Confessions of a Kamikaze Cowboy

This book is far more than an introduction to the philosophies and practice of Macrobiotics, this book is a look into the life of a typical Montana boy who grew up to be anything but typical.  In often painfully honest detail, Dirk tells his story, revealing how he became an actor, an author, and a cancer conqueror – not just a survivor, but a conqueror.


“A True Story of Acting, Health, Illness, Recovery, and Life”
By Dirk Benedict
Written Excerpts
“I’ve had the most marvelous life. When I was sixteen my parents were divorced. At age eighteen I lost my father. By twenty-eight my career as an actor in Hollywood was finished, in the opinion of anyone who could render it otherwise. I’ve had, at one time or another, all of the following ailments: falling hair, arthritis, acne, lower back pain,impotence, weight problems, excessive drinking habits, and finally, at age thirty, the really Big One, the ailment to end all ailments, the disease that keeps the wheels of Corporate Medicine well oiled and spinning……cancer. The American medical community clasped me to its fiducial bosom with its diagnosis of a tumor in my prostate gland.
I wouldn’t have it any other way. Remove any of these items from my physical/psychological resume and you diminish in quantum leaps the richness of the fabric that has been my life. My joy hasn’t been in spite of but because of these itemized events.
This attitude on my part has always been viewed by those that know me as slightly, if not grossly, abnormal. Perhaps. Certainly, according to my pulse (45), my blood pressure (106/60), and my cholesterol level (145), my friends are right. I am very abnormal. My life span might also end up being far outside the “norm”. But it wasn’t very long ago that I wasn’t so abnormal. Especially as far as the medical community was concerned. Oh yes. I was very normal and headed for a lifetime of paying medical bills as proof of my normalcy.
One can have a ten-year-old tumor languishing in one’s prostate and pass a physical with flying colors. I know. It happened to me time and again, every fall, as I had my physical for college football. And again in 1969 when I passed my pre-induction physical for the millitary. (What kept me out of the millitary was not the tumor in my prostate, but a head injury I’d received two years earlier playing football). At 200 pounds, with a seventeen-inch neck, a resting pulse of 78, a benchpress of 200 pounds, I was very much indeed a normal All-American male. I carried my sickness within………..”

Chapter One – “Floundering Vagabond”

“It began, prophetically enough, in Hollywood. A city I was to come back to time and again, in sickness and in health, in success and in failure, with anticipation and with dread. But this was my first visit.
I was playing a small part in my first Broadway play, Abelard and Heloise, starring Diana Rigg and Keith Michel. The production was in Los Angeles for a six-week, pre-Broadway tryout at the Ahmanson Theatre.
At this point the beef, venison and elk vibrations of my first twenty-two years were still very much controlling the nature of my day-to-day activities. Arthritis was my morning wake-up call, mood swings between ecstasy and despair my daily state of mind and Scotch my release from it all.
I have my routine. I’m running three or four miles a day, which everyone (this was 1971) finds quite strange. I run from the Bryson Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard, where the entire cast is staying, to the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown L.A. and sometimes back again after the evening performance. I have also discovered “health foods”. For the first time in my mostly rural life I’m in a city with health-food restaurants! Trusting the printed word, I’m binging indiscriminately on anything on the menu as long as the sign out front says “Health”! Hamburger, yes…but on whole wheat buns; butter, yes…but made from whole milk; eggs, sure…but direct from a roosterized chicken.
Forgetting all the time that this is just a citified version of what I had been eating while working on ranches in the big sky country of Montana, where the chickens peck in the barn yard, the beef is grass-fed sans any artificial food-supplementing and butchered by the rancher himself; and the milk is hand-milked from the cow and sometimes served still warm on the breakfast table. Homogenizing, pasteurizing, sterilizing are all just trick words from my sixth-grade spelling test!
But I am running. I am avoiding chemicals. I have given up on refined sugar, white bread, soda pop, anything with sugar in it. This may seem mild by comparison to comtemporary American’s current craze for alternate “diets”, but in 1971 my fellow cast members found me impossible to figure: Was I a hippie in cowboy clothing, searching like most of Southern California for a guru to pay homage to? Or was I what I appeared to be- a 190-pound, all-American, blonde-haired, blue-eyed pretender to the Redford throne? While they dabbled in far-out drugs, I played around with far-out foods. Impossible to figure”……….

Chapter Three – “Regurgitational Reflections”
“In 1971 in my Devil’s Island Paradise of Leros, Greece, I took my first huge step backwards. Back to the beginning. Of course, at the time I had no idea what was happening. I was merely trying to eat more “naturally”. After giving up meat, sugar, chemicals and all refined foods in Stockholm, the fog had been lifting, and I felt so good that I assumed the road to health and happiness was paved with one glorious day of well-being after another…the assumption of a dualistic mentality. Good versus evil. Meat is bad. Sugar is bad. Chemicals are bad, bad, bad! I wanna be good, good good. So I will just stop eating those evil things.
What an ego! I am always amazed that I did survive. Miss Gloria Swanson had yet to make her entrance into my life with an invitation to dinner. Macrobiotics and the study of the universal principles of yin and yang were months away. I did not yet realize that there is no such thing as “Good versus Bad”, that both those qualities are inherent in everything, and that it is our understanding of natural laws that allows us to create balance out of opposities, thereby maintaining harmony, wholeness and health. There is good and bad in all of us, success and failure in all our lives, happiness and sadness in all our experiences. We must learn to appreciate, understand and finally, be grateful for the existence of these complementing antagonisms. the lack of either side of the coin in our life creates spiritual, mental and physical degeneration, and finally the ultimate degeneration: death”……………

Chapter Six – “Pigskin and Greasepaint”
“…I wanted to work. I was an actor. I wanted to act. But he was right-I didn’t want to be a movie star. Never had wanted to be a movie star. I was so naive as to assume that anyone who knew me would know that went without saying. I wouldn’t refuse stardom, recognition, acclaim. I had no axe to grind either way. But didn’t George Roy Hill realize that it was precisely the lack of craving for what all his other guests had that allowed me to have such a wonderful time in their presence? I wasn’t wishing I was somewhere else, somebody else, richer or more famous. I was happy and secure with who I was, what I was and where I was. I didn’t have to have what they all had. If my company was pleasant, it was only because of that and the genuine enjoyment it allowed me as a pauper amoung princes. And on the occasions when I rub shoulders with the famous in my Kamikaze trek through Glitterville, it will never be as exciting as those few soirees at George Roy Hill’s place during my first months in Hollywood”…..”

Chapter Nine – “The Garden of Eden”
“I had met Michio Kushi several years prior to 1975 through Gloria Swanson, with whom he had been friends for many years. Kushi was the leading macrobiotic diagnostician in the country. He was (is) based in Boston, where I had visited him several times over the years. Those visits were purely social. From the very beginning the primary appeal of macrobiotics for me was that it was something I could try by myself. I had never sought, nor wanted, his help in trying to understand the principles of yin and yang. I knew that one consultation with Kushi would enlighten the many gray areas of my understanding of yin/yang as it applied to my particular journey of self-healing. But I also knew that, although infinitely slower, the only real path to personal health and happiness was through my own slow and painful understanding. Besides, for thousands of sick and dying people all over the country, cast out of hospitals with their individual predictions of only months left on this planet, Boston was a last hope, a Mecca. And Michio Kushi was their prophet. He was a man for whom there was never enough time. His consultation was their last chance for what Steve McQueen had dreamed about-survival.
My cowboy roots and Kamikaze soul didn’t crave Kushi’s assistance. In our few meetings over the years, Kushi had understood far better than I what was going on in the boiler-room of my soul’s engine. I believe it was music to his soul, a realization of his dream, that for once he not be considered a necessary part of someone’s path towards health and happiness.
The New York doctor has given me documentation for the disbelievers. Michio Kushi would give me documentation for myself and those other adventurous souls who would follow in my footsteps, choosing this alternative approach to the self-cure of the incurable”……..

Chapter Twelve – “Don’t Mess With Starbuck”
“Now what’s the problem?”
“They say he’s not sexy”.
“They say what ?”
“ABC doesn’t think he’s sexy enough.”
“That’s it! I’ve had it! This is war!”

In the fall of 1977, nine months after I had embarked upon my re-entry into the business of make-believe for money, I was bunking with Bill Dufty and Gloria Swanson during a brief visit to New York. I had come there from Hollywood to touch bases with some of the high muckamucks of casting, thereby letting them know I was back again. Most of them didn’t know I had left. Ah, well! My agent and personal manager at the time thought it was important that I return to the city of my earlier success and “make the rounds”. I agreed to do it, quietly considering the list of old friends I could contact to ensure more of the exciting times New York has always seemed to hold for me.
From the palatial Fifth Avenue digs of Swanson/Dufty, where I was living way over my economic head but in perfect spiritual harmony, it was a short, invigorating stroll down the avenue to the Sherry Netherland Hotel for a “general meeting” with Glen Larson. Back in 1977 Larson was in the middle of preparing a megabuck blockbuster sci-fi project for Universal and ABC Television. Nothing like it had ever been done before on television”………..

Chapter Fifteen – “Survival”
….”Months of working on The A-Team had not made me happier or more contented. It has challenged my ability to remain so. The hours of waiting, talking and thinking on the set needed to be balanced by some good, honest airplane scrubbing. The winter of ’83 had been a cold one by California standards and the day I chose to wash my plane was one of the first hot, sunny days of the coming summer. I pulled by Turbo 182 Cessna RG into the wash area and began spraying, scrubbing, rinsing, spraying, scrubbing, rinsing…ridding the plane of a winter’s worth of grime, grease, dust and oxidization.
Three hours into my labors and nearing the end of this joyous physical exertion, I began to feel light headed. Perhaps it was time to get something to eat? I paused briefly to let myself center a bit. Nothing. The sensation persisted. I sat down for a couple of minutes. Still no change. Well, I’m so close to finishing, I thought, I’ll just hurry up with the finishing touched and zip home for some food and a shower. That’ll do the trick!
I crawled under the plane to finish wiping down the belly. Almost immediately I felt nauseated. Whoa! What was this? Rapidly I began scrubbing, hoping to get the belly wiped clean before crawling out and standing upright to get my bearings straight. I couldn’t make it. The sense of impending regurgitation became overpowering. I scrambled weakly from under the plane and held onto the wing strut as I pulled myself upright. Twelve years of being my own doctor told me that this was serious. I was weak, lightheaded, sick to my stomach and feeling hotter than the exercise and hot day warranted. Sweat began to pour from me”……

Chapter Twenty-One – “Your On Your Own”
“Over the years I’ve had many agents, too many to remember. But I remembered this man’s name. And I remembered that he has been my first agent upon my re-entry into Hollywood after my cancer-induced sabbatical.
Shortly after I came back into town with the goal of finishing the Hollywood part of my life and completing a cycle I had started with Chopper One, I was invited to a party by a former member of the cast of that ill-fated series. It was at this party that I was approached by a fellow who said he’d like to represent me. At that time he was a man of medium build who weighed about 150 pounds.
Now, as we spoke these lifetimes later on The A-Team set, I asked him,
“How much weight have you lost?”
“Thirty pounds.”
“Not as much as me”, I told him.
But then I had more excess to shed, more sins to atone for.
“On what part of your body did you discover it?”
He pointed to his kidney area.
How he took me back to myself when I was in the middle of my self-treatment! All skin and bone. No fat and damn little muscle. Only what was necessary to get around.
We spoke for only a few minutes. Time is money, as they say, and it was never more apropos than on a television show, where a minute is worth about $200! And anyway, like all people who have lived through the same experience, in which death is a distinct possibility, words were really unimportant. We understood”……….

For the ultimate Macrobiotic resource on the net visit The Kushi Institute