Malcolm in the Middle won seven Emmy Awards, achieved huge ratings and is widely regarded as one of the greatest sitcoms of the 21st century. Tragically, though, its leading man can no longer remember his time on the hit show. Here’s how life has been unkind to Frankie Muniz.
Well before Muniz went through his run of bad luck, however, he was on track to become an acting success. He made his screen debut aged just 12 in TV movie To Dance with Olivia, for example. Roles in Hallmark production What the Deaf Man Heard and romcom Lost & Found then followed. And, in 1999, the up-and-coming star would then land the role that would change his life forever.
Indeed, as the titular character of Fox sitcom Malcolm in the Middle, Muniz became a household name virtually overnight. Screened in January 2000, the show’s first episode attracted an incredible 23 million viewers. And a year after that, Muniz picked up an Emmy nomination for his portrayal of the snarky child genius.
Malcolm in the Middle would eventually last for seven seasons before wrapping up in 2006. During his time on the show, however, Muniz seemed to be gearing up for a future on the silver screen. He took leading roles in My Dog Skip, Big Fat Liar and two Agent Cody Banks films, for instance, and also made a memorable cameo as Cher’s boyfriend in Farrelly brothers flick Stuck on You.
In fact, Muniz would eventually reveal that he knew that Malcolm in the Middle had a shelf life. And he told MTV as much in 2005. “The only thing is with our show, it’s not the kind that can continue on forever,” he said to the network. “And I think I’d rather have a great end rather than them telling us not to come back because nobody is watching, you know?”
Fortunately for Muniz, though, he seemed to be well placed to make the leap from TV to movies. Just ten days after the Malcolm in the Middle finale aired, for instance, the actor’s first venture into horror, Stay Alive, hit theaters. And in the months that followed, fans would also see him in roles in My Sexiest Year, Criminal Minds and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. But then Muniz switched his attention to race-car driving, and the number of parts he took on slowed down considerably.
That foray into racing, moreover, saw Muniz land a contract with Jensen Motorsport and compete 14 times in the 2006 Formula BMW USA championship season. Then, following 12 Champ Car Atlantic Series races, he moved to Pacific Coast Motorsports, where he finished 11th in the 2008 Atlantic Championship. And, in 2009, the one-time actor also placed top ten in every race in which he competed for Team Stargate Worlds.
Muniz returned to acting in 2011, though, with a leading role in superhero movie Pizza Man. He later added Blast Vegas and Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! to his filmography. What’s more, he would showcase his musical talents, too, as a drummer for bands You Hang Up and Kingsfoil.
However, in 2012 Muniz was hospitalized after sadly suffering a mini-stroke; and the star would appear on Good Morning America later that year to talk about the experience. “I couldn’t say words,” he recalled on the show. “I thought I was saying them. My fiancée was looking at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.”
And almost 12 months to the day after his first mini-stroke, Muniz took to Twitter to reveal that he’d had yet another one. “Hopefully that will be the last. Miserable,” he wrote. Sadly, though, the star would experience a dozen such transient ischemic attacks over the next few years.
Loss of peripheral vision, numbness and an inability to recognize people are just some of the symptoms of Muniz’s mini-strokes. Unfortunately, though, the actor told People magazine that even though he’s undergone multiple tests to find the cause of his health issues, he hasn’t received any firm diagnoses. “I got so tired of trying to find an answer that I don’t think I’ll search for an answer anymore,” he said to the magazine in 2017. “I’ve accepted it.”
And while Muniz once stated that he hadn’t experienced any long-lasting problems from his various mini-strokes, that doesn’t seem to be totally the case. That’s because, while he was competing on Dancing with the Stars in 2017, he made a heart-breaking admission: he can hardly remember appearing on the hit show that launched him to fame.
Furthermore, Muniz believes that his mini-strokes, in which the brain’s blood supply is cut off, have impacted on his memories. “It makes me a little sad,” he explained on Dancing with the Stars. “Things pop back into my mind [that] I should have remembered. I should have remembered going to Australia. That’s something people remember.”
Muniz then expanded on the issues facing him while speaking to DWTS host Tom Bergeron. “It’s weird when I talk to family or friends or people who I’ve worked with and they bring up things that I don’t quite grasp unless I see pictures and videos and stuff,” he said. The actor also revealed that his partner Paige helps by documenting their experiences in a journal.
Muniz also acknowledged, however, that the nine concussions that he’s endured since his early childhood may be partly responsible for his memory loss, too. And the star has certainly developed a reputation for being injury-prone, having fractured 38 bones during the last ten years alone. For instance, in 2009 he broke his back, four ribs, ankle and hand during a serious race-track accident.
However, on DWTS, Muniz would also receive some kind words of support about his memory loss from his former on-screen dad Bryan Cranston. “I told him not to worry about what you remember and what you don’t remember,” Cranston said. “They’re still your experiences. That will be my job. I will tell him, ‘Remember this? Remember that from Malcolm? What a life for you.’”
And Muniz ended up selecting 2017 as his most memorable year to date because he has “learned to live in the present.” He later told DWTS, “I’m happy with my acting career, I’m happy the decision I made to drive race cars and to focus on music. Even if I don’t remember it all, I’m happy.”
Muniz’s contentment with his life, then, has made the sympathetic response to his revelation a strange thing to deal with. “I consider myself to be in an amazing place,” he said to Entertainment Weekly after speaking out on Dancing with the Stars. “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.’”
Indeed, it appears as if Muniz certainly isn’t allowing his health issues to hold him back. As well as appearing on DWTS, he also has three films in post-production: Another Day in Paradise, The Black String and Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink 2. And he also now manages rock band Astro Lasso to boot. Let’s hope, then, that we continue to see a lot more of the star in the future.