Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Encore Presentation: Interview with Louise Ashby

Aired August 24, 2002 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, she was a stunning beauty, but her looks were shattered by a horrible car crash.
Rebuilding her face took a dozen surgeries and more than 230 tiny metal plates.

Reclaiming her life an even tougher fight. Louise Ashby, actress and activist and living proof that true beauty is more than skin deep. She'll share her powerful story next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Our special guest tonight -- a great pleasure to have her with us -- is an amazing story. She's Louise Ashby, the actress and model who was terribly disfigured in a 1992 car crash. Her face and skull rebuilt over 10 years, author of the new memoir "Magic of the Mask." She's a spokeswoman for the non-profit organization Facing Forward. What is Facing Forward?

LOUISE ASHBY, DISFIGURED FACE REBUILT WITH METAL PLATES: Facing Forward is a charity that Doctor Kawamoto and myself have founded to...

KING: He's the plastic surgeon...

ASHBY: He's the plastic surgeon that rebuilt my face -- well, he did a lot of the surgeries on my face -- and Facing Forward is a charity to help people who are going through disfigurement, or who have -- it's basically for children who were born with birth defects.

KING: Help them emotionally and physically?

ASHBY: Well, we want to offer programs to help the parents emotionally, to help the children emotionally, to do like a makeup program for young girls, with either MAC (ph) or Cinema Secrets, that can cover up those scars and bruises and dents, just to cushion their journey to recovery, and also to -- we want to raise enough money for people who can't afford to have surgeries -- for children who can't afford to have surgeries -- to have surgery.

KING: Good idea. "Magic of the Mask" is the story of you and what happened to you?

ASHBY: Yes. It starts off the day I had the accident, and then it goes to my mother dying and then me coming back to -- coming to Los Angeles.

KING: You were raised in?

ASHBY: I was born in Australia but I was raised in England.

KING: And did you come here already a model in England?

ASHBY: I'd been doing some modeling and some acting in England, yes. And after my mother died, I really felt like nothing else could go wrong, and this was my time to have my life.

KING: Your mother was a model?

ASHBY: She was.

KING: And she died of cancer?

ASHBY: She had leukemia.

KING: Died young?

ASHBY: forty-five.

KING: Very young.


KING: And your father?

ASHBY: My father is a theatrical agent in England. He looks after a lot of music people, too, and he's fine and healthy, and...

KING: Did he do Petula Clark?

ASHBY: Yes, he looks after Petula.

KING: I love that. He's still in England?

ASHBY: Yes. He is.

KING: Did -- are you an only child?

ASHBY: No, I'm an only child with my mother and my father, but I have four other brothers and sisters...

KING: From?

ASHBY: ...from my father's second marriage and then my mother's second marriage.

KING: I see. So you came to the United States alone?


KING: Not married or anything?


KING: Did you get work right away in the United States?

ASHBY: I met with some agents and I joined an acting class and I met with some casting directors and I was told that I was refreshing, I was leading lady material, I was talented. There would be no problem with me getting work.

And I was so excited thought, I thought, this is it. Life's going to happen for me now. I can follow my dreams and achieve everything I've ever wanted, but that wasn't to be the case.

KING: Could see why, because you could do all that now. Are you modeling now?

ASHBY: Yes, I do some, and there's talks about television show and that kind of stuff, but, you know...

KING: All right. Let's go back and let's go through it: 1992, you're 21 years old, an aspiring actress. You come to Hollywood to be an actress?


KING: It's the night of October 5. What happened?

ASHBY: I went to pick up a friend of mine who had moved here as well, from England.

KING: Girl?

ASHBY: Yes, a girlfriend of mine called Charlotte.

KING: Going from your house to...

ASHBY: Leaving my house. It was about 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon. I had the roof off down from my car. She'd had had the flu so I was basically taking her back to my house. We were going to get Chinese food on the way back and then just chill out and watch movies for the night.

KING: Just another day.

ASHBY: Just -- yes.

KING: Where were you? I mean where did this occur?

ASHBY: Basically we picked up the Chinese food...

KING: So you got her? She was in the car?

ASHBY: Yes, I picked her up and I got the Chinese food. I was living on to Doheny Drive right just above Santa Monica.

KING: In Beverly Hills.

ASHBY: Yes. I just turned onto Doheny from Sunset, and...

KING: Big intersection.

ASHBY: Yes. And -- so, also, I can't have been going very fast. Apparently -- I don't remember anything, but this is what Charlotte and everybody else has told me -- this old American car was coming on the wrong side of the road towards me.

So I started swearing and oh, my God, I've got to move the car and try to avoid hitting him, and he just carried on going straight towards me. He should have gone left onto Phyllis (ph), but he didn't and just barreled straight into the front of me.

I shot out of the seat into the corner of the windshield, smashed every bone in this side of my face, sprained my ankle really badly and, I mean, graphically, my brain was exposed. All of this was crushed. My eye was pushed into the back of my head. Charlotte could only see this side of my head, so she thought I was fine.

KING: Is some of this from her memory? What's the last thing you remember?

ASHBY: The last thing I remember was putting the Chinese food in the back of the car.

KING: So this as been described to you or pictures you've seen?


KING: She was unhurt, your friend?

ASHBY: She had whiplash, but she was, thank God, she was OK.

KING: Did they find out why the guy did that?

ASHBY: He had night blindness.

KING: But it was late afternoon.

ASHBY: Well, by the time we got there it was dusk.



KING: So it was dusk. Was he older or younger man?

ASHBY: He was a 78-year-old retired physician on his way home from Cedars (ph).

KING: Did you ever get to know him?

ASHBY: I met him once at a deposition...

KING: Lawsuit?

ASHBY: Yes, I was going out of the lawyer's office to go outside and get something, and as I opened the door, this little old man was standing there with another man who was obviously his lawyer. And I held the door open for him, and obviously he knew who I was because of how I looked at the time.

And he looked up at me with these big, sad brown eyes and he just said, I'm so sorry. And I said, it's OK. Because, you know, he didn't do it on purpose. It's not like -- that's why it's an accident. And I'm not going to resent this man for the rest of my life, because I just can't afford to do that.

KING: You must have gone into immediate shock, right? Because you don't remember -- you don't remember pain.

ASHBY: No, I don't remember pain.

KING: All right. What's the next thing you remember? You wake up where?

ASHBY: The next thing I remember is waking up, and I was in the intensive care unit at Cedars, and I saw Doctor Stephen Houghlin's (ph) head peering down...

KING: Famous...

ASHBY: The plastic surgeon, yes -- peering down on me, and his head was about that big. I guess I was seeing everything very strangely, and...

KING: Were you hurting then?

ASHBY: I don't know. I really can't remember any of it.

KING: But you remember waking up and seeing that?

ASHBY: I remember a second.

KING: Then back to sleep?

ASHBY: Then I fell back to sleep, yes.

KING: Then what's the next thing you remember?

ASHBY: The next thing I remember is my best friend Emma Gold (ph) was sitting by the bed reading a book, and I had turned my head and everything felt very stiff, and then I kind of noticed I had tubes coming out of both arms, out of my stomach, and I saw one coming out of the back of my head with blood, and then I could feel how stiff, you know, my neck and everything was.

And I noticed that there was a bandage going across the left of my head, too. And I turned to Emma, and I said are you just going to read, or you could at least read me the dirty bits, or some stupid joke like that, and she freaked out and threw the book in the air and said, don't go to sleep, don't go to sleep, and went running out to find my dad, and by the time he came into the room, I'd gone back to sleep again, so...

KING: He had come to the United States to...

ASHBY: He flew over the day...

KING: Your mother had already died?

ASHBY: Your mother had died, yes.

KING: So he stood vigil.


KING: Then what?

ASHBY: Then I looked around. So then, like a day later, I guess, I woke up more fully.

KING: When you woke up with your friend sitting there you knew you were in big -- had big problems.

ASHBY: I didn't. You know, I really didn't. It was really bizarre. I didn't ask any questions. I didn't say what's happened to me?


ASHBY: No. The only thing I noticed that was really strange was my modeling pictures were around the intensive care unit wall. And I said to Emma, why are all my pictures on the wall. And she said, oh, because, you know, this is a hospital and we wanted to make it more cheery and blah, blah, blah.

And then my dad came in a few days later, and one of the doctors, Dr. Allessi (ph), and they took some of the pictures down, and he was showing Dr. Allessi was saying, oh, that's great, that's great. And I found out later it was actually so the doctors could see what I was meant to look like.

KING: Did you see anything horrible in a mirror?

ASHBY: I saw myself in the mirror. Nobody would give me a mirror for the first two or three weeks.

KING: Figures.

ASHBY: But then I saw myself in the mirror for the first time when I'd been moved out of intensive care into my own room.

KING: What did you think?

ASHBY: Well, it wasn't the most pleasant of things to look at.

KING: Did you go nuts? I mean, you're a model. You depend on your looks.

ASHBY: At that point you can't really think about modeling or anything like that. It's more about, oh, my God, I can't have anybody see this.

KING: Let me get a break and come right back. Louise Ashby is our guest. What a story, and she's written about it in "Magic of the Mask." Don't go away.


KING: We're with Louise Ashby. How long before all this had your mother died?

ASHBY: Just about a year.

KING: So the tragedies were coming close together?

ASHBY: Oh, definitely, yes.

KING: Do you ever feel like you were stricken, like the gods were not in favor of you?

ASHBY: No. If I...

KING: No anger?

ASHBY: If I took my head to that place then I wouldn't be leaving my house.

KING: Was there a chance you could have died?

ASHBY: Yes. They called my - when Charlotte gave her dad my father's phone number my father asked to speak to the doctor. He said to the doctor, look, just tell me, if I get the plane tonight, will my daughter be alive when I get there? And The doctor said, I'm really sorry, I can't give you that answer. And if I were you I would take Concorde.

KING: OK. Tell us, medically, what you had, before we go through what they did. What was wrong with you?

ASHBY: Well, the night of the accident - oh, what was wrong with me...

KING: Yes. Altogether you had fractures?

ASHBY: No. In the X-rays of the skull you can only see the right side because the left side is gone.

KING: Gone?


KING: So you have no left side?

ASHBY: No left side. I've got this bit here but all of this is gone. The brain is exposed. Eyes all the way back in the back of my head. The ankle was really sprained. But, I mean, that's really not a big deal. So... KING: No damage in the central part of the body?


KING: Chin?

ASHBY: Chin was fine. Back and neck really, really bad. I still have...

KING: Both sides?

ASHBY: Yes. But mostly this side.

KING: Right side of the face OK?

ASHBY: Right side of the face is fine.

KING: So they did nothing here down, right?

ASHBY: Well, in the X-rays you can actually see the metal, there's metal bolts and plates on both side.

KING: I want to get to that.


KING: Are both eyes real?


KING: Did they save the left eye?

ASHBY: They saved the left eye. They did a 22-hour surgery to reconstruct the left of my face. And what they did was they rebuilt - because my eye was all the way back here, they rebuilt this side of my face, squashed up so as to save the eye and also 10 to 15 millimeters further back than this side.

KING: Good sight in the eye?

ASHBY: No, blind.

KING: You can't see, but it's there.


KING: And you're a little off, right? The right eyeball moves a little to the right and the left doesn't.

ASHBY: Does it not.

KING: No, it's not cross-eyed or anything, it's just slightly off-center.

ASHBY: It doesn't go up at all. And it used to be completely still. It wouldn't move at all. KING: What did they have to do to the nose?

ASHBY: Nothing.

KING: The nose was fine.

ASHBY: The nose was fine, yes.

KING: So that perfect nose was the same nose you had.


KING: You had to be something. What about the cheek?

ASHBY: The cheek's been rebuilt?

KING: Lips?

ASHBY: Lips are my normal lips.

KING: Chin?

ASHBY: Chin is the same.

KING: So it was largely cheeks, eye, head.

ASHBY: Yes. All this is gone.

KING: What did they replace a missing with?

ASHBY: What they do is you have three layers of skull. So they take the top lair of skull and they rebuild it with this, a metal.

KING: They use this metal in you?

ASHBY: Yes. I have got over 238 metal bolts and plates. I don't know why that's the number but...

KING: Do you go off at the airport?

ASHBY: Sometimes I do.

KING: Do you have to show them something?

ASHBY: No, I just stick my head through.

KING: They don't question you?

ASHBY: They do. They come up to me with the machine and what you and I say, no, look, it's in my head. And they don't believe me so I just stick my head through and then they see that just the head goes off.

KING: When you have that, what - do you have feelings from the metal plate? for example, do you go crazy when it rains?

ASHBY: If it's cold, my - like if I'm in England and I get really bad headaches, because, A, because of all the bone breakage and rebuilding I get arthritis in my head. But also because of the metal, the metal gets really cold and I get dull, achy pains.

KING: This was 12 years ago, right?


KING: Ten years ago. So you're 32 now, 31.

ASHBY: Thirty-one, yeah.

KING: How do you earn a living?

ASHBY: Through writing a book. I'm writing another two books. You know, the old acting job. I'm modeling here and there and now, you know, I'm in talks about having a TV show.

KING: You would star in this?


KING: About you, a real show?

ASHBY: I think it's a talk show.

KING: Oh, you'd fit that fine.

ASHBY: Yes, let's hope so.

KING: OK. Now the recovery part. The regular Steven couldn't do the plastic surgery. So tell me about this guy who comes in and rebuilds faces.

ASHBY: So I was told to go and see Dr. Kawamoto, and they told me to bring in my basic head X-rays.

KING: How long you were in the hospital?

ASHBY: When I had the accident, oh, just three weeks, which is amazing.

KING: They sent you home looking bad, then?

ASHBY: Yes. Oh, no, I was looking terrible when I went home, it was terrifying.

KING: Did you wear a mask?

ASHBY: Yes, I wore - well, at first I had to wear big, huge, huge sunglasses with really thick sides because they didn't want anything to happen to this eye. And I had to protect as much as I could of this eye, too. And I had turbins because they'd shaved my head. I had no hair and I had a scarf from ear to ear and my head was stapled together. And also my head was swollen to like the size of a watermelon. And this eye I couldn't open at all. It was completely sealed shut and this side was really kind of swollen and this side was...

KING: Were you hurting?

ASHBY: I think I must have been in a lot of pain.

KING: You don't remember?

ASHBY: I don't remember the pain, though.

KING: So someone sends you to see this particular doctor?

ASHBY: That was six months later, yes.

KING: So you live with this for a long time?

ASHBY: Yes, the last surgery I had was three or four month ago.

KING: You still keep having surgeries?

ASHBY: Well, I didn't know that I would have to, but when I saw Doctor Kawamoto, he noticed that something had slipped so I had to have surgery.

KING: Now who is Dr. Kawamoto and how did he come into your life?

ASHBY: Dr. Kawamoto is the most incredible man in the world. He basically -- Steve Houghlin (ph) told me to go and see him, and said if anyone can fix you or work on you at least, this is the man.

So I went to see Dr. Kawamoto, and he looked at my X-rays and he spoke to his associate in a language, I had no idea what it was. It was all about bones and heads and skulls, and it was really, really surreal that I was in that situation.

And I started crying when he said it's improvable but not fixable. Because I really thought that this man was going to save my life. I couldn't understand the magnitude of this accident, as much as everyone said to me...

KING: Even you had the mirror by then.

ASHBY: yes, even though people would say, You're alive and you should be dead. Don't you get it? I'd say look, I'm alive, let's just get this surgery done. I need to get back on with my life, my career, all that kind of thing. So to hear him say...

KING: This was the first major negative thing you'd heard?

ASHBY: Yes. Other than Steve Houghlin saying, no, there's nothing I can do, you know, Dr. Kawamoto suddenly saying it's improvable, not fixable was not what I was expecting to hear at all.

KING: You cried?

ASHBY: Couldn't stop crying. He takes me into another room and gives me a hug, and says look, you know, I'm going to do my very best. Please don't -- I understand you've been through a lot. Let's just take it a step at a time. It's going to take some time, and we have to do surgeries every six months.

So that began the process with him. I've had...

KING: He was not optimistic?

ASHBY: He wasn't at liberty to say I will fix you, you'll be perfect.

KING: So he didn't lend you to think that you're going to look like you look now?


KING: We'll be right back with Louise Ashby. She's written a book about all this, "Magic of the Mask." She's the spokeswoman for the non-profit organization Facing Forward. Back with more of this incredible story, down and up, right after this.


DR. HENRY KAWAMOTO, ASHBY'S SURGEON: You can do really radical procedures, uncover the whole face so that you can not see it. So on Louise what happened is that what we did was use those techniques, because she had a lot of pieces in the wrong place, and we had to put those pieces back in the right place, and in addition, she was missing pieces.




KING: We're back with Louise Ashby. After 22 hours of major reconstructive and brain surgery, the doctor told her before that we're going to have to you in for a big operation to help put you back together.

He has said -- I'll never forget -- this is the doctor talking at the hospital -- lifting up Louise's brain. There was nothing in the way. You could see the brain. The eye pulsating abnormally with every heartbeat. It was resting on her eyeball because all of the bone in between had been shattered. You even said, am I supposed to glue it back on my head?

ASHBY: About my hair, yes.

KING: Your hair. Because they shaved it all off.

ASHBY: They shaved my hair off and they came in to the intensive care unit with my hair in a freezer bag, and the nurse said, oh, I just wanted to let you know I put your hair here, and would you like to keep it? So I made some stupid joke, like, well, am I going to glue it on my head? I mean, the fact that you are offered your hair -- and it was blood encrusted hair in a bag -- I just thought was just silly.

KING: Before we get to what the doctor did, back to the hospital. What was it like those three weeks?

ASHBY: It was probably the most incredible three weeks that I could ever have experienced, because not only am I going through the realization that my life has really changed, but I am going through the moment when I collapsed on the bathroom floor after I'd seen myself in the mirror for the first time, hearing my father outside the room, the pain in his voice as he was saying, Louise, is everything OK?

To suddenly go, OK, you know what, I just lost my mother. My family's been through so much pain. I can't put them through any more pain. I'm going to have to act as if I'm fine, and just get through this and put on a brave face and make jokes.

KING: Fake it?

ASHBY: It wasn't so much faking it. It was more seeing what I'd learned from her illness and her disease and...

KING: How she handled it?

ASHBY: And she handled it so unbelievably well. She had this strength that I admired more than anybody. And I knew that I had to do the same thing.

KING: Now how did people react when they saw you for the first time, and you know what they're looking at. A friend comes into the room, your father. How did they feel? Because they can't look with a smile, right? They had to look shocked.

ASHBY: They did, yes. And a lot of people couldn't look, as well.

KING: How did that make you feel?

ASHBY: Sick. It really did. It was really hard. I think the thing that got me through was all the love and the family and the friends and the gifts and everyone wanting to do anything for me. So that was great. But after I'd seen myself in the mirror for the first time, I wanted to do whatever I could to hide my face because I had no hair at this point. They'd taken the bandages off and I just had these big huge holes from the staples and everything else. So I think I found a sheet or a towel or something and I kind of just shrouded it, just so that this eye would show.

KING: The good eye..

ASHBY: Yes. And...

KING: That had to be hard, though. ASHBY: It was hard.

KING: First it's hard to be disfigured. Second, you're a beautiful woman and here you are, not a beautiful woman. And people are seeing you and you see their shock. It's the kind of shock you would have shown looking at a beautiful person. It's normal.

ASHBY: Yes, it is. But I wanted to shake them and say, no, please don't be upset, I'm going to be fixed, I'm going to be fine. I mean, Dr. Alessi (ph) at one point said to me, it's going to take a couple of years to fix you, Louise. And I said, no, don't be silly, I haven't got a couple of years. We have to do this as soon as possible. And then I get - if I had been told at the beginning it is going to take 10 years to fix you, I would've been like, bye-bye.

KING: Now you said, is it true, a note's here that you had a conversation with a nurse, you said one night you told the nurse your mother had died of leukemia a year earlier and you wondered whether she'd gone up to heaven and her mother had sent her back?

ASHBY: Yes. I asked if she thought that my mother had sent me back, if I died and she sent me back.

KING: And the nurse said yes.

ASHBY: Absolutely, she said. You're a miracle. You are alive and you should be dead. That was my main slogan while I was in the hospital.

KING: Why are you alive? when they - obviously someone had to sit down with you one day, you lived because...

ASHBY: I lived because I didn't want to die.

KING: You think a lot of it was your own gut?

ASHBY: Definitely. I think that we all have the strength inside of us to get through anything, if we are willing to get in touch with that strength. I was never going to give up. I went through moments where it was really, really hard, of course. But I think it's the power of - you know, it's the power of the mind and the power of positive thinking, and it's the determination and the will to fight and get on with it.

KING: Have you had loss of memory? loss of things, brain difficulties?

ASHBY: Yes, I lost the front left lobe of my brain. I lost my inhibitions.

KING: Explain a little more.


KING: You have no inhibitions.


KING: You have guts about things you didn't have guts about before. You take risks.

ASHBY: No inhibitions. In the beginning when the doctor said, oh, Louise has no inhibitions, all my family panicked thinking, oh my God, Louise is going to run across the street naked.

KING: Yes.

ASHBY: But that's not what it means.

KING: What does it mean, Louise?

ASHBY: It means that - I'm really trying hold it together here. It basically means that any emotion that you feel comes straight out. You have no impulse control. So I would just say exactly what I mean.

KING: There's no cut-off switch between the brain and mouth?

ASHBY: No, so normally when you are...

KING: And If you feel sad, you cry.


KING: Happy, laugh out loud.

ASHBY: Exactly.

KING: Did you notice that fairly quickly? And that was different from where you were, right?

ASHBY: Oh, immediately. Well, a lot of my friends said, well, you never really had any inhibitions anyway. But, no, I definitely noticed it straight away. I said things in the hospital room that, you know, I was thinking and suddenly I said them. And my father would say, Louise, I cannot believe you just said that. And I'd be like, I didn't mean to, it just came out.

KING: Did you curse?

ASHBY: It's not so much cursing. It was more sometimes I would be inappropriate.

KING: Directly honest?

ASHBY: Directly honest.

KING: You don't look good today, Matilda.

ASHBY: No, I don't think it would be that. It would be more of - how do I explain? These two priests came to - these two Mormon priests came to pray for me, and they did this whole prayer above my bed, and I found it so funny, and I couldn't control the laughter and I couldn't stop laughing and my father and my friends sat down and they were going, Louise, you've got to stop laughing. And I'm like, no, this is so funny. And these guys were doing all this stuff. And I didn't know I was blind at the time. And so they said after that big ceremony, how do you feel? And I thought it would be really funny and I brought my left eye - my left hand to my eye and I said, what have you done, I'm blind, I'm blind? And these two guys ran out of the room terrified and mortified. They thought they had done something really awful to me. And I found it so funny, and it wasn't.

KING: Are you a religious person?

ASHBY: I am, very.

KING: What faith?

ASHBY: Church of England. I think that's Presbyterian.

KING: You believe there is a god, you believe there was someone involved in saving your life? some person or one or thing or spirit?


KING: Did you doubt that during any of this period?

ASHBY: No. No, I didn't.

KING: You never lost faith?

ASHBY: No, I never lost faith. Sometimes people say, oh, do you feel like you were cursed to go through this or you've been through so much? I really don't. I feel like I chose this experience to go through and it was fate. I'm a fatalist (sic).

KING: No feeling that a dark cloud came over you?

ASHBY: Once it did, yes. Yes, once it did. And it was a scary place to be because it's one of those things when something so huge, you can't afford to let yourself get depressed because then you'll slip deeper and deeper.

KING: You would have been gone?

ASHBY: Exactly. And I really kept myself up as much as I could. But then I got a phone call saying you're going to lose the court case. You can't have any more surgery, and something else - the lawyers are too scared to tell you. And at this point I had no money. I had, you know, I still hadn't been fixed facially, and I panicked. And I thought, OK. Hold on a second. My head went straight through - my mother just died. Now this. Now I've been told I'm not even going to win the case. I was in the right, not the wrong and I slipped into a bit of a depression.

KING: Did you win the case?

ASHBY: Well, it didn't actually go to court. We settled out of court the day before.

KING: But all your medicals were covered?

ASHBY: Yes, yes.

KING: How could you lose that case?

ASHBY: That's what my whole thing was, too.

KING: We'll be right back with Louise Ashby, don't go away.



KAWAMOTO: No, I saw her, I knew I could help her. Maybe not get her back to where she was before. We try. That's our goal. But it's like, if you have a let's say a fine Chinese vase and you break it. You can have all of the pieces and you put them all back together again, but it's not ever the same, and especially if you are missing a few pieces and have to put a patch in there. So although we can make things better and get it back to restore it, and that's our goal, sometimes it's not totally possible.


KING: Our guest is Louise Ashby, what a story. The actress and model who was disfigured in a 1992 car crash here in Los Angeles. Face and skull rebuilt over 10 years. Author of the memoir "Magic of the Mask" and spokeswoman for the non-profit organization Facing Forward.

All right, back to our Japanese friend, Dr. what's-his-name?

ASHBY: Kawamoto.

KING: OK. He's now sitting with you. He's telling you that he's not the most optimistic person in the world, but he's going to do everything that he can.

ASHBY: He said, I'll see what I can do.

KING: What did he do?

ASHBY: Well, basically what he had to do to begin with was they had to re-smash all the bones on this side.

KING: Break them?

ASHBY: Yes. So they do this operation that they'd already done twice when I first was at Cedars where they peel your face down to here. So he went in through my mouth.

KING: And they peel it.

ASHBY: They take your face off. I don't know how graphic we can be.

KING: Go ahead. They take your face off.

ASHBY: Yes, so they peel your face down to about here. So then he was - so then this area is accessible to him and then he goes in through the mouth here.

KING: You are out complete, right? You don't what's...

ASHBY: I'm wide awake.

KING: Come on.

ASHBY: No, of course, I'm fully out, yes.

KING: I mean, fully out?

ASHBY: Yes, of course. So they had a brain surgeon there as well because they had to re-break all of the bones around my brain. And because I had had extensive brain surgery before that, they just need to make sure everything was in order.

KING: They tell you what they were going to do before they did it?

ASHBY: No. You know what happened? The way I found out, I was at a cocktail party and somebody said, oh, this is the girl that had her face peeled off and blah, blah, blah. And then I left the party really quickly and went home.

KING: They didn't tell you they were going...

ASHBY: No, I didn't really ask details. I thought...

KING: Need to know.

ASHBY: Yes, it's one of those things...

KING: All right. So they peel your face.

ASHBY: Resmash all the bones, and then he basically has to rebuild the foundation. And he knows it's not going to be one surgery.

KING: In stages?

ASHBY: Yes, he knows it's going to be a number of surgeries over a period of time. And so they kind of just get everything in the places that it can be, you know, to...

KING: What do you look like in between the stages?

ASHBY: Just gradually -- well, after the first surgery he did, I looked a lot better, a lot better. I mean because...

KING: Passable?

ASHBY: Not passable, but better, yes. This side of my face he brought forward because it was all the way back here. So he brought it forward. The eye was still white, completely white, and all the way back in the back of my socket, and this eyebrow bone was still, you know, over the eye, so I couldn't open my eye properly.

KING: Forgive me, where are the scars?

ASHBY: There's one here.

KING: No, but I mean, I would expect to see more scars.

ASHBY: No. The only -- I went into the corner of the windshield here. I was really lucky, because that was the only -- that was the only scar. So that's basically the only incision -- well, then there's from here to here.

KING: What else did they do? Like the steel plates, those plates, what do they do?

ASHBY: Right, so then they took out the old metal that had originally been put in, and they...

KING: That was there to, what, reinforce?

ASHBY: Well, my body rejected the metal they'd originally put in. And it had come forward to the surface of my skin and it started coming out. So...

KING: Did you have migraines?

ASHBY: Oh, bad ones, yes. So Dr. Kawamoto replaced it with these metal bolts and screws. It's like a jigsaw puzzle. I mean, I've got all these little bits holding everything together.

KING: What do you look like in X-rays?

ASHBY: The Terminator.

KING: $6 million woman.

ASHBY: Yes, I guess, I don't know. I mean, I look like -- you can see little screws and bolts holding things together, and I was having my wisdom teeth out a few years ago and they said, well, we can't do this one, and I said why not, and they said, because we're worried that your face will collapse, because there's some metal holding that.

KING: Have you studied why people react so harshly to disfigurement?

ASHBY: I think it's because they don't know. When I was first discriminated, it was a couple of months after my accident, and this woman freaked out in the supermarket and started pointing at me and telling me to get away from her because I was a monster and a freak, and what happened to my face.

KING: Like the devil. ASHBY: Yes. It was a real shock to me because it hadn't happened before, because I'd been surrounded by friends and family. And my girlfriend, who was with me, looked at me and she said, just breathe. OK, don't react to her. Just breathe. She doesn't know any better. And I just, you know, I took some deep breaths and everything, and I was pretty shaken, and when I walked out of the store, I burst into tears, and I said my life has become this. I'm stared at.

And that happened on more than one occasion.

KING: I'm a freak.

ASHBY: Yes. People would call me a freak or, because I wore an eye-patch for a long time they'd make jokes like, oh, it's the pirate, which was fine. I'm sure if that's the way people wanted to be funny then...

KING: Painful?

ASHBY: It is -- well, I think what it is, if you are confident about who you are and you carry it with confidence then other people around you will be confident around it, too. But if I was to shy away from my disfigurement, then other people would have, too. Does that make sense?

KING: Yes.

ASHBY: So I didn't really let anyone get away with that kind of -- that kind of attitude. And, you know, I think what makes -- what makes you do is to face yourself inside.

You realize that even though you look in the mirror and you don't look the same, inside you still feel the same, if not stronger, and so you really have to think about what do I like about myself, what don't I like about myself. I have got to fix this inside, because that's all I've got right now.

KING: Right back with more of Louise Ashby. The book is "Magic of the Mask." What a story. Don't go away.


ASHBY: They said no doctor will ever be able to fix you, because you're really disfigured...


ASHBY: Yes. And then somebody told me to come and see Dr. Kawamoto.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, he's the one who did the surgeries for you?

ASHBY: And he's done the surgeries. He's fixed me.


ASHBY: Yes. So when I tell you he really knows what he's doing, he really knows what he's doing. He's the man for your baby, yes.



KING: Back with Louise Ashby. Do you ever have to deal -- did you have to deal with drinking or drugs, a natural, one would think, refuge.

ASHBY: Yes, I did later. Further down the line, I did for sure.

KING: After all the surgery?

ASHBY: Yes. I was with a man who I -- we thought we were going to get married and we were very happy. For me it was refreshing because he accepted me for who I was.

KING: He met you when you were disfigured?

ASHBY: Yes. And he took me through surgeries and he really embraced my situation, which for me was a big deal. I kind of felt like who would want to be with someone like me? I don't exactly come with...

KING: Were you living together?

ASHBY: We were living together, and everything was great. And then one day we got a phone call from his mother, saying that his father had cancer. So we both flew back to England. And because...

KING: He was British?

ASHBY: Yes. Because I had experienced a cancer with my mother before, I was able to help his family go through what they were going through. And I was also able to sit down with his father and say, you know, why do you think you got cancer of the stomach? Is there something you went through as a child?

KING: Oh, he didn't -- he wasn't diagnosed, or...

ASHBY: He had stomach cancer, yes...


So, I sat with his father and I was there for about seven hours one day, and he told me all these things that he'd gone through that he'd never told any of his family or anyone before. And I said you need to get this stuff out. And then I found out that I had to have more eye surgery, so I flew back to Los Angeles to have the eye surgery, and my boyfriend called me from England and said, you know what, if you don't cancel the -- if you don't give up your life in America and move back to England to be with me, then we're over.

KING: He worked there?

ASHBY: He was living in England now because of his dad. And I said I'm not in a position to do that. This is -- you know, I've gone through so much, I've got to...

KING: Did he want you to have the surgery there?

ASHBY: He just wanted me to move back to England and give up my dream in America.

KING: To be an actress. And that's when the liquor started?

ASHBY: Yes, it was basically the icing on the cake. You know, with the court case and all the surgeries and my mother and now this, and I just felt devastated.

KING: How bad did it get?

ASHBY: It got pretty bad. I mean, it wasn't bad for very long. But I drank and I did cocaine, which is a terrible thing for...

KING: Together?

ASHBY: Yes. But it's such a bad thing for someone with a head injury, let alone anyone with no injury, to do. I had seven (UNINTELLIGIBLE) seizures in one night.

And I was rushed to Cedars. And they thought I had spinal meningitis. They thought I was going to die. I couldn't walk or talk, and for two weeks I was in the hospital, and all the anger that I had felt over the past 10 years or seven years started coming out. And I couldn't stop crying. And it was kind of -- that, for me, it was like God stepping in and saying, no, you're here for better reasons.

I'm saving your life again but you need to take care of yourself.

KING: So you stopped?

ASHBY: So I stopped, yes.

KING: And haven't used any since?

ASHBY: I didn't drink or do anything for four years, and recently I spoke to my doctor and I said, do you think I can have the occasional glass of wine, and he said absolutely. So I have the occasional drink.

KING: Is there a new boyfriend?

ASHBY: Yes, there is.

KING: Is this serious?

ASHBY: I guess.

KING: What do you mean, you guess?

ASHBY: Yes, I love him dearly.

KING: Do you want to have children?

ASHBY: I do want to have children.

KING: You can have children?

ASHBY: Yes, I can.

KING: So you're going to get married?

ASHBY: I would like to get married one day.

KING: What does he do?

ASHBY: He's a musician/actor/producer.

KING: In other words lives in the Valley, might be out of work?


KING: I'm only kidding. A little L.A. joke, folks.

ASHBY: He's an amazing man. And he's amazing because he's embraced my situation and when I talk to him about the charity, he immediately wants to come on board and do whatever he could to help. And That to me is a special person.

KING: You don't remember things about the accident.


KING: Do you dream, and if you dream, do you ever dream about the accident?

ASHBY: No. I've never dreamt about the accident. I've never dreamt about the accident. I've - I would have nightmares about - before going in for surgery I would have nightmares. The dreams that - then I had this amazing dream before one of my - before my first major surgery with Dr. Kawamoto, the neurologist said that I could possibly die the next day or be paralyzed or be a vegetable. And I was pretty freaked out and I prayed before I went to bed that night and I had this dream that I was running through this field and I bumped into my sister and she said, what's wrong? And I couldn't stop crying. And I said, I'm really scared about having surgery and, you know, I'm really upset about mom. And she said, well, why don't you go and see her. And I said, Abigail, she's dead. And she said, no she's not, she's up there. And I went up this staircase and my mother was sitting on the side and I said, I thought you were dead. And she said, I've always been here. So that to me was kind of my mother showing me in a dream that she was looking over me.

KING: She's very a part of your life, isn't she?

ASHBY: She is, yes.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments, with the incredible, gutsy, uninhibited Louise Ashby. Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED NEWS REPORTER: Fashion model Louise Ashby was a rising star who loved the spotlight until a terrifying car accident smashed her face so badly it threatened to obliterate her very identity.

DR. DAVID ALESSI: The amount of fractures she had were just some of the worst injuries I'd ever seen. It was as if someone had taken a jack hammer to an egg.

UNIDENTIFIED NEWS REPORTER: And believe it or not, doctors using a photo taken only weeks before the accident, will attempt to give this young woman back her beauty and her life, reconstructing the bones of her shattered face with hundreds of titanium plates.


KING: Why did you write the book?

ASHBY: I wrote the book because I wanted to put it to sleep for myself. I wanted to let other people know that no matter what happened in your life you can achieve your dreams.

KING: Aren't you friends with Gabriel Byrne? I love him.

ASHBY: Oh, he's great, yes, a very good man. Yes, I am.

KING: Is he going to do a film?

ASHBY: Well, we talked about it a while ago. Everything's just been kind of spoken about. Nothing's been actually pursued yet. But it is going to be pursued in the next few weeks.

KING: And your own career?

ASHBY: My own career is - I'm very focused on helping these children right now. I really am. It's so rewarding to know that you can do something from your own experience to help people. And a lot of the young women that I've been counseling as well, is - it's just - there's nothing more amazing to me.

KING: So you are focusing on that over modeling and acting?

ASHBY: You know what? If this television show happens, which it probably will, then that's great, amazing and I will want to help other people through that show, too. I'm writing another book, called "One Split Second," which is a collaboration of other people's stories of how their lives changed in one split second and how they got through it, where they got the strength from. KING: That's what it is, one split second.

ASHBY: It really is, yes.

KING: What's the hardest part about being blind in one eye?

ASHBY: Banging into things.

KING: How about when driving?

ASHBY: Driving is OK. Driving is OK I think because I'm so aware of that, I see more than somebody with two eyes. But depth perception is sometimes off. That can be a little embarrassing when you go to get something and you miss.

KING: Do you ever get moods of depression, moments of getting down?

ASHBY: I think rather than moods of depression, I think it's more impatience. And because of the loss of inhibitions, it shows. But I'm one of those people where I'll have the mood and then it will be gone.

KING: How much more surgery are you going to need?

ASHBY: I don't think any more.

KING: All done? Done, definitely done?

ASHBY: Oh, yes. Unless something suddenly slips again. But as far as I know.

KING: How often do the headaches come?

ASHBY: Well, it really depends if I'm stressed out or if I'm feeling calm or what the weather's like. It just depends.

KING: Is that the only pain you have is headaches?

ASHBY: And the neck and shoulder pain, which is bad.

KING: From the whiplash.


KING: Lasted 10 years?

ASHBY: Mm-hmm.

KING: So all that is still there.


KING: You're a gutsy lady. Great having you back with us for the full hour.

ASHBY: Thank you so much.

KING: What a story. All this happened in 1992 on October 5. Louise Ashby, the book is "Magic of the Mask." She's a spokeswoman for the non-profit organization Facing Forward. We wish her nothing but the best.




Back to the top