All About Multiple Sclerosis

More MS news articles for July 2003

Learning through laughter

Thursday, July 17, 2003
Philip Potempa
Times Features Writer
North-West Indiana Times

Actor David Lander isn't quite a household name.

Even though Lander starred in a hit ABC-TV series from 1976 to 1983, his costars' names, Penny Marshall, Cindy Williams and Michael McKean, probably are more recognizable to most as the stars of "Laverne and Shirley."

But Lander and his comedic character portrayal of "Squiggy," defined by a triangle of black bangs and punk attitude, are pop culture history.

"We had a great time doing the show, because there was a bond among the cast," Lander said.

"It's nice to know you can get others to smile just by what you do."

Lander, 56, lives in Los Angeles and still works hard. But his role in life is changing every day.

He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1984 and the journey he began fighting the disease, with the help of his wife Kathy and daughter Natalie, continues.

An avid baseball fan, Lander is in Chicago this week to watch the 2003 All-Star game and to speak about his life with MS at a free program Saturday at the Hilton hotel in Northbrook, Ill. He will autograph copies of his autobiography, "Fall Down Laughing" ($22.95 Putnam Press 2000).

"Much of what David does when he travels for speaking engagements is to inspire others with his story," said Brooke Saltzer, Lander's publicist.

"He makes others realize why life is always worth living and how important it is to help those around you."

But Lander's confidence and optimistic attitude weren't always easy to tap into.

"The more speaking engagements I do about my MS, the more I become associated with this part of my life and the less I'm connected with my role and identity as an actor," he said.

"Today, there are roles and jobs I take like 'Scary Movie,' and I just let people know I'm doing it for the insurance. I have to work so many hours a year to continue to qualify for my actor's insurance. And I have to have my insurance for the medicines I need to keep going."

It was five years after the final episode of "Laverne and Shirley" that Lander said he first noticed "small, strange physical problems," like numb fingers and limbs, vertigo and difficulty with balance. After he was told he had MS, he chose to hide to medical condition from everyone, except his family, for the next 16 years.

According to the National MS Society, more than 400,000 people in the U.S. live with MS.

"When I wrote this book, I wanted to let people know everything about my life and my career in Hollywood," he said.

"Doing the book became a mixture of my personal life and professional life played out on book pages, which can be difficult to relive."

In addition to advice about living with MS, the book also includes behind-the-scenes stories of his television days on a hit sitcom.

For example, he explains while Marshall and Williams were booked for such events as riding a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, he and McKean found themselves booked wearing their "Lenny" and "Squiggy" identities on the back of a pick-up truck signing autographs at a local car show.

"Some of my best memories of working come from working with Michael," he said.

"We always made our work fun."

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