It was 1983 and Teri Garr was at the peak of her career when she started experiencing symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis. While jogging in Central Park she felt tingling in her right foot and pain in her arm. This was not acceptable, she had a life that required her health. She was confused but didn’t let it slow her down.
She earned her fans while acting in ‘Young Frankenstein’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. She received an Oscar nomination for her role in ‘Tootsie’ at age 33. The doctors didn’t know what was causing her pain and clumsiness, so she kept on going in spite of it. She hosted ‘Saturday Night Live’ and appeared in a number of sitcoms, including ‘Life with Bonnie’ and ‘Friends’. David Letterman had her as a guest repeatedly on his show.
For the next 16 years Teri saw specialists without a diagnosis, and without a diagnosis there was nothing she could do. By 1999 she received it, Multiple Sclerosis. Her reaction wasn’t typical, she was described as simply angry. She depended so much on her body, and now she wasn’t able to do what she wanted to do.
Teri Garr grew up in the show business. Her father was an ex-vaudevillian named Eddie Garr. Her mother, Phyllis Garr was a former Radio City Rockette. They didn’t make much money, but were able to scrape by. Money was so tight at one point that they rented out half their home to help pay rent. When Teri was 11 her dad passed away. She and her two siblings were left to be supported by their mother. Phyllis was dedicated to staying optimistic amidst trouble and wore a pin that said EGBOK-standing for ‘Everything’s going to be okay’.
Phyllis worked 18 hours a day mending and sewing costumes at NBC in order to make ends meet. Teri was able to borrow a dress from a studio stock room for prom because they couldn’t afford one for her. Her brother, Ed was studying to be a doctor and complained about the lack of space in the house to study so Phyllis bought a trailer and parked it in the backyard for him to study in. With good sense of humor the wooden license plate stated ‘Kwit Your Bitchin’.
Phyllis ultimately put Teri and her two brothers through college. When speaking of her mom Teri said, “That was my role model, someone who takes care of things, copes. So I was conditioned to do that”.
Because of her career in Hollywood Garr attempted to keep her diagnosis quiet and even though she attempted to hide symptoms she routinely tumbled down stairs and dropped dishes. One Christmas she broke her collarbone when she tripped over a skateboard. When asked about the incident she stated, “Getting depressed or sad wouldn’t have helped me”.
When she finally decided to share her diagnosis with the world she wanted to do so in comedic way. “What if someone went out and talked about it like a stand-up comic? If you get somebody laughing-and then stick in a point about something important-they’ll remember it”.
On October 8th 2002 Teri Garr was a guest on “Larry King” and spoke about her MS diagnosis. Although Larry tried to press her for answers about pain or feeling frightened she continued to smile and crack jokes throughout the interview. She was determined to remain positive.
Terri used her wit to educate and uplift others who had been diagnosed with MS and their families. She became the paid spokesperson for MS Lifelines. This educational and support service funded by the drug companies Serono and Pfizer takes her across the country.
Teri speaks about her sudden fatigue, her difficulty controlling her right hand, stumbling and some memory loss. She also speaks of the things she does to help her body cope with MS. She takes drugs that slow the disease, she also does pilates, which boost her physically and emotionally.
She continues on, being positive with every step. She inspires people around the world with her out-look, attitude and mantra. “Everything’s going to be Okay”.
Buy Teri’s book by clicking on this link Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood
About the author:
Danielle Price was 9 years old when her mom was diagnosed with MS. She graduated with a bachelors degree in Child and Family Development from Southern Virginia University. Dani is happily married to a wonderful husband of 5 years and dedicates her time to nurture and raise her two beautiful daughters. Dani is a talented singer, enjoys music and participates in the community.