Teri Garr acknowledges she has multiple sclerosis. The ''Mr. Mom'' star reverses earlier denials, saying she was misdiagnosed for nearly 20 years
Teri Garr
Credit: Teri Garr: Kathy Hutchins/Hutchins Photo/Newscom

Teri Garr acknowledged on Tuesday what many fans and Hollywood insiders had long suspected: that she has multiple sclerosis. The 56-year-old actress made the disclosure in a statement yesterday, then opened up about her ailment on CNN’s ”Larry King Live” Tuesday night, where she said she’d suffered various symptoms of the neurological disorder for 19 years but had been misdiagnosed by as many as 11 doctors.

Her announcement counters several denials she’d issued in earlier interviews. In a 1994 TV Guide interview, she dismissed reports of her MS as ”rumors” started by Hollywood’s ”hairdresser mafia.” In 1999, after her appearance as Phoebe’s mother on ”Friends” appeared to show her favoring one side of her body, her spokesperson told People magazine that Garr ”has never been diagnosed with MS. She has degenerative discs with spurs on her neck and spine.” In yesterday’s statement, however, she said, ”I didn’t tell people because I didn’t want pity and I was afraid I wouldn’t get work. But others with MS need to know they are not alone.We don’t have to be victims.”

According to E!, Garr has done work on behalf of MS sufferers in the past, having participated for several years in the annual Race to Erase MS benefit and having appeared alongside fellow MS patient Montel Williams on a panel discussion of the disease. She told King that in June, she started taking Rebif, a prescription form of interferon that she says has alleviated her symptoms, and her announcement yesterday came as part of her new role as a ”paid ambassador” for MS Lifelines, an informational service funded by Serono and Pfizer, the pharmaceutical companies that market Rebif.

Garr, who’s best known for comic roles in such films as ”Young Frankenstein,” ”Mr. Mom,” and ”Tootsie” (for which she earned a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination), showed King that the disease hasn’t sapped her sense of humor. When King asked her if her MS had, in fact, hurt her ability to find acting jobs, she said, ”What’s worse in Hollywood, being handicapped or being a woman over 50? You know, it sort of thins out anyway. But I used to say that the William Morris Agency put me in the actress protection program. It’s really working very well.”