Mike Hennessey

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Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

Mike Hennessey

Photo courtesy Mike Hennessey
Photo by Scotty Martin

If you’ve read my column with any regularity, you know that one of my pet escapes is the splendid Santa Ynez Valley. It’s a two-hour drive north of Los Angeles and along the way, the road frequently hugs the scenic Pacific coast. Think wine tasting, the Danish town of Solvang, the film Sideways, Michael Jackson’s Neverland, lavender fields, and calm, sloping hills dotted with horses and cows, weathered wood fences, and inviting oak trees. Storybook?

This time I had a treat in store for me. I cuddled up at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, an environmentally green hotel, which has class and panache. They offer free Wi-Fi, a fitness room, a spa, and an outdoor swimming pool. The staff is outgoing and helpful, especially the front desk attendant, Yolanda Juarez, and the houseman, Jonathan Casique. He went that extra mile to see that this dame was comfy and settled. The Marriott has an interest in many altruistic efforts, and in October they will sponsor the first “Miracles Happen” Charity Golf Tournament to benefit Children’s Miracle Network and People Helping People Children’s Health Service.

I also encountered another miracle while here. It happened after a tasty late dinner at the hotel’s Starting Gate restaurant. I meandered outdoors to the sprawling lounge area that’s endowed with an amorous-sparking fireplace. Hypnotically staring into the pit, I hear a gracious voice call out, “I love your energy. You lit the place up when you walked in so I just had to introduce myself.” Weeeell…! The voice belonged to Mike Hennessey, who calls himself Miracle Mike. I was hoping it was a come-on line; however, Mike has been happily hitched for ten years with husband Bob.

Mike, a Woburn, Massachusetts, native, is a comic, kid’s birthday mystery entertainer (with an impressive celebrity client list), director,

Mike as one of his alter egos. Photo courtesy M. Hennessey
Mike as one of his alter egos. Photo courtesy M. Hennessey

speaker, songwriter (“The Butterfly Dance”), and author (Original Mystery Party Handbook, and a portion of its proceeds goes toward charity). He calls himself a miracle because of his victory over AIDS. He was diagnosed HIV-positive in 1990, and was told he had about nine years to live. In 1997 he acquired what was known then as full-blown AIDS, probably due, in large part, to the grief of losing his beloved mother, Ellen Sue, his inspiration. He has lived with HIV for nearly fifteen years and practically died thirteen times! It wasn’t until 2011 that he overcame the AIDS diagnosis. Mike has been featured on FOX News, Sheena Metal’s LA Talk Radio, and POZ I AM Radio Show.

Mike has lost around fifty friends to the epidemic and most of his life has been dedicated to helping those less fortunate, including victims of the Japanese earthquake, Hurricane Sandy, and the Sandy Hook Connecticut Elementary School shooting. He established a Web site, www.onecan.org, to aid homeless shelters that encourage people to donate money earned from recycling cans and bottles. Since 2005, the inception of Saddle Up LA, Mike has hosted the annual AIDS fundraiser.

Mike has his fingers in many pies, even appearing earlier this year on TV’s Let’s Make a Deal. Huddling around the open pit with Mike for a few fascinating hours, the man has the gleam of a kid on Christmas morning and approaches life like a student passionately absorbed in a science project—with wonderment and curiosity.

Illustration by Davidd Batalon
Illustration by Davidd Batalon

Ruby Comer: My dear, where does your passion and zest for life come from? It’s infectious….
Mike Hennessey:
It comes from my gratitude and gratefulness that I have one more day to shine my light in this world. Each extra day I have on this beautiful planet to teach and make believe with the hundreds of thousands of children makes my heart jump for joy. Plus, waking up with my beautiful husband next to me every day makes me giddy. He supports all of my dreams no matter how crazy and “out there” they may seem. He’s my biggest cheerleader. [He casts his baby blues downward and utters] I’m seriously on the verge of tears just thinking about this beautiful man that I am so blessed to have in my life….

How wonderful, you guys. So how did your career entertaining kids begin?
By performing characters like Barney, Power Rangers, and Mickey Mouse. From there, my client list began to grow. I then expanded my repertoire to include mystery theater. In the past sixteen years I’ve performed at more than 10,000 children’s birthday parties for 300,000 children. Each show is original. I tailor the mystery to the setting, which is usually the home of the birthday boy or girl. My passion has always been working with children. They’re my best audience.

And who have been your favorite celebrity clients?
Dee Wallace, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Rainn Wilson.

I loved Dee as the mother in E.T.! When did you first hear about the epidemic?
I really didn’t hear about it until I went to Bible College in the fall of ’83. The founder would screech from the pulpit about the “faggots dying from AIDS!” and “they’re getting what they deserve.” His words still haunt me.

Fahcrissake! [We both shake our heads in unison.] Tell me about one of your friends who died of AIDS-related complications.
[He ponders a moment.] Juan, a sweet friend of mine…we met at a remarkable HIV support group in the mid-nineties in Los Angeles. He was

The Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, which will sponsor the first “Miracles Happen” Charity Golf Tournament to benefit Children’s Miracle Network and People Helping People Children’s Health Services in October. Photo courtesy Marriott
The Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, which will sponsor
the first “Miracles Happen” Charity Golf Tournament to benefit
Children’s Miracle Network and People Helping People Children’s Health Services in October. Photo courtesy Marriott

covered with Kaposi’s sarcoma and so embarrassed about it. I would take him to a gay church in the [San Fernando] Valley on Sundays. He loved it! He attended until he could barely walk. I remember spending his last days with him at the hospital with his family. They were so grateful for my friendship and kindness to him when others thought he was a burden.

I cherished Juan’s friendship and his bravery. He knew he was going to die and I wished I could have just waved my hands over him and magically make all of his lesions disappear. He was a beautiful gift; an angel who I know still watches over me today.

We all should have an angel like Juan perched on our shoulder! How is your health today, Mike?
Very good. I’m on the basic cocktail—I don’t drink, so I call it a milkshake!—Prezista, Norvir, Truvada, and Viramune. But the real key for me was changing my story—plain and simple! I originally stated, emphatically, that I had AIDS. But when I started declaring that “I am healing from AIDS,” things began to shift in my life in remarkable ways, healthwise. I believe in this 1,000 percent! The power of our words…our thoughts….

That’s one lesson I continually need to be reminded of. Thank you! So what’s your advice to a newly HIV-positive diagnosed person?
Don’t take your diagnosis so seriously. Don’t let it consume every waking moment. Life is what you make of it; not what the doctors say or what the negative religious people say. You have the choice to have the most extraordinary life if you choose to. Stay centered and focused on living a healthy life—physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Connect immediately with a positive (pun intended) group or organization that offers a plethora of services and counseling. And for me, it helped to find someone to talk to in my peer circle who had been living with the disease for a number of years. My peer, Michael Smith, may he rest in peace, changed my life. He even encouraged me to make the move to Los Angeles so many years ago. There should be more HIV “mentoring” going on….

Yessir! Who do you consider to be a hero in the epidemic?
How about a heroine?! Aside from the famous ones like Ellen DeGeneres, Elizabeth Taylor [A&U, February 2003] and others, I would have to say Sunnie Rose Berger, the founder of The Life Group LA. [I nod in agreement.] She created a safe place for people infected and affected by HIV and AIDS and with the help of her extraordinary volunteers, she brings hope to people struggling with this disease in all of its different stages.

Sunnie is a special lady. Has anything bugged you over the years about being HIV-positive?
Being despised and judged by those in the “negative camp,” especially when I was on the dating scene. I mean, don’t negative guys know that poz guys make the best lovers? Hey, that could be a bumper sticker?! [He glances briefly upward at the starry night.] Early on, it saddened me about the lack of support among my own kind. Most support came from straight and gay friends who were already in my life.

Lobby of the Santa Ynez Marriott. Photo courtesy Marriott
Lobby of the Santa Ynez Marriott. Photo courtesy Marriott

Intriguing comment. Where did your zeal to volunteer come from?
It started when I was a child growing up in the projects on welfare just outside of Boston. Volunteers would come to the projects to make small differences in people’s lives. They inspired me to do little things like helping elderly neighbors with their chores or selling things to raise money for causes or just sitting and listening to a friend who was having a hard time. At fifteen I started volunteering in nursing homes and it just took off from there. Those project volunteers made me feel like the whole world hadn’t abandoned me. They had a huge impact on my life and I am forever grateful. When I worked in finance in 1988, I actually took a month off to help with the Boston AIDS Walk.

You seem to put smiles on other’s faces. What makes Miracle Mike happy?
I have had the most extraordinary life! Not despite AIDS, but because of AIDS.

I took my lemons and made lemonade for all the people that I’ve met—because I had AIDS. Otherwise, I would still be living a mediocre life working in the North End of Boston. But in the end, I’ve worked with countless celebrities and non-celebrities who have all changed my life forever, and it would never have happened if I had not embraced AIDS as the gift that it truly can be.

Clown around more with Mike by logging on to: www.IamMiracleMike.com.

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]