MALIBU, Calif. — It took a near-death experience to turn actress Jane Seymour's life around.

She was making the biopic on Maria Callas in Spain when she came down with bronchitis. An antibiotic was injected into a vein instead of the muscle, and Seymour — best known as the invincible Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman — went into anaphylactic shock.

"The nurse that had administered it saved my life by injecting me with cortisone and adrenaline, but I did actually leave my body, see the white light, see the people resuscitating me, and all of that," she says seated on a couch in her living room.

"And after that I realized that you take nothing with you in this life." Pausing, she adds, "It was a wonderful moment really; it made me realize how simple it is. It's all about loving and being loved. End of story — and the difference you may have made along the way. It simplified things for me. It stopped me from worrying about dying or death or anything like that. I realized there's no pain or panic attached. Your life is incredibly worth living and I don't want to waste a moment of it."

Since then she hasn't wasted a nanosecond. She and her husband, producer-director James Keach, have six children between them. The youngest, 12-year-old twin boys, are at football practice today.

The others are on their own but frequent habitues of the Keach home. Besides motherhood, Seymour has maintained a fast-paced television and film career and is an artist of some repute.

Her spacious living room, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, is bedecked with six of her large floral paintings. "I paint and design pretty much every day," she says.

"Three of my paintings were actually in the Guggenheim for at least 12 hours," she laughs, recalling paintings donated for charity. "And I'm getting better and better. I'm sculpting as well and am one of the six official artists for the Olympics. I design jewelry and home goods and a lot of things. It's a real passion for me. Had I not gone through the worst time in my life, this gift wouldn't have happened to me," she says, smoothing the ruffles of her sea foam green, net skirt.

The worst time of her life was when she divorced her third husband, David Flynn, 17 years ago. "When I turned 40 I had a really bad year because my father died of cancer that hadn't been detected and they didn't do the right thing," she says.

"My now very ex-husband was unbelievably unfaithful. And I found out our entire financial circumstances were a complete disaster. He was my business manager, and that was devastating. So I went through a terrible divorce. I thought I was going to have to be bankrupt and really lost all sense of self-esteem and everything. I lost everything — I lost my homes, everything. So I totally understand people now who are losing their homes to the banks because I was THERE. It's devastating."

It was "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" that saved her from bankruptcy. "I literally called my agent and said, 'I need to work yesterday.' He said, 'OK. That's interesting.' So he said, 'Anything?' I said, 'Anything.'

"So he called all the networks and said, 'Jane will do anything but she's got to do it NOW.' And CBS said, 'We've got this movie called "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," we don't think it'll make it as a series, but in case it does, we need her to sign for five years. She has to start tomorrow morning at 5 a.m.'

"That was it. I signed for a five-year deal with the understanding that it was never going to happen because it was a little movie they didn't believe in anyway. I thought it was a beautiful script and loved the character. And 180 hours of 'Dr. Quinn' later that's when we quit," she says, smiling.

"I look on that period now as having been a gift because out of that came my painting. I took up painting as a kind of therapy. It took me right out of the doldrums. Now I paint for a living. I do 14 one-woman shows a year."

View Comments

Painting is just another way of communicating for Seymour. But it's as an actress in shows like "Wedding Crashers," "Smallville," "Dr. Quinn" that we know her best. Recently Seymour has been unpacking her lighter side which she'll unfurl in "Dear Prudence," a comedic mystery in which she plays an advice columnist and TV hostess who stumbles on murder most foul when she retreats to a quiet vacation in Wyoming.

A sassy redhead, Prudence is the last person anyone would expect to solve a crime, as she's more apt to dispense advice on how to remove wine stains from a tablecloth than she is to interrogate suspects. The show premieres on the Hallmark Channel tonight at 7 and may be part of its "mystery" franchise if all goes well.

"I'm a great believer when life is very challenging, if you can open your heart up and open yourself up to the present moment and not be stuck in what was yesterday and not be fearful of what's tomorrow, amazing things can happen," she says.

"And that truly is my mantra in life. I open myself to whole new characters whole new careers."

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.