LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — From parachuting into a Golden Girls scene wearing a chicken costume to having his skull crushed by a mobster in Casino – Carl Ciarfalio has an acting and stuntman catalog 45 years long. Now, he watches from the other side of the screen, mostly paralyzed.
Decades of fight scenes, motorcycle collisions, and other blunt force trauma to his body left the 70-year-old Nevadan with a battered and bruised spine. However, medical attention was not sought out until after his union, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), dropped nearly 12,000 of its senior performers from its health plan in 2020.
The union cited financial woes from the onset of COVID-19 for the drastic cut in benefits. He then enrolled with Medicare.
“You could knock the crap out of me, but you couldn’t hurt me,” Ciarfalio said from his Henderson bed Wednesday morning, referencing his “toughness” that prevented him from seeking medical care earlier. “Had the Screen Actors Guild not taken my insurance away, I would have gotten better care faster.”
That care came too late. His spine already developed lumbar stenosis, or “a narrowing of the spinal canal in the lower part of your back,” according to Johns Hopkins. A hematoma was also pressing against his spine.
At the direction of his doctor, he says a spine stimulator was surgically inserted into his back that eventually caused “horrific” spasms. When that stimulator was removed in 2022, he lost feeling from his chest down.
“I went in walking, and I came out like this,” Ciarfalio said, pointing to the bottom half of his body. “My nerves got fried, and they may or may not come back.”
Then came the strike; an attempt from SAG-AFTRA to protect its members from advancing technology and low financial compensation for performing. But for him, it meant the small amount of producing and stunt coordination work he was pursuing was unavailable for nearly four months.
“It made a tough job tougher,” Ciarfalio said.
Even now, despite a tentative agreement between the union and major movie studios announced earlier this month, he and thousands of other members may be waiting a month or longer before seeing new opportunities.
Kim Spurgeon, director of the Nevada Film Office, says getting back to work is not so easy, as “Hollywood typically kind of takes a hiatus around the holidays.” A tough blow to endure as she says two major productions planned to shoot stateside were cut or otherwise pushed back because of the limitations during the strike.
“We did lose some work during that time,” Spurgeon said inside her City of Las Vegas office Wednesday morning. “The timing is a little weird, in that we’re entering a time where the studio system typically doesn’t do a lot of work.”
New work will likely not be available until the new year in Nevada, she says. Commercial work, she acknowledges, is usually available year-round in Las Vegas and has supported several Nevada-based members throughout the strike.
In the meantime, the hope is that Hollywood is lining up their talent for new productions.
“And as soon as those are greenlit, they’re going to be going after the crew members,” Spurgeon said, describing this as “a competition for the best” behind-the-scenes workers against those living in California.
Until that work comes, Spurgeon says local production staff will continue to bear the effects of nearly four months of no work.
“When you don’t work, you don’t pay into your pension. You don’t pay into your healthcare, and that’s a very big problem for those who need to maintain that coverage through their union work,” Spurgeon said, adding that the film office is prepared to connect incoming productions with these local workers.
As for Ciarfalio, he’s just one of thousands in ‘Hollywood 2.0’ awaiting someone to call ‘action’ once again.
“Just because my body’s done, doesn’t mean my brain doesn’t work,” Ciarfalio said, as oxygen flowing in and out of his breathing machine filled the empty space of his bedroom.
Ciarfalio’s wife and the North Hollywood-based nonprofit, Stuntmens Association Foundation, have been fundraising to send the 70-year-old to a neurorecovery center in Clark County. The GoFundMe campaign says there is “no coverage available” to send him here.
“Carl’s greatest wish is to be mobile and experience life once again,” the campaign reads, in part. “To achieve that, we humbly request your help.”