Whatever Happened To Teri Garr?

In the 1970s and '80s, Teri Garr's Hollywood career was on the rise. She appeared in the 1977 blockbuster Steven Spielberg film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and received an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her role in 1982's "Tootsie" with Dustin Hoffman. But in the coming decades, ongoing medical issues negatively impacted her acting career.

In 1999, doctors diagnosed her with the potentially debilitating neurodegenerative disease multiple sclerosis, and after speaking publicly about her MS, acting jobs stopped coming her way. "When things slowed down, it was either the MS or that I'm a stinking actress, so I chose to believe it's the MS," Garr told Brain & Life magazine in 2005. She nearly died in 2006 from a brain aneurysm and was briefly hospitalized in 2019 after suffering from dehydration. That didn't stop Garr from being active. She wrote an autobiography, became a motivational speaker, and appeared in several film and television roles before officially retiring from acting in 2011.

An Oscar-nominated actor

Teri Garr was born in Lakewood, Ohio, in December 1944 to parents who were both involved in the entertainment field. Her father was a vaudeville comedian and her mother was a Radio City Rockette before she became a seamstress for NBC. Garr broke into show business as a dancer and appeared in a string of Elvis Presley movies, including "Viva Las Vegas," eventually pivoting to acting. Among her notable early roles was in the 1974 Mel Brooks comedy "Young Frankenstein."

After her best actress nomination for "Tootsie" Garr believed her career would continue to blossom. And for a while it did. She appeared in Martin Scorsese's "After Hours" and had a recurring role on the hit television show "Friends," among other parts, but then she began to experience strange medical symptoms. "I was a working actress, and in my mind, all was going according to plan," she wrote in her 2006 autobiography "Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood." "But it ain't always, so is it? My body had a trick or two up its sleeve. A stumble here, a tingling finger there. ... The biggest challenges of my life were still ahead."

MS diagnosis

In 1999, doctors diagnosed Teri Garr with multiple sclerosis. For years she'd been having symptoms that kept getting misdiagnosed. "It started in 1983," she recalled in 2005." I was living in New York and I'd go jogging in Central Park, and I'd start tripping. I'd notice that the more I ran and got my body heated up, the weaker I'd get." The symptoms then disappeared only to return several years later. In 2002, Garr went on "Larry King Live" to announce that she had MS. While Garr's acting career suffered, her desire to advocate for people who shared her disease bloomed.

"I think my career would have changed anyway at a certain age, but Hollywood's very finicky about everyone being perfect," she said in 2005. "There's definitely fear and misunderstanding out there about what MS is, and that's one of the reasons why it's so important to me to go out and talk about it," she later added.

Motivational speaking and advocacy work

Following her MS diagnosis, Teri Garr began traveling across the country speaking publicly about her disease and became an ambassador for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. "I'm working to change how others look at people with this awful disease," she told The South Bend Tribune in 2003. The actress also became a paid spokesperson for an MS medication. Among the symptoms she experienced by the early 2000s were memory issues, fatigue, cognition problems, and a limp. "I've never thought of myself as a victim and never will," she said.

During her speaking engagements, she encouraged others with MS to be their "own health advocate," enquiring whether they were on medication. "We have treatments now that we didn't have before," she said in 2005. And through it all, she was raising a daughter born just six years before her official diagnosis. "I try to reserve the top-notch time, my best energy, for her," she said.

She raised a daughter

In 1993, Teri Garr married John O'Neil, a building contractor, and adopted a newborn, naming her Molly. The couple split up three years later. Molly grew up with her mother's MS and has been by her side through it all. "She knows I have good days and bad days," Garr said in 2005 when her daughter was 11. "And she doesn't treat me any differently because of it — she says I'm not just a regular mom, but a Supermom," she added.

A decade later, in 2015, Molly was living in an apartment in her mother's home to be close enough to help Garr with her daily needs. "She is a great example of what inspires me and what I live for," Garr told Closer that year. "She is always there when I need her." One of the scariest incidents for Molly came in 2006 when she found her mother unresponsive in bed and had to call 911. She was 13 at the time.

A near fatal aneurysm

In December 2006, Molly O'Neil found her mother Teri Garr in bed and, unable to wake her up, called for an ambulance. "She's very good in these kinds of situations," Garr told the Los Angeles Times in 2008. "She called 911. They rushed me to the hospital. They drilled a hole in my head and wrapped a coil around my brain so it wouldn't bleed anymore."

Garr remained in a coma for a week and nearly died. But she slowly recovered. "I was in rehab for about two months," she told David Letterman during her last appearance on the "Late Show" in 2008 (via YouTube). "I had to learn to walk again, talk again, and think again — I'm still working on that although I'm not sure it's that important in Hollywood." She joked that her only memory from the incident was seeing "a bright hallway and John Wayne was at the end and he was beckoning me. I didn't know whether he wanted me to come over to Deathville or to be a Republican."

Retired from acting

Not long before Teri Garr's near-death experience, she acted in two independent films, "Expired" and "Kabluey," both from 2007. In 2011, she officially retired from acting. Her final role was in an episode of the TV series "How to Marry a Billionaire." By 2017, Garr was using a wheelchair to get around, although she sometimes still walked on her own using a cane.

In December 2019, she was again taken to the hospital. What was initially feared to be a stroke turned out to be dehydration. "Teri is fine," a representative for the actor said (via ET). "She had some confusion which it turns out was caused by dehydration." Today, at 79, she continues to live in Los Angeles, where she was once one of the top comedic actors during her long career that included more than 150 acting credits. "I appreciate my life every minute and count my blessings," she told David Letterman.