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A prominent theater actor who developed into a well-known supporting player on television, Evan Handler's life and career were almost cut short when he was diagnosed with a supposedly incurable form of leukemia in 1985. But instead of succumbing to the disease, Handler drew upon his youthful exuberance and stubbornness to combat his cancer, though he faced myriad challenges that included shoddy care from health professionals in addition to an already low chance of survival. After four years of his life spent beating the disease with chemotherapy and a risky bone marrow transplant, Handler emerged with renewed vigor, establishing himself as a key performer on hit shows like "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004), "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) and "Californication" (Showtime, 2007- ). Because of his success against cancer, Handler turned into an outspoken health care advocate, writing a scathing novel, Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors, which savaged the treatment he received, while subsequently inspiring readers with his valiant fight. He also routinely spoke to various health care groups and wrote articles for major magazines about the poor state of medical care in the United States. Never one to...
A prominent theater actor who developed into a well-known supporting player on television, Evan Handler's life and career were almost cut short when he was diagnosed with a supposedly incurable form of leukemia in 1985. But instead of succumbing to the disease, Handler drew upon his youthful exuberance and stubbornness to combat his cancer, though he faced myriad challenges that included shoddy care from health professionals in addition to an already low chance of survival. After four years of his life spent beating the disease with chemotherapy and a risky bone marrow transplant, Handler emerged with renewed vigor, establishing himself as a key performer on hit shows like "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004), "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006) and "Californication" (Showtime, 2007- ). Because of his success against cancer, Handler turned into an outspoken health care advocate, writing a scathing novel, Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors, which savaged the treatment he received, while subsequently inspiring readers with his valiant fight. He also routinely spoke to various health care groups and wrote articles for major magazines about the poor state of medical care in the United States. Never one to fall into sentimentality, Handler proved to be an effective activist and talented performer, establishing himself as a vibrant presence both on screen and off.
Born Jan. 10, 1961, in New York, NY, Handler was raised by his father, Murry, who worked in advertising, and his mother, Enid, a mental health administrator, in Croton-on-Hudson along the Hudson River. Only an hour away from Manhattan, Handler was nonetheless determined to return, compelling him to graduate Hendrick Hudson High School in only three years. After graduating, he moved to New York City to begin work as an unpaid intern at the now-defunct Chelsea Theater, where he fell under the tutelage of artistic director Robert Kalfin. While at the Chelsea, he was cast in two off-Broadway shows: "Biography: A Game" and "Strider: The Story of a Horse." When the lead actor on the latter left the show, Handler took over, but left himself when the production moved to Broadway, simply so he could train at the famed Juilliard School. Less than two years later, however, Handler left Juilliard to make his feature film debut with a small supporting role in "Taps" (1981), playing one of the young cadets at a military academy who participates in a takeover of the school after learning it is about to be closed down and sold to developers.
In a short time, Handler was on his way as an actor. He began to land stage roles with regularity, performing in regional productions of "Derelict" by Robert Schenkkan, "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, and "What's Wrong with This Picture?" by Donald Margulies. He then had a prominent co-starring role in "Dear Mr. Wonderful" (1982), a low-budget dramedy about a bowling alley manager (J Pesci) who is out to make it big in Las Vegas, only to realize that life gets no better than what he had back in New Jersey. In 1985, Handler was on the verge of making his big break. He had successfully performed on Broadway in Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and was an understudy to Matthew Broderick in "Biloxi Blues." But his life took a tragic turn when he was diagnosed acute myeloid leukemia, a form of cancer where abnormal white blood cells accumulate in the bone marrow. Only 24 years old, Handler was dealt a devastating blow. Diagnosed incurable and given only six months to live, the actor underwent extensive chemotherapy at the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. At the time of his diagnosis, Handler was forced to leave "Biloxi Blues" and opt out of several pending projects and meetings, including one for a Warren Beatty film. The project turned out to be "Ishtar" (1987), about which he later said that he "didn't miss much." Meanwhile, his chemotherapy at Sloan-Kettering was more painful than was necessary. Upon entering the facility, he learned from the staff that a lot of actors had been there for treatment, including John Cazale (he died from bone cancer in 1979). From there, his situation with the treatment he received from doctors and staff only deteriorated. Handler later cited a laundry list of problems he faced - being given the wrong medications; once discovering an IV with another patient's name on it; inadequate time to rest because of constant disruptions; doctors leaving IVs in his arm longer than necessary, sometimes for days, which eventually became infected. He even had to sneak off to another floor to steal clean pillows and sheets. Despite the horrid conditions at Sloan-Kettering, Handler successfully completed his chemotherapy, though with only a fifty percent chance of remission.
Not missing a beat after being released from the hospital, Handler landed a supporting role in the slice-of-life comedy "Sweet Lorraine" (1987), before returning to the stage to perform in "Broadway Bound." But as expected, his cancer returned, forcing him to withdraw from his second Neil Simon play and go back into treatment. This time, however, he received his care from Johns Hopkins, where he took a gamble with an autologous bone marrow transplant - a highly experimental treatment that offered only a glimmer of hope for a cure. With the help and support of then-girlfriend, Jackie Reingold, whom he later credited for being the sole reason he was able to survive, Handler underwent the treatment, resulting in a five month stay in the hospital. After an additional six months of home recovery, doctors deemed him cancer free. Handler had a new lease on life, full of deathbed promises and determination to live life. And he still had a career to fulfill. Handler was invited to join an all-star cast that included Mandy Patinkin, Alfre Woodard and Christopher Reeve for a New York Shakespeare Festival production of "The Winter's Tale." Though hesitant to return to work so soon, Handler nonetheless accepted the role and began getting his career back on track.
With renewed vigor, Handler resumed his theater work in full stride, becoming one of the original cast members in playwright John Guare's "Six Degrees of Separation." He performed in the production throughout its entire off-Broadway run, and much of its stay on Broadway. But he eventually left to join the cast of "I Hate Hamlet," a dramatic comedy about a successful television actor (Handler) struggling to play Shakespeare's most troubled hero. But an altercation with one of the play's stars, Nicol Williamson, a notoriously erratic and miserable man who managed to alienate everyone on the cast and crew, unexpectedly led to Handler's departure. During a performance, the two actors were engaged in a sword fight. But Williamson smacked Handler with his sword for real, angering him to the point of walking off stage and quitting the production, never to return. His career remained unaffected, however, with feature roles in "Natural Born Killers" (1994), "Ride for Your Life" (1995) and "Ransom" (1996). Also in 1996, Handler had his first book published, Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors, a searing comic account of his battle with cancer, which was based on his one-man off-Broadway play. Required reading for any health professional, his book skewered medical malfeasance while illuminating his successful recovery with anger, humor and touching emotion.
Thanks to both his book and his one-man play, Handler began writing freelance articles for national magazines on health care advocacy and other issues related to his cancer recovery. Meanwhile, he gained television work with more regularity, guest starring in an episode of "New York Undercover" (Fox, 1994-98), then landing a regular spot as an eccentric millionaire on the short-lived sitcom "It's Like, You Know " (ABC, 1998-2000). Following a requisite appearance on an episode of "Law & Order" (NBC, 1990- ), Handler had a recurring role as re-election campaign staffer and speechwriter Doug Wegland during the third season of "The West Wing" (NBC, 1999-2006). At this point, Handler was almost exclusively a television actor, landing guest spots on "The Guardian" (CBS, 2001-04) and "Six Feet Under" (HBO, 2000-05). He increased his visibility with a recurring role during the last season of "Sex and the City" (HBO, 1998-2004), playing Harry Goldenblatt, a divorce lawyer for series mainstay Charlotte York (Kristin Davis). After he converts her to Judaism, the two eventually marry after failing to have a sex-only relationship, and ultimately adopt a girl from China in the last episode, finally providing Charlotte with her idealized happy marriage and family after many a set-back throughout the series' run.
Following his high-profile run on "Sex and the City," Handler returned to stints as a guest star, landing roles on "Without A Trace" (CBS, 2002- ), "24" (Fox, 2001- ) and "Lost" (ABC, 2004- ), on which he played a fellow asylum inmate who begins following Hurley (Jorge Garcia) around on the island. After a short-lived stint on the doomed sitcom "Hot Properties" (ABC, 2005-06), Handler found his way into the cast of Aaron Sorkin's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07). Handler played a former writer and executive producer who routinely butts heads with the new producer, Matt Albie (Matthew Perry), over using a sketch from the show to create another series, while threatening to take the entire writing staff with him. After "Studio 60" was sent packing, Handler had a guest spot on "Shark" (CBS, 2006-08), then landed another regular series role on "Californication" (Showtime, 2007- ), playing the enabling agent of a famed novelist (David Duchovny) dealing with his addictions to sex and drugs while trying to mend the relationships with his ex-girlfriend (Natascha McElhone) and teenage daughter (Madeline Martin). Back in features, Handler reprised Harry Goldenblatt for the big screen and highly anticipated version of "Sex and the City" (2008).
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