Last fall, when media and technology oracle Jason Hirschhorn was launching his much-anticipated REDEF site—a cunningly curated collection of mixed-media newsletters covering everything from fashion to music and supported to the tune of $2.25 million by top-tier investors like Jeffrey Katzenberg, James Murdoch and Mark Cuban—it was pretty clear that Hirschhorn was headed for a new adventure.
“I look at him, and see how thoughtful he is and how smart he is, and I think, that’s someone who’s about to hit an inflection point,” Sarah Lacy, editor in chief of the influential tech site PandoDaily, said back then. “He doesn’t think he’s done his Big Thing yet, and he’s really hungry.”
Well, Hirschhorn—whose career has spanned being the chief digital officer of MTV Networks, the co-president of MySpace, and becoming a multimillionaire before he turned 30—has indeed hit his inflection point. What’s more, he has done his Big Thing.
Surprisingly, however, in ways that even an oracle couldn’t have predicted, it had zero to do with media or tech.
A little over two weeks ago, at the tender age of 44, he underwent quadruple bypass surgery.
He is only now beginning to recover and digest the meaning of it all, while taking his first tentative walks in Los Angeles, where he has been under the care of family and friends, and trying to reboot his life and change his workaholic ways.
“For the past year I haven’t felt 100 percent (or 50 percent). I think you’ve seen my complaints about sleep and exhaustion,” he wrote in an August 17 “rantnrave,” as he calls his missives to his subscribers, announcing that his Media REDEF blog was about to go on hiatus. “A few weeks ago I had some tests that revealed I had coronary disease. I’m on my way just this minute to CEDARS SINAI in LOS ANGELES where I will have heart surgery this afternoon.” (He likes to render brand names, indeed every name, in all-caps.)
Hirschhorn, a native New Yorker, continued: “I got out to LA about two weeks ago to jump start a healthier lifestyle. It’s easier out here. It was a stop on my way to ASPEN for a friend’s wedding, some rest and a hike with my friend KARYN. After taking the “nuclear stress test” the doctors immediately stopped me from traveling. That altitude and exercise likely would have killed me. My doctor saved my life. I messed up big time.”
He added that he suffers from Type 2 diabetes and has been living on the edge—working long hours, sleeping and eating badly, not getting exercise—ever since his mother, Susan, a former clothing executive, died of cancer early last year at 68. It was a devastating blow since they were very close; she inspired him as a kid to immerse himself in art and culture, and his REDEF startup is dedicated to her.
“[A]pparently, if you read the directions on the box you’re not supposed to eat the whole pizza, go figure,” he quipped, owning up to his unhealthy habits. “Whatever it was to not deal with that trauma and pain…I got lucky where others have not. Another chance. My surgeon, ALFREDO TRENTO is one of the best in the country and he’s taken the time to explain the procedure so I’m less anxious and scared.”
Hirschhorn has bragging rights over the fact that the Italian-born surgeon who opened his chest cavity—and performed a laborious, meticulous and complicated procedure that involves grafting healthy blood vessels from other parts of the body onto perilously blocked arteries—had done the same thing years ago to former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.
“By all accounts he’s a ‘rock star’ and I’ll use that expression if it helps me here,” Hirschhorn wrote about Trento. “I’ve asked only two things of him. First, that he not watch Sunday TV and go to bed early. HBO and SHOWTIME are great, but I’d prefer he watch that on VOD after I’m out of the ICU. Second, in a career of stellar work and healing my wish is that this be his best surgery.”
As he made his way toward the operating table, Hirshhorn concluded: “I’m scared. But starting tomorrow and for a few weeks, I’m no longer the driver, just a passenger. This isn’t a natural thing. I’m having visions of JOHN HURT in ALIEN.
But medical technology is amazing…I want to live. I want to travel. See more TV and movies. Listen to more music (U2 in Europe). Love my nieces, nephew and godchildren. Have my own family. Laugh with my friends. Play sports. Sit on a
beach. Help people…I’ve got a lot more to do. It’s not over. Just a little catnap. See you on the other side of this. Love…”
A week went by before Hirschhorn broke his radio silence. The surgery, he reported, went well, and he was recuperating at the home of his sister Jody and her family.
“It’s a very emotional time and the real physical and mental rehab start now,” he wrote. “So many things need to change, my thinking is likely the most. Your notes and well wishes meant more to me than I can currently express. I knew I loved many people but was never sure I was loved. I know that now and it’s a warm feeling…Family, friendship and your support got me through the hardest week of my life.”
He added: “The saddest day of all this was when the doctor diagnosed me and I sat in his office numb, hearing muted, not really there. He said: ‘Do you have any family you could call and have them go through this with you?’ I walked out stunned. I had not spoken with my sister for almost exactly a year when they brought me into surgery last week. She stood by me unconditionally.”
In subsequent rantnraves, Hirschhorn noted that it was “tough to get my walks in” in the “scorching” LA weather—“but did a half mile a week after surgery”—and thanked friends who sent him videos: Showtime CEO Matt Blank for Ray Donovan Season 3, CBS’s Leslie Moonves for the Magnum P.I. canon, and the Tribeca Film Festival’s Jane Rosenthal for a collection of silent movie classics, among many other gifts from high-powered execs.
He also recorded the loyal attentiveness of his former business partner, Blake Krikorian, who accompanied him to medical consultations, as well as visits from former MTV Networks chief Judy McCrath and former Bravo CEO Lauren.
Zalaznick who, “never one to mince words…delivered some needed life adjustment advice in an honest and blunt way.”
And on Wednesday, he wrote: “Post surgery I’m going through a ton of emotions. I may move at 1 mph but my head is spinning at 10,000 mph. Ups to downs…Big day today, hoping for stitches out around midday and if all good, off to the calming waves of MALIBU which may have a positive impact on my sleep problems.”
And Thursday, Hirschhorn reported: “Stitches out. Chest wound going to take some more time. I can start driving next week…Getting back to normal sleep patterns is a must. Alone in the middle of the night is a lonely place.”
Feel better soon, Jason.