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When Celebrities Have MS

By Mary Pettigrew

Over the years I’ve seen people who have posted commentary online about the role celebrities play when diagnosed with MS or other chronic illnesses. My feelings are quite mixed. When I was first diagnosed in 2001, the only famous people I knew of were Annette Funicello, Richard Pryor, Montel Williams, Teri Garr and David Lander. Over time, a few more came into the picture, such as Richard Cohen (Meredith Viera’s accomplished husband/writer), Lola Falana and Kelly Sutton. I was fortunate to have had the pleasure of meeting David Lander and Teri Garr  in person at a couple MS events and read their books. I’ve since spent years reading books and magazine articles which highlight or uncover others who either have MS themselves, or have a family member with the disease. It’s quite fascinating to see how far we’ve all come in our outspokenness and the roles we choose to play as advocates or activists.

The most recent celebrity to come out quite fully is Selma Blair. I greatly applaud her for the intimate portrayal she’s shown of herself as she deals with MS since diagnosis and the way she’s decided to handle living with this disease in the public light. Bravo!

Here are my feelings on whether or not a famous figure should use their platforms to share their stories, raise awareness or advocate for MS. 
  • First and foremost: celebrities are people. They are human beings just like you and me. They deserve the right to privacy and to come out publicly as they see fit – and, when they are most comfortable doing so.
  • Secondly, it is their choice and their choice alone as to how publicly or privately they wish to be open with living life with MS. The same applies as you and me.
  • Third, the insurance risk is far different for actors with a chronic illness or disability, as their livelihood depends on work, yet actors insurance doesn’t think as kindly or empathetic towards those with any illness or disease. I only know this to be true as I’ve spoken to many people over the years who’ve addressed this very issue as a precursor to “coming out” about their disease. The same can be true for people who are not in the public eye. 

Take a look at Wikipedia for a list of famous people with MS. It is not an exhaustive list, but adds links, sources and further information. On top of various people and resources, you’ll find others, related persons with MS (family members or otherwise) who have a connection to MS.
  • Michele Obama – Her father had MS.
  • Eddie Vedder (singer/songwriter and lead singer of Pearljam) – His father had MS.
  • JK Rowling (author) – Her mother had MS and has created a clinic in the UK for people with MS.
  • Amy Schumer – Her father has MS and she is quite active with the Tische Center for MS Research. 

Continue to reach out, continue to connect and share your stories, continue to encourage others to speak up. Yet remember that everyone – celebrity or not – deserves the privacy and time they need.