Angela Lansbury adds role: ALS spokeswoman
By Frazier Moore
The actress lost a sister to Lou Gehrig’s disease.
NEW YORK — Seated on a stool, Angela Lansbury addresses the camera as a pistol goes off.
A bullet travels toward her in menacing slow motion, but she seems unaware. She is talking about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — Lou Gehrig’s disease — which progressively paralyzes its victims and cruelly shortens their lives.
Then Lansbury reassures her audience that continued funding for research “will help people with ALS do this” — she rises to her feet and pertly steps out of view, having dodged the bullet by a fraction of an inch as it pierces the wall behind her.
This forceful TV spot is part of a public-awareness campaign featuring Lansbury as the new spokeswoman for the ALS Association.
“We use a bullet as a metaphor,” says Lansbury, “and it’s a very apt one. With ALS, you don’t really know where it comes from, and you don’t know when it might hit.”
In short, much mystery enshrouds this disease, which, according to the ALS Association, afflicts some 30,000 Americans, and so far has eluded efforts to uncover any clear-cut cause.
Genetics seems to play a role, but only in a small percentage of cases, says Lucie Bruijn, the association’s science director. “You can’t go in to have a blood test done to find, ‘Oh, you have this gene and you have ALS.”’
ALS has some connection with aging — “generally it’s people in midlife who get the disease. That gives us clues.” And certain environmental factors might also be involved, she says, citing a higher incidence among military veterans than the general population.
Bruijn acknowledges the chances of getting ALS are small. But the consequences are dire. Moreover, any answers to questions posed by ALS may also aid in treating other motor neuron-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s.
Lansbury’s sister died from ALS two decades ago.
“It’s a terrible disease,” she says. “I wanted to get on board and help to make the American public aware how desperate the need for research is.”
Lansbury makes a fitting advocate. She remains widely known from her dozen seasons on the CBS whodunit “Murder, She Wrote,” which premiered a quarter-century ago. She played a crime novelist cracking mysteries with lovable gusto.
An image like that “does help. People trust me,” she says, then chuckles, “They shouldn’t, really. I’m NOT Jessica Fletcher. But I share a lot of her qualities, I hope: I’m interested; I care.”
Of course, the London-born Lansbury has far more credits than this hit TV series. At 82, she’s an actress whose range and longevity qualify her as a full-of-life example of show-biz history.