Thu, May. 20, 2004
Akron Beacon Journal
Actor David Lander remembers sitting in a reception area, waiting for a casting interview.
A phone rang. Someone was told that the landlord role had been filled.
Lander, who earlier starred as Andrew "Squiggy" Squiggman on the television sitcom, Laverne & Shirley, was shocked; he was auditioning for that part.
The receptionist responded: "No, no no. We haven't cast it. But that was Richard Pryor's agent, and he thinks Richard might be right for the part. But how can he play it? He has (multiple sclerosis).''
So did Lander.
Because of incidents like this - and the fear of damaging his Hollywood career - Lander held tight to his secret for 15 years.
He speaks openly about his illness today, about his inner battles for confidence. About his fight against his own body.
Coupled with his humor, Lander, who also works as a scout for the Seattle Mariners, shared several of his stories Monday night to a group of several hundred people at an MS seminar in Cuyahoga Falls.
About 400,000 Americans currently have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an illness which attacks the body's central nervous system.
This is no excuse, he said.
"We have to be careful not to handicap ourselves, not to cut ourselves short," said Lander, 56. "With this disease, your confidence gets so damaged. You're brain looses faith with your body. My brain sends a message that I know I can do this, but does my legs know that?
"It's strange when you have a handicap, and you're talking to people with the same handicap, and I get applause for standing up my whole speech. `The fact that you stood up for the whole thing, I feel good about that.'"
Lander also recalls many of his experiences in his book, Fall Down, Laughing: How Squiggy Caught Multiple Sclerosis and Didn't Tell Nobody.
Being around people who experience the same daily challenges is as special for Lander as it is for his audience.
They understand the challenge of climbing three steps.
Or tripping over cobblestones.
"It's great because everyone gets the joke," said Lander, who was diagnosed in 1984, one year after Laverne & Shirley was canceled. "The best part is when you see them nodding."
Part of Lander's message is to make a smoother transition for newly diagnosed patients.
During this period, for different reasons, many people are in denial.
"The more they're fooling themselves because every day you're not using a treatment, it's just getting worse, whether you can see it or not," he said. "Brain shrinkage, how do you know what that looks like?"
Lander is not letting his illness win. He is in his fourth year of serving as an ambassador to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Lander will take his speech to 25 to 30 cities this year; he has talked about MS in about 100 cities overall.
After working for the Angels as a scout for three years, Lander was hired by the Mariners this spring.
"The Mariners love it because they know every time I play a city, I'm going to check out the baseball team in town," said Lander, a New York native.
His medical condition has stabilized. Lander said his condition has
not worsened in three years.
Copyright © 2004, Akron Beacon Journal