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SOCIAL CLIMES

The colors of defiance

May 18, 2003|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

Celebs showcased rags by Tommy Hilfiger and the Four Tops crooned Motown, but it was an outspoken -- and angry -- Teri Garr who brought more than 1,000 guests to their feet at the 10th anniversary celebration of Race to Erase MS. Diagnosed several years ago with multiple sclerosis, she was so fearful of the prejudice toward her disease she'd tell friends, "I think I may have a touch of MS," she told the crowd gathered in the ballroom at the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa.

No more. "I'm an actress over 50 in Hollywood. What's the difference?" she deadpanned, taking a jab at talent agents who can't seem to find her work. "No, actually, it's worse being over 50 in Hollywood, according to one of my six-agents-ago," she said. "You know who I'm talking about." So she decided to appear at the May 9 gala that raked in $2 million for the Nancy Davis Center Without Walls, a collaboration among the world's leading MS research scientists, "to face the prejudice head on," she said. "It's easy to jump on the negative bandwagon in Hollywood, where tickets are free.... What I would love people in the entertainment industry to know is that they have the power to change the perception of this disease. MS doesn't mean a ruined life. It's not the end of the world."

Certainly not for Nancy Davis, the jewelry-designing daughter of L.A. philanthropists Barbara and Marvin Davis, whose prognosis after she was diagnosed with MS more than a decade ago was filled with "gloom and doom." "There was no hope when I started, and here we are and I'm living a good life," said Davis, stunning in a feathered black Badgley Mischka gown. Her disease is labeled "relapsing, remitting MS," she said. "And for whatever reason, I'm doing really well. Others have the chronic progressive type of the disease" of the central nervous system that can cause loss of balance and coordination. "And it never gets better. You just keep going."

During the 10 years that Davis has been raising funds for MS research, five drugs for the treatment of the disease have received FDA approval, she said. Barbara Davis attributes her daughter's good health to an exercise regimen and healthy eating habits. "The amazing thing is the way she has brought all of these researchers together. They are getting closer and closer to a cure."

Introducing Nancy Davis at the gala, her son, Alexander Davis, told the crowd: "When she was diagnosed with MS, the only thing I was told was that she would never walk again. She never once laid in bed, sulking about it. She used it as incentive to live every day as if it was her last. When she walks out onto the stage tonight, just think about the doctors who said she would be in a wheelchair. I promise it will send shivers down your spine."

Besides celebrities who included Hilfiger, Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves, Rachel Hunter, Anjelica Huston, Robert Graham, Montel Williams, Daryl Hannah, Larry King and Jennifer Tilly, MS patient Chris Timbanelli of Connecticut was among guests enjoying the Dancin' in the Street gala dinner and auction. "I wouldn't have missed this 10th anniversary blast," Timbanelli said. "I was diagnosed prior to the development of drugs that stop the progression of MS.... They gave me chemotherapy and radiation -- I was as bald as a cue ball. I can't wait to go back home and tell people how much is being done out here by people who are giving their time and resources to find a cure."

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