana Nogales, 56

Los Angeles, CA

When I smile, I’m in touch with my best spirits. I remind myself through humor that I’m a happy person. I feel hope even in the darkest moments. Humor reminds me that life has pain and sorrow, but nothing changes the essence of my happiness.

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