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Comic actress faces multiple sclerosis and other health-related setbacks with wit and humor

Posted Jan 14 2009 8:25pm

Teri Garr - Still Wheelin' and Dealin'

Posted on May 7, 2008

By Evan Henerson - Los Angeles Daily Times

Teri Garr has been a frequent speaker for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society since going public with the disease in 2002.

    Teri Garr has a great title for a memoir or a solo performance, but her health won't cooperate enough for her to use it.

    Teri Garr has been a frequent speaker for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society since going public with the disease in 2002.

    That's a good thing. The comic actress would prefer nobody have to answer the question ``Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat?''

    So if there's ever a sequel to her 2005 memoir, Speed Bumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood, Garr figures to go with One Foot in the Grave and the Other on a Banana Peel.

    ''I'm thinking of putting things together, maybe a one-woman show,'' says Garr. ``I'll see. God knows, I've got stories to tell.''

    Rehabilitation from a brain aneurysm Garr suffered in December 2006 has progressed, and the actress, 61, is back on her feet, joking that the best place to store her wheelchair is at the bottom of the swimming pool ``because I don't need it.''

    Doctors performed a coil embolization, requiring a hole to be drilled in the side of the actress' head. She spent the months following the procedure relearning speech and movement.

    ''Tenacity,'' she says. ``You keep going.''

    She still has, as she puts it, ''a touch of MS (multiple sclerosis),'' but Garr faces the disease -- and other health-related setbacks -- with the same wit, humor and off-the-cuff ribaldry.

    'The other day, a guy came to fix my computer, and I told him, `I've got good news and bad news,' '' recounts Garr. ``The bad news is I've got to sell my house because I can't work. The good news is I'm walking.'

    'He said, `I think the good news is much better than the bad news,' '' she continues. ``I have to look at it that way.''

    The remark and the attitude are vintage Garr, according to officials with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Since going public with the disease in 2002, Garr has been a frequent speaker for the group and has chaired its Women Against MS education and fundraising arm.

    ''She is quite an extraordinary woman,'' says Arney Rosenblat, associate vice president of public affairs. ``There's a tremendous amount of warmth and a lack of pretension about her. People feel that their disease is important because she's there to talk about it.''

    Happy to oblige, returns Garr, if it means ``wiping this thing off the face of the Goddamned Earth.''

    ''It's a bad, scum-sucking pig of a disease,'' adds Garr, who has felt the effects of MS since the mid-1980s. ``Sometimes I call it MASS.''

    Over a career that has spanned five decades and included roles in more than 140 films and TV or variety show episodes, Garr has worked for Steven Spielberg ( Close Encounters of the Third Kind ), Mel Brooks ( Young Frankenstein ), Carl Reiner ( Oh, God! ) and Francis Ford Coppola ( One From the Heart and The Conversation ).

    She is an Oscar nominee (for playing a desperate actress in Tootsie ) and has hosted Saturday Night Live three times.

    She'll be seen in the upcoming films Kabluey with Lisa Kudrow (whose mother she played on Friends ) and in the dark comedy Expired, in which she'll be the mother to Samantha Morton's meter maid. Garr's character, somewhat ironically, uses a wheelchair.

    ''It's a good part,'' says Garr, ``and in ( Kabluey ) I just act crazy. So I'm not dead yet, contrary to popular belief.''

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