Tom Sullivan, known to many as an actor, singer, entertainer, author and producer, lives and works by “Sullivan’s Rules.” As a young boy he found himself fenced in his back yard, but he refused to be fenced in by his blindness. “Sullivan’s Rules” were invented by Tom and his father, Porky Sullivan, so that he could play baseball with the neighborhood boys without the benefit of seeing the ball. It became the most popular game on the block. “Sullivan’s Rules” became the rules to play by in the sighted world, and that meant playing almost anything. One of Sullivan’s first rules is that any negative can be turned into positive.
Born prematurely in 1947, Tom was given too much oxygen while in an incubator. Though it saved his life, it cost him his eyesight. The “inconvenience” of being blind has never kept Tom Sullivan from competing in a world where he realized that to be equal, for him, meant that he must be better.
Even as he may have had to change the rules slightly, he has proven that one need not be limited by a handicap, whether it is playing backyard baseball as a youngster or any activity he’s pursued. Tom is an excellent golfer. (“I’ve never seen a water hazard. I always have an open shot to the green.”) He’s an avid snow skier and a marathon runner and has been inducted into the Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Having spent the early part of his career pursuing his ambition as a singer and composer, Tom started out playing the piano in summer resorts in New England. He eventually gained national prominence with appearances on The Tonight Show, a major recording contract and a steady stream of gigs in Las Vegas and resorts around the country. One very memorable highlight of his musical career was when he sang a moving rendition of The Star Spangled Banner at the 1976 Super Bowl Game Bicentennial Celebration.
Although music was his primary focus, Tom’s limitless energy and ambition would combine to lead him into a series of successes in the entertainment industry. In 1975, Tom’s autobiography, If You Could See What I Hear, co-written with Derek Gill, took him on yet another journey, this time as an author. The story is an inspirational one of Tom’s childhood in Boston, his neighborhood friends and their antics, and lessons along with resulting wisdom from his family experiences. It is also a coming-of-age story of his school days, first at the Perkins Institute for the Blind, where he excelled in everything he attempted, through his college years at Providence College and then at Harvard. Ultimately, it is a true love story about his romance and marriage to his wife, Patty, and the beginning of a family that is to this day the most cherished part of his life. The best-selling book has been called “…a testament to courage, the competitive spirit and delight in life.” If You Could See What I Hear became a major motion picture in 1982. Tom composed and performed much of the music for the film, which starred Marc Singer as the young Sullivan.
Tom has gone on to write Common Sense, a children’s book chronicling the adventures of the five senses through a group of imaginative fantasy characters; and You Are Special, a collection of stories about some of the special people he’s known that celebrates the uniqueness of individuals regardless of their handicap, disadvantage or social label. Next came the best seller The Leading Lady: Dinah’s Story, co-authored with friend and actress, Betty White. This book highlights the unique relationship between Dinah, Tom’s guide dog, and the people whose lives she forever changed. Tom followed with the work he says means the most to him, Special Parent, Special Child, a book that chronicles the life experiences of parents who struggle to raise their children with special needs. For relief, you might enjoy sharing That Nelson with your children. It’s the story of a precocious black Lab who also served as Tom’s guide dog. Seeing Lessons: 14 Life Secrets I’ve Learned Along the Way has been recognized by The New York City chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s Books for a Better Life, which recognizes the authors and publishers of the best self-improvement books of the year. Seeing Lessons won the motivational category. In his latest title, Adventures in Darkness, Tom takes readers through his monumental eleventh summer. Blind since birth, Tom lived in a challenging world of isolation and special treatment, but he was driven to break out and live as sighted children do. This book is a hair-raising, heart-warming experience that culminates in Tom’s determination to realize his dreams of a “normal” life.
Tom then entered the world as a novelist with three remarkable works of fiction. Together is the story of Brenden McCarthy, a young man who becomes blind in a mountain climbing accident and through the love and talent of a remarkable guide dog is brought back to a life full of love and balance. In Alive Day, Tom’s principal character, Brenden McCarthy continues the journey, becoming a psychiatrist and working with veterans returning home from Iraq struggling with PTSD. And then in his latest work, A Holy Spirit, Tom creates a new set of characters that struggle with the devastation of pediatric cancer and the search for a spiritual life as they cope with the life-and-death struggle against this most dreaded disease.
As a special correspondent for ABC’s Good Morning America, Tom became a regular morning fixture in millions of American homes. His touching and insightful reports gave many that “you can do it” bit of inspiration to start their day. Tom went on to be nominated for two Emmy Awards and has acted on TV series, such as Designing Women, Highway to Heaven, Fame, M*A*S*H, Mork & Mindy and WKRP in Cincinnati, just to name a few. But to create the characters and fulfill the role of a blind man on prime time he also helped write and develop many of these stories.
Thanks to Tom’s public life, he has been privileged to become one of America’s most sought-after motivational speakers, communicating with over 3,000 corporations around the world. His message of hope is best expressed in his quote from his ESPN special, Superior Beings: “If extraordinary people can do impossible things, isn’t it reasonable to assume that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.”