Michael Tucker

Michael Tucker and his wife, Jill Eikenberry. Tucker's new book, "After Annie," can be seen as a case of art echoing, if not exactly imitating, life. (Kristine Walsh, Handout photo / March 3, 2012)

A man in a media dream-team marriage supports his wife during her breast cancer, then nearly buckles after her death. That's the reality-saturated plot of Michael Tucker's novel, "After Annie."

Tucker and his wife, Jill Eikenberry, became advocates for women's health during their years of TV stardom, after her first bout with breast cancer. Unlike the fictional Annie, Eikenberry survived a recurrence of the disease in 2009 — but that won't stop readers from seeing "After Annie" as a case of art echoing, if not exactly imitating, life.

In "After Annie," Tucker merges elements of himself and Eikenberry with a slew of fresh, vibrant characters — not just the lead couple, but also friends, colleagues and potential lovers.

Tucker didn't let Eikenberry see what he was writing until he'd finished the opening sections. He needn't have worried.

"When I read the first four chapters of the book," Eikenberry wrote in an email, "I was so moved ... that I forgot to worry that everyone would think I had died. But just in case — I'll be sure to show my face at all the book signings."

Eikenberry played Ann Kelsey to Tucker's Stuart Markowitz in Steven Bochco's landmark TV series, "L.A. Law," which ran from 1986 to 1994. They met when they were acting at Washington's Arena Stage in 1970 and married in 1973.

"The novel started from a real situation," Tucker said. "Jill had a recurrence of breast cancer after 23 years of being cancer-free. Everything went great. It was caught very, very early. They got it; they took it out. It didn't move anywhere; it didn't go anywhere. All the news was good. But that word 'recurrence' hit me in a hard way — and also Jill. We both kind of dealt with it, of course, but didn't really give it its full due."

When Eikenberry, like Annie, was in New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, a vignette kept running through Tucker's head. He said it was "like a continuous loop: a visual, a movie of me leaving her room. She's dying of cancer, it's 2 o'clock in the morning, and I go to find a bar."

In reality, Tucker would wander out and look for bars. And when it came time to write, he melded Michael Tucker with another wry character.

"I gave him a name: Herbie. And in the first paragraph, it was very cold, bitter, and there were a couple of snowflakes, and he said to the snowflakes, 'It's too cold to snow' — and he talked to them as if not only are they going to hear him, but they're going to do something about it. And that amused me."

It also started Tucker, at age 67, on his third line of work. After four decades of performing and a string of pungent nonfiction books, "After Annie" is his foray into fiction.

The warmth and energy of Tucker's writing — its Jewish kind of joie de vivre — doesn't surprise Bochco.

"Michael is incredibly accessible to others, and he's also accessible to himself," Bochco said. "He is very much in touch with his emotional life."

If he ended up writing about actors — well, Bochco said, "You write what you know."

And Tucker does know theater. When Herbie stumbles on an ideal golf teacher, he thinks of Tennessee Williams: "Sometimes — as Blanche DuBois famously said — there's God so quickly."

Like Herbie and DuBois, Tucker has depended on the kindness of strangers. That's what he found frustrating — and occasionally miraculous — about an actor's life. In 1981, he went up for the role of Bagel in Barry Levinson's "Diner." He and the director didn't know each other. But when Levinson told him, "It's about a group of guys out of high school who hang out at this diner in Baltimore," he couldn't believe his ears.

"My brother, who is closer to Barry's age, went to the same high school and knew all those guys," Tucker said.

He got the part.

Cut to 1984. Bochco — Tucker's best friend from the Carnegie Tech drama school (now Carnegie Mellon) — conceived an offbeat arc for his breakthrough cop series, "Hill Street Blues."

"It was our version of 'The Out-of-Towners,'" Bochco said, "with two Midwestern people who had their car stolen and wound up in an urban jungle and fell afoul of everything." Tucker and Eikenberry took these roles — "and they were great."