Jeff Bridges Says He Was 'Pretty Close to Dying' From COVID Amid Cancer Battle

Jeff Bridges is lucky to be alive after a near-death experience battling COVID while being treated for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The Oscar winner, 72, opened up to PEOPLE about the year and a half he now describes as a "bizarre dream" that almost marked the end of his life. Bridges recalled first being diagnosed with cancer after feeling something strange in his stomach while doing exercises one morning. 

"I had a 12-by-9-in. tumor in my body. Like a child in my body. It didn't hurt or anything," he said of what doctors found. The Big Lebowski star immediately began chemotherapy infusion treatments, followed by oral treatments, which seemed to be working well as the tumor shrank. "They got a cocktail that worked, and oh man it worked fast. That thing just imploded," said Bridges. 

However, in January 2021, Bridges contracted COVID, and the virus slammed his chemotherapy-compromised immune system. "I had no defenses. That's what chemo does – it strips you of all your immune system. I had nothing to fight it," he said. "COVID made my cancer look like nothing." The actor would spend almost five months in the hospital, in extreme pain and struggling to breathe.

"I was pretty close to dying. The doctors kept telling me, 'Jeff, you've got to fight. You're not fighting.' I was in surrender mode. I was ready to go. I was dancing with my mortality," he revealed. It was only after his medical team began to give him convalescent plasma, or blood from people who had recovered from COVID, that Bridges began to improve by "baby steps," eventually moving on to work with a physical therapist three times a week.

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Now, Bridges is looking around at all the things he has to be grateful for, including his philanthropic work and his upcoming drama The Old Man, co-starring John Lithgow and Amy Brenneman. The actor's biggest joy, however, comes from spending time with his wife, their three daughters and three grandkids. "Who would say, 'I'd love some cancer and give me a dose of COVID?' But my ability to receive all the love and give it was just heightened," he said. "Everything was turned up in the most beautiful way."