An Unforgettable Life: Part 1

Introducing the marvelous Marilu Henner: actress, author, and HSAMer.

What is HSAM you ask? HSAM stands for Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory. There are less than 100 people worldwide who have been identified as having HSAM. However, this unique ability allows them to remember distinct details from nearly every single day of their lives. This can include the specific day of the week, what the weather was like, what they were wearing, where they were, who they were with, what they were doing, what they ate, etc. While the majority of regular people see their past in 3rd person, HSAMers always see their past in 1st person as if they are reliving it in real-time.

I can’t remember how I originally stumbled upon Marilu. I watched a few interviews on YouTube and found her to be such a charismatic, engaging personality that I decided to borrow an audio version of her book, “Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future.” (It was almost 8 hours long but I got through it faster by alternating from 1x to 1.5x to 2x speed depending on what I was doing while listening.)

In her book, she explains that HSAMers exhibit two types of memory: semantic and episodic. Semantic memory is general knowledge, facts about the world unrelated to any specific events, whereas episodic memory involves remembering particular times and places in detail, events from personal experience. These differ from eidetic memory which is the ability to recall images in great detail, also known as photographic memory. Autobiographic memory is specifically related to long-term memory and has no effect on improving short-term memory. I won’t go into great detail on the science of HSAM as it is quite in-depth. If you are more interested, check out the HSAM research being done at UCI Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.

Below is a quick clip of of Marilu’s memory in action:

Although a remarkable skill, some people who have HSAM see it as a burden. Jill Price, the first to be diagnosed, described it as “non-stop, uncontrollable, and totally exhausting.” Marilu, however, sees it as a gift, using it as an opportunity to learn from her past mistakes, relive her happiest moments, and better her future. She compares her memory to a scene selection menu on a movie, a linear timeline where she can choose to go into detail on any specific day. “A good autobiographical memory is also like an insurance policy against loss,” she says. Although both parents died when she was young, she is able to keep them alive in her memory and would rather remember their deaths every day than forget the good times she had with them.

In her book, Marilu also explains how HSAM has helped her in her professional acting career. As an actor, you are trained to embody the thoughts and feelings and emotions of a particular character, and having an extensive library of memories which to draw from is incredibly helpful. From a young age, she recalls the enjoyment that came with “time travel.” Instead of counting sheep when she couldn’t sleep, she would go back into her memories. I wonder if she also has autobiographical memory of her dreams?! I’ll be sure to ask her if we ever meet.

Well, this blog post has been all about Marilu’s memory, but how does it relate to you? If you want to learn the tips and tricks to improving your own autobiographical memory, please stay tuned for Part 2!

As usual, here is some bonus material I found during my research:


  1. She was in the first national company of Grease and dated John Travolta.
  2. She received five Golden Globe nominations for her breakthrough acting role on the American sitcom Taxi alongside Danny DeVito and Tony Danza. ( I watched the first episode; it’s pretty good!)
  3. She voiced a character on Batman: The Animated Series.
  4. She hosted her own daytime talk show, Marilu, which ran for 165 episodes.
  5. She was fired by Donald Trump on the celebrity edition of his reality tv show, The Apprentice.
  6. She was on the twenty-third season of Dancing With the Stars, making it all the way to the Quarterfinals with partner Derek Hough.
  7. She guest starred on the 414th episode of the podcast, “My Brother, My Brother and Me.”
  8. She was a consultant and guest star on the tv series “Unforgettable” which centers around a police detective with HSAM. (Ironically, she played the protagonist’s aunt with Alzheimer’s.)
  9. She was asked to host SNL and her manager made her turn it down. (WHYYYY?!)
  10. Her current third and final husband was her college roommate’s former boyfriend and they reconnected by happenstance at the courthouse when she was getting a marriage license to marry her first husband. Also, she gave birth to her second son on national television by working it into a tv special she was doing… talk about CONFIDENCE.

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