Living a Black Belt Life

Too busy to retire, Gerry Hennessey sees the coming decades as an adventure. Photo: Rob Gilbert

For some, turning 55 may seem like the beginning of a downhill slope, but for the multi-talented Gerry Hennessey it was an exciting turning point.

“It started with a question from my son,” says Gerry, “who asked me what I planned to do for the next 45 years, and I replied, ‘everything.’

After being in the real estate business for 25 years, and feeling uninspired, I wanted to kick-start my brain by studying something I was really interested in, so I enrolled at a local college to study biological psychology.”

The topic choice was a natural one since Gerry had a long-standing fascination with psychology and human behaviour. “This was a way of finding some answers to a question that had challenged me for many years,” he shares, “Is there a link between our thinking and stress-related illness? I have always been interested in how a positive attitude positively impacts health. And, if so, the opposite must also be true. My readings showed that three out of four hospital beds are occupied by someone with an emotionally-induced illness.”

Born and raised in Dublin, Gerry immigrated to Canada via Liverpool in 1980 with his wife, two children, and life savings. Within two years, he had lost the savings due to poor business decisions from a lack of Canadian business experience. Viewing his mistakes as learning opportunities, Gerry started over – this time as a sales rep for Montreal Jewelry Company. Then, the company closed suddenly, leaving Gerry to start over… again.

Ever resilient, Gerry turned to working as a consultant for jewelry stores to help turn failing businesses around. He was asked to write a book about his success at doing this, but instead recorded an audio cassette program on successful retailing, which then led to motivational speaking on self-development and business management. Recognizing the degree of stress in the business world, Gerry also wrote a corporate stress management program called “Leprechauns Don’t Take Prozac.” But then it was time for a change and, in 1988, Gerry joined his wife, Margaret, who was already a realtor, in the real estate business.

Before he turned 55, Gerry also wanted to celebrate this next phase of life with a new physical challenge. He had already spent over 40 years in the martial arts. “After many years of studying aikido, I had earned a black belt and now had a chance to move up one more step,” says Gerry, “and some months later, my persistence was rewarded with the honour of a 2nd degree black belt.”

Perseverance has been a cornerstone in Gerry’s life and, once again, paid off when he decided he wanted to pursue an acting career.

“I had always wanted to be on a movie set and have the director call ‘action’ and that word be directed at me,” he says, “but I was rejected by 12 agents before I was taken on. ‘No experience’ was the usual reply. However, you don’t get to this age without being familiar with rejection, so I kept going. It took 50 auditions before I booked a commercial (which he got, by the way, because of his ability to do dialects — the role was a Russian president). The acting business is a gruelling one and an actor’s life, if lucky, is countless auditions, punctuated by the occasional booking.”

Actor Gerry Hennessey on the set of Hero Call

Fortunately for Gerry, the commercial was just the start. Over the years, he successfully landed roles in independent movies; was cast in a supportive role for a movie nominated for six Leo awards; acted opposite Linda Gray of Dallas fame; and, with his card manipulation expertise, was brought in as a hand double and technical advisor to Mark Hamill (Luke Skywalker) on an episode of The Flash TV series.

The movie and TV business primarily targets an 18-49 demographic, so the older an actor is, the fewer the roles available. Refusing to be deterred, Gerry says, “Now I frequently work as a background actor. As a member of ACTRA, I get treated well on set and paid accordingly, so I’m happy to be the silent actor as I can honestly say I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame, and more.”

Another of Gerry’s mid-life endeavours is MindEffex, a magic/mentalism program he devised in 2002 using creative mental effects to entertain audiences. Gerry has always believed each of us is gifted beyond our knowledge with hidden depths and talents to explore, irrespective of age.

“What if I could prove to you right now that you have a 6th sense?” questions Gerry. “Ever had the experience where you’re sitting somewhere and become aware that somebody is staring at you, and when you turn around you confirm it is true? What alerted you? Another sense perhaps? Of course it is. In MindEffex shows, like all magicians,” he continues, “I create the illusion of the impossible – or is it? Everything that I do to entertain the audience is the product of creative thinking.”

“I’d been interested in magic for years and, in the early ’90s, I joined the International Brotherhood of Magicians,” he says. “That started me on a serious study of close-up magic, which led to gambling and card magic that I still regularly perform. For those interested in poker and card games, I demonstrate the art of the card shark and how you can get cheated by the sleight of hand of a skilled card cheat.”

Actor Gerry Hennessey on the set of Hero Call

During his magic performances, Gerry does a routine called “Blind Luck,” where he is able to deal any requested royal flush, in sequence, from a thoroughly shuffled card deck. “What makes it unique,” says Gerry, “is that I perform it blindfolded. It took me years to learn this skill and I don’t think it has ever been performed by another magician.”

Last year, Gerry developed another program, Motivational Mental Arts: The Black Belt Brain, which teaches skills to maximize brain capacity and mental sharpness.

“I realized that cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s-type diseases are on the rise with an aging population. Who would have thought we would live this long? When I read that 50,000 Canadians under 60 are dealing with this, I was shocked. I’ve been a lifelong advocate for health and fitness,” Gerry continues, “and many companies provide fitness programs for staff, however, nowhere did I find a program that addressed how to maintain a healthy brain. I wanted to make this a one-hour TED-style presentation that would inform and entertain. After all, the mind can only absorb what the seat can endure!”

Despite his many talents and accomplishments, at 70, Gerry says he’s still evolving. “It’s said that a shark (or indeed a card shark!), must keep moving or it dies,” quips Gerry. “The great Canadian Christopher Plummer when asked about retirement said: ‘To me, retirement would mean death.’ As I approach 71, I am bringing 70 years of life experience with me, and I wonder where all that may lead? I like to think of the next decades as an unfolding adventure,” he continues. “Besides, who knows of what we are still capable? My father died at age 56, long before the age of technology and the advance of medical science. Today, our grandchildren can likely sail past the 100 age mark.”

Unlike some, Gerry embraces changing technology. “To look back over 70 years and see what has transpired over my lifetime is nothing short of breathtaking,” says Gerry. “My father, back in Ireland, used to start the car sometimes with a ‘starting handle.’ My modern car has a screen that talks to me and gives me accurate directions. Technology is an ongoing joy to explore. For example, who would have thought that my iPhone could accurately read my pulse after a workout to measure my level of fitness? Or that my entire business can be effectively performed from this small device in my pocket?”

To make his point, Gerry shares a story about receiving a call from his agent and being asked to go to a late-call audition. He couldn’t make it, but the casting director still wanted him to audition. So his agent e-mailed him the script, he memorized it, used the camera on his phone to shoot the scene, edited it with the MovieMaker app, and e-mailed it back. “My iPhone saved the day,” he says. “I didn’t get the part, but I didn’t have to pass up on the opportunity either.”

“Bucket list” is a term that has worn thin for many people these days, Gerry being one of them. “I personally hate the term and have changed the first letter to more accurately reflect how I feel (you can probably figure out the word by now!).”

Nonetheless, Gerry shares his long-term goals and says health is a priority. “I have a tip for those in our age group regarding gyms,” he says, “Join one that has young people. They will inspire you and keep you thinking with a younger frame of mind.”

“I also intend to keep going with MindEffex shows and private parties. For those who remember Kreskin, he is 82 and still performing. The interest being shown in the Black Belt Brain program is encouraging, too. And as long as my agent is calling, I will be in the movie business. My darling 10-year-old granddaughter, Edie, has been cast in a major TV series and to act on set with her would be a joy.”

“Travel-wise,” Gerry continues, “I will visit my home country of Ireland and retrace my roots. A trip to the Smithsonian to note man’s achievements and history is a goal, too.” The final thing is a book, which Gerry is writing about exploding the myth of retirement finance.

With so many amazing accomplishments, what legacy does Gerry want to leave the world? “That would really be a three-part answer,” he says thoughtfully. “Firstly, I am donating my body to medical science, and I’d like to think that my doing so may, even in the smallest way, contribute to needed research. As a mentalist and entertainer,” he continues, “I would like audiences to have had a fun time and be left asking not ‘how was that done?’ but rather what they, themselves, may be capable of. However,” Gerry states emphatically, “the ultimate legacy would be to leave my wife with hopefully some happy memories of the crazy guy she married almost 40 years ago.”

“I hope I can inspire a 55-year old to realize that today you could conceivably have another 45 years of quality life,” says Gerry, “and that it’s not too late to follow your heart. I tend to think in terms of living a Black Belt Life, meaning that anything I undertake is always done to the best of my abilities.”

Snapshot with Gerry Hennessey:

If you were to meet your 20-year-old self, what advice would you give him?
“Many things in life will catch your eye. Only follow those that catch your heart.”

Who or what has influenced you the most? And why?
“Two people: My amazing wife, Margaret, whose support and encouragement in all my sometimes crazy endeavours was without criticism and always with unconditional commitment and love. The other, Jim Rohn, a businessman, speaker and business philosopher, who inspired me to see life in so many interesting ways and provided the business acumen to make a lot of often correct business decisions.”

What does courage mean to you?
“Recognizing that if you live to be 100, it’s only 1,200 months and there is simply no time to waste in pursuing what you want or experiencing all that life still has to offer. As Yoda of *Star Wars* said, ‘Try? There is no try, only do.’”

What does success mean to you?
“Having health, love and no regrets of having tried. I am not religious, but I recall from years ago a well-known pastor was asked to describe what he thought Hell was like. His reply, ‘Hell would be standing before your Maker and having him tell you all you might have accomplished if only you had tried.’”

Gerry’s personal philosophies:
On Business – “Every discipline affects every other discipline. You can’t straighten out the corporation if your closet is a mess.” (Jim Rohn quote)
On Life – “Life is a tapestry and your job is to put as many colours on it before they wrap you up and bury you in it.”
On The Mind – “Your mind is never blank. If it were, how would you know?” (Ed Foreman quote)

For more info on Gerry, go to:
Spies, Lies & Mindgames program about the Cold War

1 Comment

  1. Jim Neill

    I went to school with gerry hennessey in dublin way back..i remember his mother..a lovely kind person..what an amazing guy


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