Jeff Bridges recalls being in 'surrender mode' amid near-fatal health battles

Jeff Bridges' health journey has been nothing short of a challenge.

The 73-year-old—who first made his cancer diagnosis public in October 2020, just months before developing COVID-19—is reflecting on his road to recovery.

"A lot of getting better was a matter of setting really small goals. At first they'd say, ‘How long can you stand?' For a while, my record was 45 seconds before I'd collapse," he told AARP in a new interview, published May 23. "And then they were saying: ‘Oh, look, you're standing for a minute! That's so cool, now can you walk 5 feet?'"

The Big Lebowski actor—whose tumor has shrunk "to the size of a marble"—went on to note that having his immune system stripped due to the cancer treatment made fighting COVID "really, really tough."

"For me," Jeff told the outlet, "cancer was nothing compared to the COVID."

"I remember the doctor saying to me, ‘Jeff, you've got to fight. You're not fighting,'" he recalled. "But I didn't get it anymore. I just didn't know how to do that. I was in surrender mode. I'd say to myself, ‘Everybody dies, and this is me dying.' And I'd hear myself go, ‘Oh, well, here we are, on to the next adventure.'"

Celeb Cancer Survivors

In addition to "spectacular" nurses and doctors, Jeff had one person who was always in his corner—his wife of over 45 years Susan Geston.

"My wife Sue was my absolute champion," Jeff shared. "She really fought to keep me off a ventilator. I didn't want to be on it, and the doctors didn't necessarily want that. But Sue was adamant."

Susan Geston, Jeff Bridges, Fiji Water
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for FIJI Water

Jeff also admitted that during his recovery, he wasn't sure he'd ever be back in front of the camera.

"I didn't think I'd ever work again, really," he shared. "So at first I said, ‘Well, we'll see.' But eventually that became, ‘Maybe I can.' I have to admit that I was still frightened of going back to work. Then I began to think of my recovery as a gift being presented."

Jeff Bridges, 2019 Golden Globes, Golden Globe Awards, Winners
Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal

And nearly two years after they had to stop filming after four episodes for Jeff to receive treatment, the leading man was able to return to the set of The Old Man to finish season one.

"I come back to work, and, man, it was like a dream, as if we'd just had a long weekend or something," Jeff recalled. "I was seeing all the same faces in the cast and crew. Very bizarre. Everybody showed such dedication and hung in. We finished it. I appreciate that."

And on the days where COVID recovery makes filming The Old Man difficult, it's his cast that brings him back.

"I'm so blessed to have this cast to talk to and jam with," he added. "To get back to doing what invigorates you—it feels great, man."

For the latest breaking news updates, click here to download the E! News App