July 23, 2003
By Diane Majeske
Multiple sclerosis is not funny.
But Teri Garr is.
And somehow, the actress was able to combine the humor and pathos of her situation in her keynote speech Tuesday at at Women Against Multiple Sclerosis luncheon at Strongbow Inn.
Her appearance was part of a fund-raiser sponsored by the Indiana state chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Garr, who suffers from MS, began speaking publicly about her experiences in 2002.
For years, she kept her condition out of the limelight, even though she started having symptoms back in 1983.
“I didn’t want to tell anyone anything was wrong with me,” she said. “I started to limp after a couple of years and people would ask what was wrong — ’skiing accident?’ I’d say, 'No, crack addict.’ You just say something to smooth it over ... I’d say I had a pinched nerve; I’d say anything.”
Among other things, she feared being labeled.
“I didn’t want to tell anyone that anything was wrong with me. I didn’t want pity, and I didn’t want to be defined by the disease ... I wanted to be Teri Garr, the actress. Not Teri Garr, the actress with MS.”
In a town obsessed with appearances, she wanted to keep working.
“I was afraid it would jeopardize my career,” she said, speaking at a podium to a group of more than 400 MS sufferers and supporters. “Then I realized, in Hollywood, what’s the difference being an actress over 50, or having MS? In Hollywood, you’re not allowed to get old or have a disease.”
Her perspective on life gradually changed over the years, she said.
“It’s all about my blessings, and what I have,” she said, hugging her 9-year-old daughter, Molly, who stood by her while she spoke. “In all seriousness, my body has given me a great life. Now it’s time for my mind and my spirit to return the favor.”
Garr’s appearance was underwritten by sponsors, and all invited guests were asked to make a contribution after the free luncheon.
The suggested contribution was $75.
“That’s what we suggested, but we want people to give what they can,” says Dawn Czarnik, area community development manager with the Indiana chapter of the National MS Society. “We want people to give from the heart.”
Proceeds will be divided 60-40, she said, with 60 percent remaining
in Indiana for programs and services, and 40 percent going toward national
programs, including research.
Copyright © 2003, Post-Tribune