Valerie Harper partners with Tristan Macmanus. "Dancing with the Stars" returns for Season 17 on Sept. 16, 2013 on the ABC Television Network.© 2013 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
Valerie Harper, Mary Tyler Moore and Cloris Leachman.Reuters
In this June 13, 2010 photo, Valerie Harper arrives at the 61st Annual Tony Awards in New York.AP
Last week ABC announced terminally ill actress Valerie Harper would be a contestant on the upcoming season 17 of “Dancing with the Stars.” The blogosphere blew up with support and well wishes.
Then came the backlash.
Some accused the show of exploiting the ailing “The Mary Tyler Moore” and "Rhoda" star to boost its ratings.
Perhaps no criticism stung more than an article from Irish Central, which declared: “ABC Hits New Low with ‘Cancer Dancer’ Valerie Harper in ‘Dancing with the Stars.’”
The article claimed it was “pathetic” that Harper was selected to participate in the long-running elimination dance series, and called on her partner, the Irish dancer Tristan MacManus, to refuse to participate “in this charade” because “he’s destined to become part of a circus animal show.”
But Harper’s dance pro MacManus isn’t having it.
MacManus was oozing with sarcasm when he responded to the article, speaking exclusively to FOX411.
“You are dead right by the way, it is pathetic – I can’t believe Valerie was asked to participate in this season of 'DWTS' – there is no place for her," he mocked. "She should do what most other cancer victims do, just give up and go home."
The 31-year-old dancer told us that he asked Harper many times why she had agreed to participate, and would she do it even if she didn’t have cancer. Surprisingly, he said her answer was that she had been asked several times before and had always said no for her own reasons.
“Maybe she was too uncomfortable with her body or maybe her ego wouldn't let her forget that once she was a good dancer and now maybe not so much – when somebody has a very high opinion of you or sees you as a 'star' why jeopardize that by not being good at something now at this stage? We are hardly kick starting a career here,” he noted. “She didn't even want to do the show at first but she was convinced by her husband, a great man, who reminded her that people need this – not so much to see someone ill on 'DWTS' but someone who has the profile to be relevant and show that you don't go to the funeral until you’re dead.”
Harper has defied odds since her diagnosis eight months ago, and told People Magazine that not only is she feeling better, but that her brain scans are looking better too.
“The doctors tell me there is less evidence of cancer which is unusual,” she said. “However, they both say it’s not a case of if, but when. And I can live with that.”
MacManus also assured us that it doesn’t matter whether they or voted off in the first week or the last, Harper’s message rings – or rather swings – loud and clear.
“Valerie has a message and it’s not just for sick people, it’s for everybody. You only get one life, so live it. If you don't like it, change it and if you do like it always strive to make it better,” he said. “If I want to be a winner I will not refuse a 'person' and 'human being' from telling their story. That is what being Irish is all about my friend. Standing up for the small guy and never giving up. I won’t only join in this circus. I’ll be the f***ing ringmaster.”
“Dancing with the Stars” kicks off on ABC September 16.