Many actresses of a certain age consider themselves lucky to still land film roles. Much-loved comedic actress Teri Garr not only finds herself in two new pictures, but much more importantly for the 60-year-old, is walking again after being confined to a wheelchair for a year following a life-threatening brain aneurysm.
“I can walk, talk and think again — I haven’t been in a wheelchair in six months, which is huge,” says Garr, who appears in the films “Expired” and “Kabluey” in theaters this month. “My doctor had said to me, ‘Get out of the wheelchair. If you do therapy, you’ll have a chance at 100 percent recovery.’ I walk on a machine and swim 27 laps a day.”
Speaking with Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb on TODAY, Garr recalled the events of December 21, 2006, when she suffered her medical trauma.
“That was a nightmare,” Garr said. “It just happened. My daughter couldn’t wake me up, so they called 911. They rushed me to the hospital. They drilled a hole in my head and wrapped a coil around my brain. I was unconscious for a week and I was in rehab for two months — couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk. Now I’ve relearned everything. I’m so happy.”
Garr admits she wasn’t always a model patient on her long road to recovery, but credits her “brilliant doctors” for getting her up on her feet again. When they urged an exercise regimen, Garr says she told them, “I’m not doing that’’ and “I won’t do that,” but now sticks to her program “every single day.”
The trademark sense of humor Garr has displayed in such films as “Young Frankenstein” and on TV’s “Friends” didn’t leave her during trying times — she learned all over again that laughter is indeed the best medicine. “I think it’s critical, a sense of humor,” she says. “It did help me, it does help me, continuously.”
It’s carried Garr through a stellar career that saw her rise from an uncredited dancer in a string of Elvis Presley movies in the 1960s to an Academy Award nomination in 1982 for her role in “Tootsie.” And it’s also helped Garr through personal challenges — the actress was finally diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1999 after nearly 20 years of suffering through its symptoms.
The disease continues to be a daily challenge for Garr. “The MS is still damn there,” she says. “I do the best that I can. MS affects everyone differently, and I do the best I can. I’ve gotten used to it.”
Since her diagnosis, Garr has soldiered on with a busy career that includes nearly 150 TV and film roles. She’s excited about her work in “Expired“ and “Kabluey,” although as independent films, she laughs and says, “They cost $1.80 to make.”
In “Expired,” set for a June 20 release, she stars opposite Samantha Morton and Jason Patric in a comedic tale of a love affair between a meter maid and a parking officer — Garr pulls double acting duty as both the mother and aunt of Morton’s character. In “Kabluey,” Garr is reunited with Lisa Kudrow — Garr played her mother, Phoebe Sr., on “Friends” — in a comedy about children who run amok when their father is sent to fight in Iraq.
Garr worked on both of her films before her 2006 aneurysm, but she’s hoping to continue to get busy with her career once again now that the worst is behind her.
“I may not be able to run around the block anymore, but I love my life,” she says.
Garr’s raising her 14-year-old daughter Molly, serves as a national ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and is involved in Democratic politics.
“I liked Hillary, but I guess we’ll take Obama,” Garr told Gifford and Kotb. “It will be fine — he’s pretty smart.”
And she keeps her humor intact when trying to recall the events leading up to her aneurysm.
“I was out, except for John Wayne was beckoning me.”