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Actress Jenifer Lewis Describes Near-Death Fall During African Getaway

“The hardest” is how Jenifer Lewis described the past year to Robin Roberts in a recent interview with ABC News.

The actress told the reporter about a life-threatening ten-foot fall she experienced while traveling in November 2022 that she hadn’t spoken about publicly.

“I can’t believe I didn’t die,” Lewis said. “But I’m here. I’m here to tell the story.”

A Trip of a Lifetime

The 67-year-old actress who is widely considered the Black godmother of Hollywood was on the “trip of a lifetime” in Africa.

“The world is beautiful, and I want to see it all,” she told Roberts as she described her previous travels. The actress, who never married nor had children, spoke about her love of travel and how she was married to nature and seeing the world instead.

Lewis and a friend, Lori, went to Cape Town, South Africa to Rwanda where she says they spent time in the mountains with the gorillas and then to the Serengeti, a 5,700-square mile national park in Tanzania.

The Serengeti is best known for its safaris, animal sightings and free-moving herds, including wildebeests, zebras, and other animals. The UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the most famous attractions in the world. Some parts of it, due to poaching and the risk to its animals, are protected by the Masaai, a nomadic warrior people in the region. In the Serengeti, Lewis said she was most excited about the safari and was looking forward to seeing lions and other animals up close.

“There are no street lights. It was pitch black,” Lewis said after a safari one day.

When she got back to her hotel room, Lewis said, that though she remembered she had not been given a tour of her room, she went outside to the infinity pool. She was walking near the pool and taking in the significance of her trip up to that point when she stopped feeling the deck beneath her feet. Before she knew it, she hit the ground.

“I had fallen 10 feet into a dry ravine.” 

The Fall

Lewis said there was no sign noting a danger of falling nor any barrier to break a person’s fall. The area she had fallen into was filled with boulders, shark rocks, and other debris; Lewis later wondered how she hadn’t hit her head on a boulder inches away. The impact from the fall went into her right hip and shoulder, and though she was numb from shock, Lewis knew her body was in unspeakable pain. She called for her friend Lori, whose room was next door to hers. 

“It was hard to even take a big breath to scream,” she said.

Lori then came out to her and shined a light down to where Lewis had fallen. Because they were in the middle of the Serengeti, there were wild animals all around, presenting even greater danger.

‘What a Headline’

When Lori went to get help, unable to move, Lewis said she heard a lion roar nearby and began thinking of the stories that would run following her death.

“My last thought, because I am Jenifer Lewis, was…’what a headline,’” Lewis exclaimed, laughing.

Not long later, a team of people, including Masai warriors who protect local wildlife, helped to move her. Lewis said she had to wait overnight at the hotel’s clinic until she could be transported to a hospital. Doctors Without Borders arrived and helped transport her in an air ambulance to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya where she learned she had a fracture in her hip, among other things.

“I wanted my family so bad, but I couldn’t tell them.”

Lewis said she chose not to tell her family because there was nothing they could do and she didn’t want them to worry.mShe also believed she would die. She even recorded a final will and testament, with a message to her loved ones and the world, tearfully saying, “I’ve had a great life, so I just wish all of you love.”

Thankfully, Lewis made it. After several procedures and six days in the intensive care unit, Lewis was able to be flown to a hospital in the United States.

Coming Back

Lewis said she was “scared” and “broken,” when she returned to the U.S., but continued to remind herself that she would recover.

“You’ll come back, baby,” she said to herself.

Lewis spent some time in a wheelchair and walked with a walker but was hyper-focused on healing. She said she knew she would make it back to herself. And she did. From the entire experience, Lewis said she learned how precious and short life is. It also reinforced the importance of taking care of herself.

Her message to the world? “Take care of your bodies, so that when you fall, you’ll be able to get up.”

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