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Chris Licht Talks About His Brain Hemorrhage, New Book

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Chris Licht never thought he would write a book. Even after a massive brain hemorrhage almost killed him in 2010, the then-executive producer of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" didn't think, as so many in the TV world do, "Hey, I could make a good book out of this."

Actually, it was Jon Meacham's idea. The former Newsweek editor and current Random House executive was having lunch with Licht one day and demanded to hear the entire story about what had happened.

After hearing the details, Meacham had a thought.

"He said, 'I think you've changed because of this and I don't think you know how much you've changed," Licht said in an interview. "Two days later I had a meeting with Simon and Schuster, and less than a week later I had a book deal. It was just something that took on a life of its own."

That book, "What Happened When I Almost Died," was released on Tuesday. It tells, as the title says, the story of Licht's brush with death, and what happened to him afterwards.

The hemorrhage occurred on April 28, 2010. Licht was in Washington, being driven to his hotel after a day's work, when suddenly he felt a pain unlike any he had ever known in the back of his head.

"I knew immediately," he said. "I was 38 and I had never felt this sensation before... it was instant pain, not like a slow and gradual headache, but instant pain."

He could talk and could see clearly, though--an extremely lucky thing, since, as he put it, "for a lot of people, it kind of happens and that's it: you're either incapacitated or you're dead."

Licht was also lucky that his hotel happened to be located directly across from a hospital. One of the residents there told him he had a migraine, and he began relaxing slightly. Then a more senior doctor intervened and ordered a CAT scan. The diagnosis? Blood was leaking into his brain.

"It was a kick to the gut," Licht said. "It was truly the worst news I had ever heard." He'd already returned to work mode, thinking about the things he had to do next, and suddenly he was contemplating his own death.

And, just as remarkably as everything that had come before, Licht was given the all-clear after the doctors tried--unsuccessfully--to locate the source of the bleeding. He recuperated for a month--"it's amazing how weak you become by just laying in bed for nine days," he said--and then returned to work.

Of course, things weren't that simple. Licht also had to come to grips with what had happened to him.

"You get mad," he said. "But the problem was I couldn't be mad at anybody."

"You stop worrying about the petty stuff," he said. "You don't get that sort of knot in your stomach. I'm just as intense, but I don't let it consume me."

Licht said he always thought his relationships--with his wife, or his children or his parents--were healthy and close. But his near-death experience forced him to reevaluate those ties, and to strengthen them.

"I would say, after this incident, [they're] much better, better than I ever knew [they] could be," he said. For instance, whereas he once spoke to his father every few weeks, the two now talk nearly every day.

And what about "Morning Joe"?

"Mika [Brzezinski] is a pretty tough critic and she says it made me a better producer," Licht said. "It made me more focused and more sure of myself."

He took pains to point out that Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough were by his side immediately. The three have an unusually close relationship for a group of television professionals. It begs the question, then: why did Licht give up such a fulfilling job with people he loved to go work for CBS News? (Licht was recently named the vice president of programming for the network.) He said that he had done so after talking things over, step by step, with both Brzezinski and Scarborough. When he was offered the CBS job, Scarborough told him he had to take it.

"It really feels like if I can grow in I job like this it will help us," he said. "Our relationship is very unique in this business."

Fortunately, Licht will only have to worry about getting "The Early Show" out of the ratings cellar for the time being. His brain, he said, is completely fine.

"Unlike you, every millimeter of my brain has been examined," he said, though he added, just to be safe, "let's knock on wood."

As for the book, Licht said, "I don't think this book is going to change anybody's life, but I think it's a really compelling couple of hours to spend... it's a really interesting mix of something that could happen to anybody plus an inside, behind-the-scenes look at a television show."

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