Wayne Gretzky's dad lauds TV flick

Walter (Tom McCamus) celebrates one of his son's goals in Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story...

Walter (Tom McCamus) celebrates one of his son's goals in Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story (tomorrow at 8 p.m. on the CBC).

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:14 AM ET

Walter Gretzky said it wasn't all that weird to watch a dramatic portrayal of his own life. That's because there are huge chunks of Walter's life that he just doesn't remember.

Walter has moved forward with great positivity, but he has accepted the fact that a certain portion of his past is gone forever.

"Most of the time from the early '70s to the end of the '90s doesn't exist for me," said Walter, who suffered a serious brain aneurysm in 1991.

"Not all of it, but a lot of it. Some of those things I don't remember that I did. I only can go by what they're telling me."

Be that as it may, Walter could not be more complimentary of veteran Canadian actor Tom McCamus, who plays Walter in the two-hour CBC made-for-TV movie Waking Up Wally: The Walter Gretzky Story (tomorrow, 8 p.m.).

"(McCamus) is such a sincere person and you can tell he's a professional actor," said Walter, famous father of Wayne Gretzky, who, of course, is even more famous.

"When we first met, for example, we shook hands and said hi to each other. And then, I'll never forget, (McCamus) walked toward me, he was about four inches from my face, and then he completely walked around me in a circle.

"He was studying me, my facial expressions, my reactions. I was like, 'What are you doing? Get away!' I didn't know that's what these professional actors do. But he's such a wonderful person."

McCamus even started videotaping Walter. But it was for a noble purpose, not an episode of Punk'd.

"Sometimes I would use what I had taped as a guide," McCamus recalled. "It always was hard for me to talk to Walter, because I wanted to just watch him, to see what he did.

"But now, after it's over, I went to his celebrity golf tournament last summer and I hung out with him there. I'm enjoying just sort of hanging out with him and not having to play him."

Waking Up Wally chronicles Walter's post-aneurysm struggles and triumphs. Walter hopes the show will remind the victims of such tragedies, and their families, that while life may never be the same, life can go on.

"I visit a lot of hospitals and I see people who've had strokes and aneurysms," Walter said. "They're lying in their beds, their loved ones are standing there crying, and I say to them, 'Look at me. In 1991 I wasn't supposed to live the night. I wasn't supposed to see morning. Here I am, all these years later, I'm alive, and I walk around like everybody else.' I say, 'You can get better, but you have to want to get better, and you have to work hard at it.' "

Speaking of hard work, it was a challenge for McCamus to play someone like Walter, who is so well-known across Canada. McCamus also had to do some research on what happens to victims of aneurysms, both physically and mentally.

"Walter's therapist talked to me a lot about what Walter went through," McCamus said. "And my mother had, not really a stroke, but the same kind of thing a year before. My father had gone through some things, too. So I've sort of been around it. But you have to put them all together and make them work.

"Also, while we were shooting, particularly with the early part of the movie, there would be a couple of nurses around who would say, 'That one worked,' or, 'That one didn't.' "

McCamus and Gretzky were together when they watched the finished copy of Waking Up Wally for the first time, at a film festival in Calgary.

"I sat right beside Walter and we watched it together, so that was a bit of a stress," McCamus admitted. "But every time something worked, he would kind of nudge me in the ribs. He liked it a lot."

The notably down-to-earth Walter chuckled at the notion of anyone feeling uncomfortable around him.

"(McCamus) truly, truly was nervous," Walter said, the amazement evident in his voice. "He's a very humble person.

"But I'd give him a left elbow, to say he did a good job."

There was no penalty on the play.

Walking the links on the road to recovery

Walter Gretzky says his shaky short-term memory has improved his golf game.

"People think I cheat, but I just don't remember," Gretzky said with a laugh.

Gretzky, whose life story is the subject of a CBC movie that will air on Sunday night, suffered a serious brain aneurysm in 1991. He said his attitude toward golf has changed dramatically since then.

"I never golfed much in my life prior to my aneurysm," Gretzky said. "I worked at Bell Canada and we had a golf tournament every year that I'd go to, but I hated it. I thought it was the stupidest game in the world. Hit a little ball, walk a mile, hit it again.

"But part of my therapy when I got out of the hospital was they would take me golfing, just for the exercise. And now, believe it or not, I would go every day, from morning till night."

Gretzky said he couldn't care less about his score. Mostly, it's about the walking.

"I remember being between those two parallel bars that you hold onto in the hospital, and all I could do was move my hips back and forth -- I couldn't raise my legs," Walter recalled. "I was crying so hard, because I couldn't believe I couldn't walk.

"So walking is precious to me. I appreciate every little step -- and every big step, too."

McCamus not a hockey nut

Being a hockey nut was not a prerequisite for the role of Walter Gretzky.

"I wasn't, actually," said veteran Canadian actor Tom McCamus, who plays Gretzky in the CBC movie Waking Up Wally.

"I don't skate very well. I never played hockey as a kid. I grew up in Winnipeg, so I guess I should have. But my wife is a big fan and a lot of her brothers were hockey players. So I watch hockey, but I sort of just watch the playoffs."

The movie focuses on Walter's recovery from a brain aneurysm in 1991.

"I knew who Walter was and I had seen him on TV," McCamus said. "But I certainly didn't know anything about what had happened to him. It wasn't until I read the script that I found out about it."

McCamus said his goal was to capture the essence of Walter and let the tale of hard work and hope tell itself.

"I don't really look like Walter and I don't sound like him," McCamus said. "But you get caught up in the story more than you get caught up in whether the person actually looks exactly like him. And the story is the most important thing."


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