Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The cause is unknown, but in most forms of MS the body's immune system attacks the nerve tissue in the brain and spinal cord.
In people with multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system attacks the protective coating of nerve fibers, causing communication problems between the brain and the rest of the body.
Although there is currently no cure, this does not mean that a person diagnosed with MS cannot lead a normal life. There is no doubt that living with MS can be challenging, but several well-known celebrities who have MS have shown that with the proper treatment and disease management, people with MS can lead full and productive lives.
Famous faces with MS
Although MS ended Richard Pryor's movie career, he continued to work as a comedian after his MS diagnosis.
Image credit: Alan Light, 1986.
Here are five examples of famous people who have continued to achieve following an MS diagnosis.
When comedian Richard Pryor was diagnosed with MS in 1986, it was a surprise because at that time statistically, it was rare for African Americans to develop MS.
Though Pryor credited MS with ending his prolific movie career, he continued to perform his very popular comedy acts. Even when finally confined to a wheelchair, he was able to find the comedy in his situation and make his audiences laugh.
Richard Pryor sadly died in 2005 after a heart attack, but he remains one of the most well-known celebrities to have lived his life to the full and maintained a successful career while having MS.
Walter Williams, a founding member of the music group The O'Jays, has been living with MS since 1983.
After experiencing symptoms while on tour, doctors were initially unable to figure out what was going on. Once he was finally diagnosed, he kept it private for almost 30 years and continued to tour and perform during this time. Williams later admitted that he had some difficulty with the elaborate dance moves that The O'Jays are known for, but he didn't miss a beat.
Williams made it a top priority to take care of his body. He exercised and ate healthful food to help strengthen his body and fight against the MS. Now in his 70s, Williams has been able to keep up his performance schedule with the help of medicine and lifestyle changes.
He is also a spokesperson for the MS drug Avonex, which he credits with keeping him relapse-free.
Best known for his popular talk show, Montel Williams announced his MS diagnosis to the world in 1999. He began experiencing symptoms when he was at the Naval Academy. After graduating in 1980, he suddenly lost 80 percent of his vision in his left eye. He was put on medical hold, and tests were run, but MS was never suspected.
When his eyesight came back, he went on to serve as a naval intelligence officer for 22 years. Even though he experienced symptoms on and off, he kept going.
His diagnosis at the age of 43 showed that Montel was suffering from relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS). Williams said that his diagnosis hit him like a "ton of bricks." He suffered from immense pain as well as depression.
With the support and love of his family, he dedicated himself to finding out everything he could about MS. He launched the Montel Williams MS Foundation to help fund research on the disease.
Williams also focused on making changes to his lifestyle. He pays particular attention to labels on food products, making sure to avoid sugar, salt, and highly processed foods. Though he has always been active, Williams makes exercise a priority and works out every day.
Though his MS foundation is no longer operational, he launched an online health and fitness show in 2013. He has also been a long-term supporter of medical marijuana, crediting its help in relieving his constant pain, and has started a medical cannabis company called LenitivLabs.
Montel Williams does still experience pain and uses medication to help manage his disease. He continues to enjoy life, even taking up snowboarding, and is determined not to let MS control him.
Country singer Clay Walker was diagnosed with MS in 1996 at the age of 26 when his music career was finally taking off. He had just completed his fourth album and his first daughter had recently been born.
Initially, Walker received a negative prognosis that included life in a wheelchair and death within 8 years. Thanks to the right medication and lifestyle choices, however, he has been in remission since 1998 and remains a vocal advocate for MS awareness.
In 2003, he started Band Against MS, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing educational information for people living with MS and to raise funds to help find a cure for MS.
Walker has sold over 11 million albums, has 11 No.1 singles, and currently has no plans of slowing down or stopping anytime soon.
Walker follows a healthful organic diet and an exercise program in addition to keeping up with his medications. He continues to be vocal in the fight for a cure for MS and was awarded the Ambassador of the Year by the National Sclerosis Society.
Actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler is probably best known for playing Meadow Soprano on the popular television show The Sopranos. She was diagnosed with MS at the young age of 20 while doing the show.
Her symptoms included a weaker right side and difficulty walking for extended periods of time. Sigler hid her condition for years, not sure how to accept the diagnosis or talk to others about what she was experiencing.
Today, as a wife and the mother of a young son, she has not let her diagnosis slow her down. While pregnant, her disease went totally into remission and she was able to deliver a healthy baby. She was symptom-free for quite a while, but has dealt with symptoms very similar to fatigue for the last decade.
Though she may move slower some days or need a few extra minutes of rest, she looks forward to expanding her family if possible in the future.
In addition to leading a healthy lifestyle, she has also had injectable medications and infusions over the last few years. With the help of Tecfidera, an oral medication, her symptoms have been stable for the last 6 years and her MS manageable.
Sigler looks forward to watching her son grow, spending time with her husband, and just living her life on her terms.
Other well-known people with MS
Tamia is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has had six career Grammy nominations. In 2003, she announced that she had been diagnosed with MS.
These five people are just a small number of celebrities living life with MS. Other well-known celebrities include:
- Tamia Hill, singer
- Teri Garr, actress
- Trevor Bayne, the youngest driver in NASCAR history to win the Daytona 500
Though each has experienced their own specific struggles, they have each found a way to fight back with the help of medicine and living a healthy lifestyle to enjoy full and productive lives.
A person's lifestyle is very important in battling MS. Making lifestyle changes can be instrumental in helping with overall treatment.
Some lifestyle changes recommended for those with MS include:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Keeping cool: MS symptoms often worsen as the body temperature rises
- Eating a balanced diet
- Relieving stress
- Not smoking
Life after diagnosis
Some people diagnosed with MS may experience a steady worsening of symptoms or decline of health. The rate of progression does vary, and the person's outlook depends greatly on the individual as well as the severity and frequency of relapses.
Diagnosis most definitely does not mean confinement to a wheelchair or death. Thanks to progress in treatment options, people with MS are able to live relatively normal lives.
Early diagnosis, early treatment, and adhering strictly to medication and treatment plans, as well as making the right lifestyle changes, can help people fight back against the disease.