The comedian had a stroke but kept his sense of humor with the help of his life coach, Charles D’Angelo.
FADE TO BLACK. Tom Arnold had seen the cinematic device countless times in his nearly 40-year TV-and-film career, but this scene wasn’t in the script: At home on the night of January 16, 2022, the vision in Arnold’s right eye went dark as he was waiting for his children to get out of the bathtub. “I felt a curtain come down, and it was black,” the 63-year-old actor and comedian recalls. “I could feel it in my brain, too. I was like, ‘That’s weird.’”
The following morning, Arnold drove himself to his doctor’s office, thinking perhaps he had floaters in his eye. The staff told him to go to the UCLA medical center immediately and enter the 24-hour stroke protocol. The diagnosis left him reeling. “Hearing ‘You had a stroke,’ it puts you in a dark place,” Arnold says. “It shakes you.” A battery of tests determined he had suffered an ischemic attack, blocking blood to part of his brain, categorized as level 1 on the NIH Stroke Scale. It wasn’t severe enough to take his life, but it was serious enough to change it. “What have I done to myself? I’ve let myself go,” Arnold recalls thinking. Most of all, he wondered what was next. “I kept thinking, Oh crap, now what?”
Nine months after the incident, Arnold feels and looks reborn. He’s seated on a sofa in his home in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley beside Charles D’Angelo, a well-known weight-loss and motivational coach. A few hours earlier, on this late-September day, client and coach met in person for the first time since they began working together virtually eight months prior. Arnold, who weighed 285 pounds at the time of his stroke, is a lean 205. More telling than what he’s lost is what he’s gained: a renewed sense of awareness, accountability, and affirmation from D’Angelo, his life and weight-loss coach and buddy.
Arnold first met D’Angelo in September 2018 at a charity event at the home of his friend and True Lies costar Arnold Schwarzenegger. (“You meet a lot of people in the fitness business at Arnold’s.”) After his stroke forced him to cancel an introductory Zoom, Arnold gave the idea of D’Angelo’s coaching new consideration. The coach’s personal story and books, Think and Grow Thinand Inner Guru, resonated. Arnold, who grew up in Iowa, liked that he was a midwestern guy and had practiced before he preached—D’Angelo lost 160 pounds in two years, going from 360 pounds to the taut physique of an NFL tight end.
Arnold agreed to a virtual session and then to taking it, as D’Angelo instructed him, “a day at a time.” It was a leap of faith based on D’Angelo’s faith in him. “I don’t see the end of this like he does, but I’m going to try this,” Arnold remembers thinking. “I needed to transition my body.”
“And your mind,” D’Angelo interjects. “Oh my God, yes—my mind,” Arnold adds.
The two guys started meeting virtually every two weeks, talking about the underlying issues behind Arnold’s weight and the changes he would have to make to create lasting effects. “So much of Tom’s success is a function of consistency,” D’Angelo explains. “He’s absolutely steady no matter if he’s here in California, Rome, Canada, or wherever he finds himself.” For workouts, D’Angelo has Arnold perform cardio, working toward a time goal every session. Arnold prefers to use an elliptical trainer, followed by a recumbent bike—he has both in the outdoor gym he’s set up at his house. Gradually, he has worked his way up to 60 vigorous minutes and burns approximately 1,000 active calories per day—a stat he tracks along with distance, pace, and resistance before sharing them with D’Angelo. He’s kept at it, even through a heat wave. “I breathe a lot, I get told. When I have my headphones on, I . . . make sounds,” Arnold says of his huffing and puffing. At one point, the next-door neighbor asked what he was doing outside every day. “She thought I was masturbating furiously, but I’m not—I’m working out. Not that I don’t masturbate. I’m human.”
Along with updating Arnold’s exercise menu, D’Angelo implemented a consistent, easily reproduced calorie-restricted diet that involves eating every three hours. Arnold starts each day with a protein shake. He’ll snack on raw almonds, then have a turkey-on-whole-wheat sandwich for lunch with a small bag of baked chips. His midafternoon snack is low-fat yogurt with fruit, followed by a dinner of eight to ten ounces of skinless grilled chicken breast with steamed broccoli. He ends the night with a no–sugar-added fruit popsicle. (He is allowed unlimited zero-calorie drinks.)
D’Angelo recently began working basic free-weight exercises into Arnold’s routine—every change gradual, incremental. “The way you did it, you lured me in,” he tells D’Angelo.
Arnold first stopped drinking in the late 1980s but suffered multiple relapses before becoming sober in 2017. For years, he felt he could control his weight or his addiction but not both. When he was Chris Farley’s sponsor, Arnold says, “I told him: ‘You can either be really overweight or you can do drugs.’ I believed that.” But D’Angelo believes that food can play a role in filling other voids. “What I’ve looked at with Tom is ‘What’s missing in your life? What needs to be worked on?’ ” he says. “Once that is addressed, then a low-level gratifier doesn’t have the pull. Just like alcohol or any other drug.”
Excavating those deep-rooted issues meant D’Angelo and Arnold’s coaching sessions often resembled intensive talk therapy. The sharing was mutual. “There’s this big muscular guy talking about feelings. That was awkward for me,” Arnold jokes.
He used to look in the mirror and do his best just to make eye contact, afraid to see his entire face, much less his whole body. Now, Arnold says, “I’m like, ‘Holy hell, who’s that guy?’ ” He’s shaved his beard, which he calls “sweatpants for the face.” He has surpassed his original goal: to weigh what he did in the 1994 film True Lies. The target wasn’t random, as Arnold was teaming up with Schwarzenegger again to film an episode of an upcoming Netflix spy series. The former Mr. Universe was stunned at Arnold’s weight loss, telling him, “You look amazing”—then announcing, “We’re doing a bike ride tomorrow!” The validation helps, Arnold admits, though he’s quick to joke. “I’ve already worked out with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I mean, it’s all downhill from here,” he says. “I’ve also seen him naked in the shower. It’s intimidating.”
When he began his journey with D’Angelo, Arnold had trouble focusing on his own needs. He said he wanted to make a change for his kids. “Charles kept saying, ‘No, you deserve this,’ ” Arnold says. When D’Angelo encouraged him to feel healthier and happier for himself, it reminded Arnold of the attitude he needed to succeed in his sobriety. “You’ve got to be a bit of an asshole and say, ‘I’m not doing this for anyone—I’m doing this for me. Me, number one. I deserve this,’ ” Arnold says with a shrug. It’s the same thing now.
A version of this article originally appeared in the January 2023 issue of Men’s Health.
Alex Bhattacharji is a writer and editor who worked nearly two decades in men’s magazines. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Esquire, and WSJ magazine. He spends his free time hiking, kayaking and coaching rugby.
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