Frankie Muniz got his first concussion at age 7 while playing goalie in a soccer game.
The next one came when he tripped and fell on his head during basketball. Two more occurred during pee-wee football around 7th grade, and he’s not sure when the rest followed — though he does recall getting a few while racing cars in his early 20s after starring on Malcolm in the Middle.
All told, Muniz has suffered from nine concussions — a revelation he made during Monday’s episode of Dancing With the Stars. But his shocking admission, which also included his matter-of-fact pronouncement that he doesn’t remember starring in the popular Fox sitcom, only grazed the surface. In a candid interview with EW after Monday’s show, Muniz said he’s been in and out of ERs and doctors offices after suffering from “at least” 15 transient ischemic attacks (or TIAs), otherwise known as mini-strokes that involve a temporary clot or blockage in the brain.
His first one hit in 2012 when he was riding his motorcycle. He lost his peripheral vision but miraculously made it home alive, though he barely recognized his then girlfriend and mom. He couldn’t understand what they were trying to say.
He went to an ER, but answers were scarce. And they would remain that way.
“By that point, I already had nine concussions,” recalls Muniz. “But concussions don’t usually correlate with TIAs. The doctors did every test. A lot of times with TIAs, there’s a small hole in heart that causes it. Clots go to the brain and you have a mini-stroke. I don’t have that hole.”
In fact, Muniz says, he’s always been a healthy guy. “I’m 31, I’ve never sipped alcohol, I’ve never touched a drug or taken a drag of a cigarette. The only thing I’ve felt was stress. I’m a high-strung person. I just like to always be moving. I’m not good at relaxing.”
Muniz says he gave up trying to get answers, particularly because it hasn’t hindered his zest to try new things. After Malcolm ended in 2006, he raced cars professionally for several years before changing direction and playing drums in two different rock bands. He now manages one in his spare time and hopes to return to acting.
“It’s not something I think about. I don’t go, ‘Oh man I’m really scared, I really need to know,'” Muniz says of the TIAs. “I just move forward.”
He’s equally as nonchalant about his lack of memory, like how he doesn’t remember the feeling of receiving his first Emmy nomination in 2001 for his work on Malcolm. In fact, that’s the moment that DWTS wanted to focus on Monday as part of its “Most Memorable Year” theme. But Muniz was unable to play along since he doesn’t remember much from those six years on the sitcom, much less getting a nomination for the show.
“They were going to ask me those questions and I told them, ‘To be honest, I don’t remember going to the Emmys when I was nominated.’ I don’t have any stories or anything cool for the package,” says Muniz. “I don’t specifically remember being nominated, or what I felt, or what we did. My mom told me we went to the dentist that day.”
Since Monday’s episode, Muniz says he’s received lots of messages from old friends wanting to check on his status. “It’s a weird thing for me because I’m not sick,” says Muniz, who relies on his mom to fill in the blanks from his childhood and a girlfriend who keeps a daily diary. “I’m not looking for sympathy or anyone to care about it. This is my life and I’ve moved forward. It doesn’t stop me from being anywhere I want to be. I’ve been so lucky and fortunate in my life to be able to do all the things I’ve gotten to do. I’ve literally had three dream jobs and I’m still continuing. And now I’m dancing on TV. I consider myself to be in an amazing place. So it’s weird when people are like, ‘oh I’m sorry you are going through this but in my head I’m like, ‘I’m living pretty good.'”
“I don’t see it as a negative,” Muniz continues. “I see my life as 100 percent positive.”
Next Monday, Muniz and his partner Witney Carson will perform the Argentine tango during Disney Night on Dancing with the Stars.