En español | Rita Wilson, who married her Bosom Buddies and Volunteers costar Tom Hanks, survived COVID-19 with him, and she's determined to convince as many Americans as possible that they need to protect themselves against the flu this year more than ever. She tells AARP about her flu vaccination campaign, her new record album, why nurses rock and how the pandemic has shifted her thinking about how to live life after 50.
You and husband Tom Hanks were among the first famous COVID-19 patients. What can you share with everybody who fears it?
Well, nobody ever wants to get COVID-19, right? So I can just tell you that yes, I definitely had symptoms that were not pleasant. It was like the worst flu that you've ever gotten. I lost my sense of taste and smell for about two months, which was really odd. It was an aching and headache that I … I can't even describe. Then I had vertigo, and a lot of nausea, and it was very uncomfortable.
Many people have long-term COVID problems. Do you?
No, I don't think so. We test every three months; we're part of a study at UCLA. And we still have antibodies, but those diminish over time. We did hear from our doctors that if we did get COVID again, it would be very mild if any symptoms — if you get the same strain, I suppose.
RELATED: Find out everything you need to stay safe in the pandemic on the AARP coronavirus page.
What was the first delicious thing you could taste after COVID?
Probably something like chocolate ice cream. When you don't have your taste, you'd think that that would keep you from eating. But no, you imagine what the taste is like. So it didn't help me lose any weight or anything.
Do you think that a silver lining on the mushroom cloud of COVID-19 is that it has awakened people to other threats to their health — like the flu?
Getting out the truth about the flu is one of the reasons why I'm teaming with the American Nurses Association to encourage 200 million people to get vaccinated.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Latest album: Halfway to Home
Must-see hits: Volunteers, Sleepless in Seattle, Runaway Bride, The Good Wife, Gloria Bell
Theater credits: Trained at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art; Broadway debut as Roxie Hart in Chicago at age 49
Awards: Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame, Satellite Award (From the Earth to the Moon), Producers Guild of America Visionary Award, producer of $459 million My Big Fat Greek Wedding films, $1 billion Mamma Mia! films
Most famous fan: Barack Obama, who saw her hilarious COVID video rap of Naughty by Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” and wrote, “Drop the mic, Rita.”
Most Americans don't get flu shots, which is why in 2019-2020, flu caused up to 740,000 hospitalizations and 62,000 deaths, right?
And there are 200 million people who are over 50 or have underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and asthma. Those people are the most at risk for getting the flu — and severe complications. I'm certainly in that category, and we'll be getting our flu shots.
There's no time like the present to get a flu shot, correct?
There's a window between September to the end of October, which is when you want to get it, because you have about six months’ protection.
COVID isn't really going anywhere, and it's still going to affect all our health care workers, nurses and first responders, people at the hospital. If we can keep people out of the hospital by not getting the flu — by getting that flu shot — it also eases the burden on people who go to the hospital with COVID-19.
Besides COVID, did you ever get slammed by a scary flu?
I had the flu once so bad that I missed Christmas completely — out, down, gone.
Besides being a movie producer and movie/TV/Broadway star, you're a singer with a new single, “What I Would Say.” What does it say?
I wrote it with Shane McAnally, a judge on Songland, and Jesse Frasure. I wanted to write a song about what it's like being on the other side of addiction, because there isn't a person I know who doesn't love somebody struggling with an addiction — who doesn't imagine getting a call that you never want to get. September is National Recovery Month, and there's so many incredible resources for people struggling with addiction.
RELATED: How has addiction changed during the pandemic? It's gone up. Read more, here: Support Needed as Alcohol and Drug Problems Rise During Pandemic
You were also a journalist writing about (and for) people of AARP age, when you were Huffington Post's Post 50 editor. Is our once-ignored demographic now at the center of American culture?
Absolutely. Look, those are my people. People my age, over 50, they're just doing so many things that they never thought they would be able to do, and finding more creative outlets. After COVID, my experience is that you focus on the things that you really want to do with your time, with your life, and the people that you want to be with. If anybody thinks, Oh, being over 50 is slowing down, that has certainly not been the case for me and most of my friends.
What should we all do, right now, this flu season?
It's so easy to get your flu shot. I go to my doctor's office, but flu shots are given in other places as well. Go to www.theraceto200m.com, or https://www.facebook.com/TheRaceto200M on Facebook. We've all been so thankful for the work that nurses have done. I feel like it's in some way being able to give back a little bit, in a microscopic way compared to what they've been able to do. And, you know, if we're taking care of ourselves, we're taking care of our community, too.