Actor Shemar Moore had an eight-year run as Malcolm Winters on the popular daytime soap opera The Young and the Restless, as well as a supporting role in the feature film Diary of a Mad Black Woman. Today he stars on the CBS drama Criminal Minds as FBI Special Agent Derek Morgan. When he’s not enforcing the law on the small screen, Moore bikes to raise awareness of multiple sclerosis, a disease that hits him close to home.
ABILITY Magazine’s Chet Cooper sat down with Moore for a chat in his Los Angeles home.
Chet Cooper: I understand you enjoy doing a little boxing.
Shemar Moore: Yeah. I haven’t done it lately, but I did it off and on for quite awhile. I love it. I can hit the stuffing out of the bags, because they don’t hit back, you know? It was just a cool way to handle cardio. But now I’ve gotten more into cycling, because I ride for my mother, who has MS. So I’ve done a hundred-mile fundraising bike ride with a bunch of guys I work with at Criminal Minds.
Cooper: So you stay pretty active, then.
Moore: Sure. The only sport I’m not all that good at, which shouldn’t admit, is basketball. I guess I’ve got white man’s disease because I’m half white.
Cooper: You can’t jump?
Moore: Oh, I can jump, I just don’t have much of a left hand. I can play a mean game of horse, though. But no, I’ve done every kind of sport. I love that stuff. Before Hollywood, I thought I was going to be a baseball player.
Then I got into cycling, just because I was doing mountain bike stuff, and I met some guys at the show and they told me I had a sissy bike. So now I’ve got a new bike and the whole kit. You’ve got to look fancy, right? As long as you’re connected to your bike, you look really cool, but if you’re not connected to your bike, you just look like a man in tights, which is not very cool.
Cooper: I was just in Ireland, where Lance Armstrong was doing the Tour de Ireland.
Moore: Oh yeah? I guess the guys I work with are like a level below Lance Armstrong. They do semi-pro racing and all that. Me, I’ve just got the fancy tights, I’ve got the fancy all-carbon-fiber bike. I look the part, but I’m just an actor riding a bike. So I act like I can ride.
But, yeah, I guess I really try to do a little of everything. Athletics has been a way of life for me. Working out in a gym gets old after while, so you’ve got to mix it up. I go and I do the sand dunes, I do the Santa Monica stairs, I ride my bike, I box—
Cooper: The sand dunes? Does that mean you run the sand dunes?
Moore: Yeah. It’s like 100 yards straight up. A lot of the football players train out there, some of the basketball players. I think Kobe Bryant gets out there with his trainer and does it. But yeah, I just love the hot weather and I love exercise, so I keep it together. A good black don’t crack. But I’m getting older, so it’s not as easy anymore. Running takes its toll.
Cooper: Tell me about your experience with your mother’s diagnosis of MS. How did that come about?
Moore: My mother’s been diagnosed for about 12 years now, and it’s been tough. It was tough on her physically and it was tough on both of us emotionally. I think both of us were in denial in the beginning, so it took some time to kind of get out of the gate and really embrace that she had it. Then we could focus on what it was and how to combat it. I’m an only child raised by a single mom, and I really tip my cap to her, because all my life she was my mentor and my hero. We tell each other that we were at the front of the line when they were handing out mothers and sons. She always was trying to save the world. She was trying to save the neighborhood. She was the neighborhood mom.
Cooper: Where was this? Where did you grow up?
Moore: Oh, I grew up in so many different places, but for the most part in high school I was up in Palo Alto. For the first six years of my life I lived out of the country. I was born in Oakland, California, here in the States, and then I didn’t live in the States again until I was almost seven. I lived in Denmark for the first three years of my life.
Cooper: You’ve got a really thick accent.
Moore: (laughs) Yeah, right, maybe a little bit. My mother has the real strong accent. My mother’s from Boston, so it’s, “Shemah, pahk the cah, Hahrvahrd Yahrd,” and all that. If I’m around people with whatever accents, I can usually pick them up. Danish was my first language, but I only really knew enough to say, “My diaper’s dirty and I’m hungry.”
And then I went to Bahrain and lived there for three years. So Denmark and Bahrain were our two mainstays as I was growing up.
Cooper: Did you learn any Arabic?
Moore: I didn’t. My mother put me in a British private school so I could learn English because she knew she was going to bring me back to the States eventually. I was born in the ’70s. Civil rights were a big thing and Martin Luther King had just been killed in ’68. There was a lot of unrest.
It was a trendy time for interracial relationships, but they were not very accepted. My mother didn’t want to raise me in a racist environment any more than she had to. It was tough. But my mother was very smart, highly educated. She taught mathematics and English overseas. So she was able to get us opportunity and she was able to get me out of that kind of racial unrest.
I’m grateful for that time of my life, though. I’m grateful for the travels and all of it, because I think it all instilled values and a sense of broad thinking. The way I approach my life, I don’t see color, I don’t get caught up in all that stuff that a lot of Americans get caught up in. I kind of have a European mindset. I feel more comfortable when I travel with people. Here in America there is still a very serious class system. We have a black President, but racism is far from over.
But I’m blessed, and I’m beating it. I’m living a dream life. I’m doing things that people wish they could do. I take none of it for granted. I don’t have a family. I don’t have a wife and kids yet. I’m turning 40 this year, so that’s hopefully around the corner.
Cooper: How did you get this connection between your mother getting MS and then making a decision to come out and start supporting the MS Society?
Moore: Well, my mother is a woman who’s pretty indestructible. She is so smart, so charismatic and ambitious, and she’s always thought outside of the box. In the late ’60s, to marry a black man and then to raise a biracial child on her own, all over the world, she really had to have a strong mindset. And so when her MS kicked in, I was seeing this superwoman, so to speak, kind of find her Kryptonite and deteriorate. It was shocking. It was humbling. It was scary. She’s all I’ve got. I don’t have any brothers or sisters.
So in the beginning, it was just about figuring out what her symptoms were, figuring out what medicines were available. We were shooting in the dark. She was guessing and just taking the word of doctors. And then I got on Criminal Minds, and I?started riding with some of the guys there. I was spending my weekends going out with these guys and we’d ride 50 miles, 75 miles. In conversation, I brought up my mother’s MS, and my buddies told me that there are MS events around the country, including bike rides.
So basically, I found out that I could take a hobby that was just fun for me to do and I could use it to raise awareness. I could raise money, and I could meet people in the world of MS. Then I could meet doctors and others with MS and pick their brains and find out what they’re doing to combat it. One thing led to another, and the next thing you know, I was riding 100 miles with a group of guys at work. We’ve been doing that for four years now. We have more than 50 riders, and we have folks who drive the vans, and then we just have people who come out and cheer us on. The other actors on the show come out in support of us at the finish line.
Cooper: That must be encouraging.
Moore: The first year we did it, Mandy Patinkin, who was the star of our show for the first two years, rode just because he had a soft spot for how much I cared about my mom and for what I was doing. He wanted to show his support. Once he signed on, then Thomas Gibson signed on, who’s on our show now. All of a sudden, we had evolved into this support group of Criminal Minds crew who wanted to support MS and to support me in my fight for Mom. It inspired my mother. It humbled her. It made her cry.
Often people who are afflicted by various diseases, whether the disease is MS or anything else, feel alone and feel misunderstood. They have no voice. We now have a better, more well-rounded knowledge of the disease and we’re much more specific about the type of meds that my mother has to take and how we can fight.
Cooper: What’s she taking?
Moore: She’s on interferons. Four years ago she was taking an injection every day, but now she does injections once a week, which is more manageable. Just having to stick a needle in her every day was tough, and she was having problems with her hip. She thought it was the MS, but it was something altogether unrelated. She was doing Botox injections for a while.
Four years ago we really thought my mother was on the verge of not being able to walk, and that scared me because I wasn’t used to seeing my mother like that, but also because her will to live and just to enjoy her daily routine was dissipating. And now, four years later, she’s dancing in her kitchen and going to ball games and she swims. She’s able to travel again. She just got back from a three-week trip to Denmark, actually. So she’s got her zest and her spunk back, and that’s great.
And when something hits you close to home, you know you’ll do whatever you can to help give that person you care about a better quality of life. So I go to different MS events with her, and I ride the bike for her. And today she’s coping with her MS, and she’s walking and singing and dancing, living her life. She has her good days and her bad days. She loves yoga and swimming and visiting with friends.
Cooper: There’s an organization called YogAbility, specifically geared towards people with MS who are interested in learning yoga.
Moore: Yeah, yoga’s amazing. It’s hard for me, personally, because I don’t have the patience for it. And I’m pretty in shape and athletic and all that, but yoga is not easy. People think it’s like meditation or just sitting around. With all of the stretching and the positions, you have to be flexible, and strong emotionally.
Cooper: But that’s what yoga is for, right? Making you more flexible and stronger emotionally.
Moore: Oh, yeah. My mother used to go to a retreat called Kripalu, up in Lennox, Massachusetts. I think John Travolta and Woody Harrelson have been known to go there, where you spend a week, a month doing yoga. My mother actually got her yoga teaching instructor’s license, so she’s fully committed and she loves it. But physically, there are certain things she can and can’t do. Yoga really is a life-saver for her, though. It’s her meditation. It’s her therapy. She’s got her mat at the house, and she sits with herself for an hour or two. Between that and swimming and being with her friends, that’s pretty much her routine. She’s good.
Cooper: You know, the American Medical Association has now reversed its opinion on marijuana as a medication option. I know a lot of people with MS and—
Moore: Yeah, she has a prescription. My mother is a hippie, and now she’s got permission by the government to get high. She’s doing just fine. (laughs) I was born April 20, and 4/20 is, like, the weed national holiday.
Cooper: I don’t remember that.
Moore: But I know that when I smoke I’m a miserable mess. My body doesn’t line up with it. One hit, I’m okay. I giggle, I talk a lot. Two hits, it’s a wrap. I’m paranoid, I’m hiding in my closet. It’s a wrap. I’m done. So I can’t touch it. That’s not my vice.
Cooper: Does your mom’s house have a pretty accessible layout? I see your place has a lot of stairs.
Moore: Yeah, this house isn’t set up for it, but my mom’s place is completely set up for a wheelchair, walker, scooter, the whole bit. What’s great is that, in the last three years, she doesn’t need any of those devices. She really is much more mobile than she used to be, even on her bad days. She was on a walker all the time in her house, and now I don’t even think she has the walker anymore. Now she’s really able to get around.
Sometimes she gets overheated, though, which is one of the symptoms of her condition. And for a while she was falling a lot, because of her bad hip. So that was just scary and dangerous. But those days seem to be over. She’s 66 now, but three years ago she was moving around like she was 85. Now she’s moving around like she’s her age or younger, and her personality and her spirit is back to that of a twenty-year-old. She’s excitable and fun and wants to do stuff. It’s really, really nice to see. It’s really a relief.
Cooper: That’s impressive, that her spirit is so high. Did you know that over 50% of people with MS actually suffer from clinical depression?
Moore: Really? Well, listen, my mom has her moments. But she’s got great friends, a great support group, and she’s never alone, which makes me happy. I’m down here in LA, and my schedule’s so crazy with work that I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like to. It’s not so easy to just get up there. I mean, San Francisco is not that far away, but I probably get up there four or five times a year. Any time there’s something going on in my world of Hollywood that I think she would enjoy, I include her, whether it’s just so she can walk the red carpet and feel fabulous or just come support me in something I’m doing.
Cooper: We saw your picture on the red carpet where you were showing off your six-pack.
Moore: That must have been a picture from 10 years ago. I don’t do shirtless pictures today. (laughs)
Cooper: Well, competitive biking is a pretty intense exercise.
Moore: Yeah, every time. You can get out there and race and get your ego all in there, or it can just be a personal challenge. That’s what I love about the MS ride. You’re raising money for MS, but also you can get out there and be competitive or challenge yourself. And you get to see parts of the world on your bicycle that you would never see from your car.
It’s tough on your body, sure, and you’ve got to go through the soreness and all that. But once you get used to it, and once your muscles get conditioned for it, then you can just enjoy the ride. I had a friend who did the San Francisco to DC ride, raising money for cancer. It took him two and a half weeks. He would sleep in vans on the side of the road at night and get on his bike and ride throughout the day.
Cooper: Two weeks. That’s a good clip.
Moore: Well, he’s a serious cyclist. This isn’t just my friend next door. He rides 60 miles a day before work, and then on the weekends he’ll go do 200, 300 miles.
Cooper: Do you think you’ll ever get to a point where you’re doing long-distance rides like that?
Moore: I don’t really have the ambition to be Lance Armstrong. I’ve got plenty of ambition in other areas of my life. I just enjoy the sport. I like getting myself into shape so I can do 100 miles on the weekend. For about four months, I was riding to work on my bike and leaving the car at home.
Cooper: And you mentioned you’re turning 40 this year?
Moore: That’s right. And good black don’t crack. It’s all about how you feel. So I’m excited for 40.
Cooper: Are you going to do anything special for your birthday?
Moore: Well, for my 39th birthday, I had an all-white party right here in the house, in the backyard. There were 340 people here.
Cooper: No black friends?
Moore: (laughs) Everybody wore all white. It’s a theme. It’s cool. Women look really good in white, and when men get dressed in white, there’s a whole different etiquette, a whole different swag. You just see a sea of white: white bikinis, white suits, white sundresses. There’s just white. It was very cool. This year, though, I think it’s gonna be much more intimate and low-key, with just the people that matter. I don’t know.
Moore: (laughs) You know, sometimes I think maybe the 40th birthday party is going to be an all-black party, with headstones in the grass that say “Death of a Player.” Because my mother’s been begging for grandkids. She’s just got the dogs right now.
Cooper: You don’t have anybody that could—
Moore: Nobody I can bring home to Mom yet. She said, “I don’t want to meet any of them unless they’re gonna give me some grandbabies and they have a college education.” My mom’s real specific about who she thinks I should have in my life. But, no. I have rings, but none of them represent marriage. I haven’t met her yet. My grandmother always told me, “Don’t go looking for her. When she’s right, she’s just gonna show up out of the blue and bite you on the tush.” So I’m waiting to be bitten on the tush. (laughs)
Honestly, I think there are lots of beautiful women in LA, and this is where I spend most of my time, so I date from the pool of people that I meet here. But I have a feeling—and I don’t know why I feel this way—but I am a sucker for an accent. So I have a feeling that whoever I do marry is going to be from another country. I dated a woman from Panama once, and all I wanted her to do was keep talking. She kept calling me “Papi,” saying a bunch of things I didn’t know, but it was sexy.
Cooper: I met someone from Costa Rica who kept calling me “Papi.” I thought it meant “idiot.”
Moore: (laughs) Hey, I’ll be her idiot any day. Trust me, you’d be her idiot, too. I’ve dated a few women who made me feel like an idiot, but I was okay with it. Life is good, you know?
Photos by Nancy Villere – CrushPhotoStudios.com