Marilu Henner has an uncanny memory for dates, especially the date when she first met Michael Brown.
It was Oct. 9, 1970. They were first-year students at the University of Chicago.
"The doorbell rang, I walked to the door, and Michael filled the doorway," Henner said, "and his presence was amazing."
Unfortunately, Brown was not there to see Henner. He was picking up her roommate for a date. "I wish I had met him first," Henner said.
But that brief encounter was just the beginning of a story that would span three decades of chance meetings, missed opportunities, and, ultimately, a life-and-death struggle.
Henner is an actress best known for her work in the television series "Taxi" and "Evening Shade," as well as the stage musical "Chicago." She is perhaps better known to millions of readers for her best-selling health and fitness books, including "Total Health Makeover." She also has a strong presence on the Internet, where she is a featured expert delivering daily advice on a number of sites, including her own Marilu.com, FitTV and a subscription-based service at iamplify.com.
Her friends and family are routinely enveloped in the infectious energy and uncommon detail that the slim, magnetic, 5-foot-7-inch redhead applies to every aspect of her life, ensuring that luck has as little to do with it as possible.
"She loves to organize," said her 13-year-old son, Nick Lieberman. "It's like my mother is a ball rolling down a hill and she just picks up everything!"
Brown, cool and imposing, with an easy smile and the looks of a leading man, was an adventurer. He and Henner remained friends in college, but never dated. When his college days were over, he set out to sea in the Merchant Marine and eventually established a business in Brazil, where he married.
Henner plunged headfirst into show business. As she was enjoying her television stardom — and, at the age of 28, was about to marry her first husband, actor Frederick Forrest — another one of those memorable dates involving Brown cropped up.
"This was September the 26th of 1980. It was a Friday," Henner said, "and I was sitting in this tiny little room [in New Orleans] getting a marriage license. I looked out the doorway for a split second, and Michael crossed the doorway. I hadn't seen him in eight years, but because of his physical presence — nobody else looked like him — I knew it was him instantly."
Only recently had Brown found out that Henner had become a television star on "Taxi."
"I had no idea," Brown said. "I'd never seen it. I'd been in Brazil."
The old friends fell out of touch once again, and more than two decades passed before another opportunity arose. Henner had divorced after a second marriage, this time to director Robert Lieberman. She was on the verge of another birthday when her friend Sharon Feldstein gave her an unusual gift: a visit to a psychic.
"I believe in luck and superstition," said Feldstein.
Henner welcomed the diversion. "I mentioned somebody that I was seeing, and [the psychic] said, 'That's not the person for you. I feel around you, very powerfully, an M, like a Mark or a Michael or a Matthew.'"