This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 4, 2004, that was edited for clarity.
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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Well, you know, if you’ve been watching the show this week, you might know that I have a book out. And also that I’ve been profiling modern heroes featured in that book, "More Than Money," out in bookstores everywhere right now.
You may know today’s hero, but I don’t think you really know all about him. Squiggy, from the hit TV show "Laverne & Shirley," he’s also the author of "Fall Down Laughing," and he’s also been through a hell of a lot. Joining me now from Los Angeles, today’s hero, David Lander.
David, good to have you back.
DAVID LANDER, ACTOR: Thank you, Neil. It’s good to be here.
CAVUTO: What a lot of people don’t know about you, David, is that you suffered quietly with multiple sclerosis for a good long while before the rest of the world knew when you came out and told us about it. I think a lot of people were surprised. Why did you keep it secret for so long?
LANDER: Well, it was pretty simple for me. And I think a lot of people who have MS, whether they’re in show business or not, it is the misconception about MS. It is a very serious disease. But it doesn’t affect everybody quite the same way.
And the symptoms, if you look up MS in the book, the famous book, and you see the symptoms, I mean, it can cause blindness, it can cause loss of memory, it can cause — you know, you’ll be in a wheelchair, so forth and so on. So I just figured, well, if that is what it says in the book, then I’d just as soon — and I’m only showing one or two symptoms, I’d just as soon keep it quiet. So for 15 years I did, and it was simply just a way of being able to maintain myself in show business.
CAVUTO: But even with your best friends and those who loved you dearly you kept it secret. They got ticked off at you. But you insisted at the time that it was the best thing to do, especially when you were finding out about it, AIDS was just coming on the picture, and a lot of people in Hollywood were being ostracized who had any hint of illness. What was going through your mind?
LANDER: Well, it was basically — it was the rest of my life is going to be pretty dark. And — but I felt pretty good. I mean, I didn’t feel good that I had MS. Once I knew I had it, I was pretty terrible. But when they started treating me — in those days we only had one treatment, which was prednisone, which is a steroid.
LANDER: And I jumped up pretty quickly. So I figured, well, I don’t know how long this is going to last, but as long as it’s going to last I’m going to keep it a secret. So that was what I did.
Now, of course, we have treatments out there, which I think it took about 12 years into my diagnosis before there were even treatments. And I wish I could have started them the first week I was diagnosed because I’m in pretty good shape now, but I know that I would be in a lot better shape if I could have started it earlier.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you something, David. Of course I don’t keep a secret here that I have MS as well, and you were a big personal inspiration to me and very kind, I might add. But I wonder today how you are treated. Does the stigma — and it doesn’t have to be MS. It can be a host of diseases.
I tend to think we’ve de-stigmatized a lot of diseases: cancer and MS and AIDS and what have you. And that society is more accepting today than it used to be. Do you agree?
LANDER: Oh, I think society may be totally more accepting. It is strange, because when I go to a ballpark — now I’m a scout for the Mariners, so I go to a lot of ballparks and people are aware of the fact I have MS. So I’ll just walk in and an usher will immediately say, "Oh, Dave, let me take you to your seat." You know? I mean, that is what ushers are supposed to do, but I can walk to the seat.
CAVUTO: Yes, but you are a famous guy. They’re just sucking up to you.
LANDER: Yes. I guess so. When you are famous you figure you can’t walk anyway, so...
CAVUTO: Right. Let me ask you, the Hollywood community, it was interesting the way you related how, you know, there is a Betty Ford Clinic and all that for alcoholics and that sort of thing, but there isn’t really for other types of diseases.
LANDER: No, there isn’t. And at the time, you know, there was the MS Society but, you know, what do you do? You don’t go to the MS Society and then I’m going to break the habit of MS. It is not quite as simple as another disease that’s an addiction. But now I think things have gotten better.
I know that I was in a clinic I recently visited in Ft. Myers, Florida, which is sort of like — the only way to describe it is it’s the Disney world for people with MS. I mean, you go to each room and they’ll treat another symptom. And all the doctors are there, and it is a sort of one-stop shopping for anyone with MS.
And I am not sure of the name of the clinic, which is my fault, but it is in Ft. Myers. And I have to admit when I saw that, I was so excited about it. And I just said, wow, look at all they are doing for us! Isn’t this great?
CAVUTO: But you are being a little modest here. It’s what you’re doing, the reason why I included you in my book, is what you are doing and giving back to people not only afflicted with this, but you are helping the MS Society, you’re trying to get the word out about the symptoms and why more people have to get themselves checked. So through all your professional hardship and how this hit your career and all, you have made a new career, in a sense, of helping people not go through what you went through.
LANDER: Yes, I guess it is the career of being me, or the occupation of being me, something I never thought I’d have to do. But, it is...
CAVUTO: You’re not one of these self-absorbed Hollywood guys. See, that is what has me suspicious about you. What is the deal?
LANDER: I don’t know. I guess — I was going to say just lucky, I guess. But maybe it was just unlucky, I guess. It sort of put me in my place.
But there are certain things — when you know you have got the same disease that a lot of people you see have, especially when you do these patient programs, it just sort of is such a humble thing and it’s such an equalizer. You know? I said to people, we’ve got to stop thinking of us and them.
And when you are in this disease or any chronic disease, it’s all of us. There is nobody different, really. It is just the symptoms that are different. But other than that, we are all in the same boat. And I think we have to help each other. And if I could help someone...
CAVUTO: Yes, you’re obviously doing that. David, does it bother you, though, that Hollywood has the reputation it does, that it is shallow and doesn’t care? Because I know clearly in your case and others, that’s clearly not the point. As much as I’ve said that all CEOs are vilified for being crooked and all politicians are evil and all priests are pedophiles, we make sweeping, general statements. What do you think of the media’s preconceptions?
LANDER: Well, it is sort of interesting, because — I mean, "West Wing" is a perfect example, where they gave the president MS.
LANDER: Which I thought was — you know, as a writer, I look at it and go, this is a great disease to give your lead character, because it can act up with — totally unpredictable. So if you have a flaw in the second act, let’s give him MS today and he can be all right the next day, so then you don’t have to worry about it.
But what was interesting was that they chose to give him a treatment, which is terrific. And the treatment they chose to give him I think was Betaseron, which is fine, also.
CAVUTO: That’s right.
LANDER: But they started getting — one, they mispronounced it Betaseran (ph), which is...
CAVUTO: I liked that. They kind of gave it a little French twist.
LANDER: Yes. I mean, it’s sort of like tonight we’re dining continental. And, also, they made it once a week, which is kind of interesting, because the only drug that is once a week is Avanex (ph).
CAVUTO: That’s right.
LANDER: So — and people said, how could they make the mistake? And I don’t really think it was an intentional mistake, but I really do believe that when they thought of giving this guy MS, somebody in the writers’ room said, does anyone know anyone with MS? Yes, my cousin has it. OK, call her and find out what she’s taking.