More MS news articles for Oct 2001

'Squiggy' takes up a cause

Actor David L. Lander teaches public about MS

Oct 14, 2001

David L. Lander had already finished his years playing Squiggy on the hit sitcom "Laverne & Shirley" when he noticed something wrong.

"It seemed like they were building the curbs higher now. Walking across the street was like an Olympic event," he said.

The actor best known for his comic portrayal of Andrew "Squiggy" Squiggman had multiple sclerosis. He drew appreciative laughs yesterday describing his symptoms and the difficulties they cause from 200 fellow MS patients and family members. He spoke at the annual meeting of the Central Virginia Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system that can cause a loss of coordination, numbness, weakness, dizziness, loss of vision and memory and an inability to walk. It is chronic and degenerative and usually comes and goes, with each relapse often increasingly severe.

"With MS, you're not born with it. It's something you can get at any time. All it takes is a trauma to the central nervous system and, bingo, you've got it," he said.

Lander thinks his disease was triggered by a bad case of the flu and a high fever he suffered while in Mexico filming "Conan the Destroyer."

The symptoms, which he did not yet know the cause of, made him appear drunk, and he was fired from the movie.

When he was later diagnosed, Lander decided to keep his illness a secret. He was afraid producers would not want to cast him in their television shows and movies if he was sick and liable to fall down.

"I'm lying in bed wondering just how many parts there are for a 36-year-old Jew in a wheelchair," he said of the time of his diagnosis. "Well, Raymond Burr can't live forever."

For 15 years, he pretended he did not have the disease. He told no one other than his family, who made excuses for him. This left friends, colleagues and employers to wonder why his walk was sometimes halting and unsteady, why he dropped things or had a sudden need to go to the bathroom, why he would fall over and, especially, why he often limped.

"It's an old football injury," he claimed he would say. "I was watching the game on TV, and I fell off the couch."

In 1999, he announced his disease to the public through an MS fund-raising event and an article in People magazine - "I've fallen out of the closet, as it were."

He is now the official goodwill ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and has written an autobiography, "Fall Down Laughing."

He is an advocate for the early diagnosis and treatment of the disease, and encourages those who have it to take one of the three medicines that are available for treatment - Avonex, Betaseron or Copaxone. A large number of people with MS do not take these drugs, he said, perhaps because they are afraid of injecting them. But he said the drugs have considerably helped him.

"My bad days are a helluva lot better, and my good days are terrific."

Contact Daniel Neman at (804) 649-6408 or

© 2001, Richmond Newspapers Inc