Marilu Henner has a serious edge on the upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars—and it’s not just the fact that Derek Hough is her partner. Henner, 64, is only one of only 13 known people in the world with a highly superior autobiographical memory, so when the six-time mirrorball champ teaches her their dance steps, she’ll presumably have no problem remembering them.
Marilu is also a DWTS superfan, which doesn’t hurt either. Henner told Entertainment Tonight that she has been following the ABC celebrity ballroom competition for years.
“I’m, like, a rabid fan,” Marilu said. “I’ve been following everybody on Dancing with the Stars for years. I know everybody, and I tweet about them.”
MARILU HENNER ladies and gentlemen. Team #Hennergy baby!!!!! ???????????????? This woman's got more life and energy in her than almost anyone I've ever met. She exudes passion in everything she does and has already shown me that she is ready to dance. Come along and join us on this new exciting journey! #Dwts #TeamHennergy
Henner never dreamed she would be paired with Derek Hough because he was already committed to Singin’ in the Rain on Broadway and NBC’s production of Hairspray Live. When she found out she lucked out with the DWTS golden boy as her partner, Marilu said it felt like an “out-of-body experience.”
With four hours of daily dance practice with Hough and two hours at home alone, Marilu Henner is definitely putting her work into winning the mirrorball trophy. While she has a background in musical theater and some prior dance experience from childhood, Henner says DWTS is “a completely different ballgame.”
And then there’s her uncanny memory. Marilu Henner’s Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory, or H-SAM, allows her to recall nearly every detail of every day of her life. Henner was previously profiled on 60 Minutes and she wrote about her rare gift in her book Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future.
Although Marilu Henner always knew she had an incredible memory, it wasn’t until her good friend, CBS News journalist Lesley Stahl, profiled her for a study on H-SAM that she realized how rare her gift actually is. In the 2010 CBS segment, Henner told Stahl she could remember every single time she has seen her over their 25-year friendship.
“Do you remember when we went to ‘Aureole,’ the restaurant? That was ’93,” Henner said. “That was June 1st. A Tuesday. I had the salmon.”
For the study, Henner endured more than seven hours of testing by University of California professor of neurobiology Dr. James McGaugh and his collaborator, neuroscientist Dr. Larry Cahill, before she was crowned superior autobiographical memory subject number six.
“It’s like putting in a DVD and it cues up to a certain place. I’m there again. So, I’m looking out from my eyes and seeing things visually as I would have that day,” Marilu said.
As an example, Henner easily recalled what she did on Oct. 26, 1976.
“It was a Tuesday. Oh, I went to shoot a ring around the collar commercial in Venice, Italy,” Marilu said. You can see Henner’s story at the 6-minute mark in the video below.
In an interview on CBS This Morning, Henner compared her memory to the scene selection feature on a DVD menu. Marilu explained that she sees her memories as a list that she can scroll through. When she locates a particular memory, Marilu can pinpoint the date and other details about the day. She always remembers what she was wearing and who she was with at the time. Henner even revealed that her earliest memory goes way back — to her baptism.
“Even as a tiny child, I could recall that event. I know people don’t believe me, but it’s really true,” Marilu told CBS.
Henner later told ABC News she sees her memory like “little videos moving simultaneously.”
“Whenever I go back into memory, I’m always in my body looking out,” Marilu revealed.
“When somebody gives me a date or a year or something, I see all these little movie montages, basically on a time continuum, and I’m scrolling through them and flashing through them.”
Henner, who starred in the 1970s sitcom Taxi as well as the original Broadway version of Grease, said her memory helps her as an actress in more ways than one. Not only does Marilu have an easy time remembering her lines, but she can recall moments of great emotion in her own life. And it sounds like this same skill will also help her to create emotion in the Dancing with the Stars ballroom.
“I can always remember where I first read a script or what I studied or what I liked about, things like that,” Henner said. “But definitely being an actress, I learned how to embrace my memories and celebrate them and explore them without hesitation whatsoever.”
Still, Marilu’s memory could be out to the test on Dancing With the Stars. On his blog for TV Guide, Derek Hough explained that while Henner is not used to forgetting things, remembering dance steps is a whole new experience for his partner.
“Marilu is also amazing because she has super memory!” Hough wrote. “It’s actually called highly superior autobiographical memory, which means she has the ability to remember everything she’s experienced every day down a minute detail. So you must think she’s got to memorize choreography easily, right?”
“The funny thing is it’s not exactly like that. She’ll forget certain things or there might be some things she physically can’t do yet, and if you tell her she forgot, she’s like ‘What?! No way!’ It’s like an affront. It’s very cute. I think for her it’s weird to forget something. But the thing about dancing is that it’s not about remembering things on a cognitive level. You have to remember moves and steps, but you also have to embody all of it. It’s more like muscle memory.”
Marilu Henner and Derek Hough are already fan favorites for Dancing with the Stars Season 23. DWTS executive producer Rob Wade told TV Guide he can already see Hough and Henner, or Hennergy as they’ve already been dubbed, going far in the competition.
“I could absolutely see Derek and Marilu going all the way,” Wade told TV Guide. “I mean, the energy they give off…”
Take a look at the video below to see Marilu Henner talking about her amazing memory.
[Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for Alliance for Women in Media]