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How Becoming a Single Parent Made Jean Smart Think 'Dramatically' Differently About Her Health (Exclusive)

The actress is partnering with Pfizer’s Know Plan Go campaign to encourage others at risk for COVID to make a plan in case they get sick

Steve Granitz/WireImage Actress Jean Smart.
Steve Granitz/WireImage Actress Jean Smart.

Over the past few years, Jean Smart has been reminded of how grateful she is for her health — and how quickly things can change.

After losing her husband unexpectedly to a heart condition in 2021, the Hacks star has faced her own health scares this year, undergoing a heart procedure in February and an appendectomy earlier this summer.

The death of her husband of nearly 34 years, fellow actor Richard Gilliland, "dramatically" changed how she treated her own health, says Smart, 71.

David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Richard Gilliland and Jean Smart
David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Richard Gilliland and Jean Smart

Related: Jean Smart Says Being a Single Mother Has Been 'Unimaginable': 'Hardest Thing I've Ever Done'

"It just made more sense for me to get smarter about my health decisions," says the Golden Globe- and Emmy-winning actress. "I'm the one running the show now, completely on my own, and if something happens to me, what happens to my kids?"

Smart and Gilliland share two children, a teenager, Forrest, and a grown son, Connor: "My youngest has just turned 15. He's still in school, and it's frightening to think of your kids having to possibly deal with things without you."

As concerned as she is about caring for her kids, "they take very good care of me," she says. "My oldest son lives with us right now. He's been helping me a lot since we lost his dad, and so it's been very nice to have him around. I don't know how single working mothers do it. I really truly don't!"

Jean Smart and her son, Forrest, at the 2021 Emmy Awards.
Jean Smart and her son, Forrest, at the 2021 Emmy Awards.

Thinking about her kids pushed her to take her heart symptoms more seriously earlier this year, she says. "If I hadn't been in the position of being a single mom, I'm not sure I would have pursued that as quickly as I did," she says. "I wasn't feeling right after working on some scenes in the show [Hacks] and just thought, 'Oh, don't be stupid. Make an appointment with your doctor.' It was pretty serious and unexpected and scary, but I had fabulous medical help, so it went to plan."

Related: Jean Smart 'Is Doing Fantastic' After Surgery and the 'Hacks' Cast Will Have 'a Dirty Martini' in Her Honor

Smart hopes other people will take their own health just as seriously, so she is partnering with Pfizer on a campaign to remind the public to be prepared in case of COVID sickness.

Know Plan Go is "a simple approach," she says. "It's sort of like if you live in Southern California, you prepare for the risk of an earthquake. Know Plan Go is knowing what your COVID risks are, having a plan in mind ahead of time and then going to get help fast from your health professional."

Smart, who is at higher risk for complications from the virus because she has diabetes, says she knows people are feeling COVID fatigue, but "it hasn't gone away — and 75 percent of American adults have at least one risk factor."

She came down with the virus for the first time in January: "I had been sort of cocky about the fact that I had gone through the previous couple of years unscathed, but I contracted it at the Golden Globes. So I know how important it was for me to be know my risks and be prepared."

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