HomeEntertainment‘NCIS’ Star Brian Dietzen Explains How a Stroke Helped Him Realize His Writing Ambitions

‘NCIS’ Star Brian Dietzen Explains How a Stroke Helped Him Realize His Writing Ambitions

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)

Suffering a life-threatening event such as a car accident, heart attack, or stroke, can have a profound effect on who someone is and how they view life. For some people, it makes them realize the importance of family, for others, it leads to a complete life overhaul, as they realize they were on the wrong path. For NCIS star, Brian Dietzen, it confirmed what he already suspected: he wanted to be a writer.

A few years ago, Brian Dietzen approached NCIS show-runner, Steve Binder, about the possibility of contributing to the script of the long-running procedural drama. Binder welcomed the idea, but Dietzen had second thoughts. “We have one of the most talented and under-appreciated writing staffs on television,” Dietzen says. “So I thought that might be seen as hubris and I didn’t want to overstep, to be honest.”

But then, a few months before the start of the pandemic, fan-favorite NCIS actor, Brian Dietzen, suffered a major stroke that almost cost him his life. For three and half hours, the young actor‘s life hung in the balance, hospital staff and family members waiting for the blood clot in his brain to pass.

When he awoke with his mind intact, Dietzen knew he had a difficult road ahead, but he had a plan. “I had a dual embolic stroke in my cerebellum. My hands were all curled up, and it was terrifying. I remember getting rushed to the hospital and thinking, ‘Well, I don’t have a career anymore. I guess I’m gonna have to focus on writing because I can’t speak.'”

Dietzen was, of course, a natural. As he’s played NCIS‘ Jimmy Palmer for nearly two decades, he knows the character like the back of his hand. With Dietzen’s help, Jimmy Palmer has become an even more complex, interesting character. And fans love him all the more for it.

‘NCIS’ Brian Dietzen Says Credits His Apple Watch for His Survival

What Brian Dietzen experienced is a nightmare scenario for many. Alone in his home, Dietzen collapsed on the bathroom floor. Losing control of the muscles in his face and hands, he began to vomit. Luckily, however, he was wearing his Apple Watch, which comes equipped with a voice command feature.

It was this feature, Dietzen says, that saved his life. “I’m going to say something that’s going to sound like an advertisement and it’s not. But the Apple Watch saved my life. I was on the floor of my bathroom, throwing up, and I pulled out my phone and I was like, ‘Oh —, I can’t use my fingers.’ And so I said, ‘Hey, Siri, call Kelly,’ and called my wife and I said, ‘I need help.’ She said, ‘You sound like you have marbles in your mouth.'”

The NCIS star then discussed his thought process as this was happening. “I don’t think there’s much that I’ve left undone because everyone that I love knows that I love them.’ — That sort of thing. But then I was like, ‘Whoa, no, I can’t start thinking that way,’ and then I started trying to get my mind in the right place.”

“And I could feel something happen in my brain,” Dietzen continued. “But all of a sudden I could move my hands and start moving my tongue. I started doing tongue twisters. They’re like, ‘Please stay still.’ But the clot in my brain cleared. And I was really blessed that I’d stayed really healthy and had a really healthy cardiovascular system.”