More MS news articles for April 2001

Actor who played 'Squiggy' to give talk on MS today

Ex-'Laverne and Shirley' star will be at the Allentown Hilton to tell how he is living with degenerative disorder.

Of The Morning Call

Back in 1978 when David Lander was still "Squiggy" on "Laverne and Shirley," he and partner Michael McKean, who played Lenny, were booked to do a telethon for multiple sclerosis in Buffalo, N.Y.

Not knowing what to say to get people to contribute, Lander approached Dr. Lawrence Jacobs, an organizer of the event.

"Just say this is something anyone can get," Jacobs told him. "Even you can get multiple sclerosis."

As Squiggy might put it, "He--llo!"

A scant five years later, Lander would be diagnosed with the chronic and often degenerative neurological condition.

Friday, he accompanied Jacobs to Lehigh Valley Hospital in Salisbury Township for a program sponsored by the Lehigh Valley MS Center.

While Jacobs talked to doctors about new drug treatments, Lander regaled about 80 staff members and patients with stories and one-liners about coping with the illness, which he hid for 15 years for fear of what might happen to his career.

Lander recalled that after he went public about two years ago, a man approached him to compliment him.

"Mr. Lander," the man said, "You've got balls of steel."

"I thought, 'Hey, maybe that's what gave it to me!' Here, I'm thinking it was the lead fillings in my teeth, and all along it was the balls of steel," deadpanned Lander, who said he actually had his fillings removed after he heard that would cure MS.

Lander also treated the audience to a routine as his trademark lisping character, in which Squiggy concludes that Lenny was the only person he possibly could have "caught" MS from.

MS, which is not contagious, attacks the spinal cord, brain and nerve fibers. Its hallmark symptoms include muscle weakness, numbness in the extremities and, sometimes, vision, speech, thinking and bladder-control problems.

Often, symptoms unexpectedly flare up, then disappear just as quickly. Some forms, however, are progressive.

Doctors still don't know the cause, but have made some progress in controlling symptoms. Lander said he's taking the immunotherapy drug Avonex. The drug's maker, Biogen, sponsors his appearances.

Avonex requires a shot just once a week and has flu-like side effects, but they have not bothered Lander too much.

"I found I could take it on Saturday night and go to sleep," he said. "Sunday I'd be sniffly and my body would get real tight, and on Monday I'd be fine. Now, I have no side effects for the last year."

As for acting, Lander said he has done two movies since going public. An avid baseball fan, he also has reinvigorated an old character, Dave Sportz, whom he calls a Howard Cosell-type "who's good at getting everything wrong." Sportz is now playing on the Jumbotron scoreboard during lulls in Anaheim Angels games.

And that annoying, if endearing, voice has moved from Milwaukee to Cartoonland.

"I've been doing a lot of cartoon voice-overs," said Lander, who had a role in "Who Shot Roger Rabbit?"

"Nobody minds if you have MS or not. They know what they want, and you don't have to do any physical comedy. You can sit in a chair the whole time."

David Lander and Dr. Lawrence Jacobs will speak today at the Allentown Hilton, N. Ninth and Hamilton streets. The event is free. Registration is at 8 a.m. Lander will also sign copies of his book, "Fall Down Laughing: How Squiggy Caught MS and Didn't Tell Nobody," at 2 p.m. at the Moravian Book Shop, Bethlehem.

Reporter Rosa Salter