Selma Blair Opens Up About Her MS Diagnosis
"They were tears of knowing I now had to give in to a body that had loss of control."
In October 2018, actress Selma Blair revealed she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, or MS, and she’s recently opened up about her life with this incurable illness.
In her first television interview since her diagnosis, Blair told Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America” (in a taped interview that aired on Feb. 26) that she had been in an MS flare-up since her son Arthur Saint, now 7, was born, but didn’t know it, and was “giving it everything to seem normal.”
The “Legally Blonde” star also showed her strength when speaking to Vanity Fair, stating, “There’s no tragedy for me.”
Candid Chat On ‘Good Morning America’
On “Good Morning America,” Blair, 46, revealed how difficult life was before she got her diagnosis. “I was ashamed and I was doing the best I could and I was a great mother, but it was killing me,” she told Roberts.
She also shared how relieved she was to finally receive her diagnosis, telling Roberts, “I had tears. They weren’t tears of panic. They were tears of knowing I now had to give in to a body that had loss of control, and there was some relief in that.” An outpouring of social media support followed the emotional interview, with viewers commending Blair for her bravery and honesty.
Making A Statement At The Oscars
The night before Blair’s “Good Morning America” interview aired, she made a very stylish return to the spotlight, walking the red carpet at the 2019 Vanity Fair Oscar Party. She debuted a new short blonde bob, wore an ethereal multicolored Ralph & Russo gown and matching cape, and carried a chic cane, which she uses to support her movement. The significance of the occasion was clear: Blair had tears in her eyes as she was applauded by photographers and spectators, and she told reporters, “It took a lot to come out here.”
Styling It Up
Blair’s cane is much more than just a red carpet prop — she needs it to walk independently and safely. However, her cane did get the A-list treatment from some of her celebrity friends. On Instagram, Blair revealed that celeb “‘man’-icurist” Tom Bachik customized her cane with a monogram and an actual pink diamond. This came after initial personalization with patent leather and stitching.
“Hours of love put in … I burst into tears,” she wrote. “These gifts to get me through … There are angels.”
Film And TV Roles
Blair’s first leading movie role was in the 1998 film, “Brown’s Requiem.” The following year, she appeared in the cult hit “Cruel Intentions,” alongside Sarah Michelle Gellar, Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe. She went on to star in movies “Legally Blonde” (also with Witherspoon) and “The Sweetest Thing,” with Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate and Parker Posey.
Her television roles include Kim in the American remake of “Kath & Kim,” Kate Wales on the sitcom “Anger Management” and Kris Jenner in the first season of the FX drama series “American Crime Story.”
Revealing Her Diagnosis
Last October, Blair revealed her MS diagnosis in a detailed Instagram post from the set of her upcoming Netflix series “Another Life.” She praised the producers and crew who were helping her live and work as normally as possible, in particular, the woman from the costume department who helped dress her.
“I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken gps,” she wrote. “But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.”
A Chronic, Unpredictable Disease
MS happens when a person’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath, which is the material that protects nerve fibers. This interferes with the messages between the brain and the body and has a serious impact on the central nervous system. Cognitive and vision problems, fatigue and numbness are common issues. Blair believes she had MS for at least 15 years before she was diagnosed, and during that time had received many misdiagnoses. It wasn’t until she got an MRI that 20 lesions were detected on her brain, leading to the answer she was so desperate to receive.
Another Role in ‘Another Life’
Blair has hit the headlines recently for her MS diagnosis, but she’s got plenty going on work-wise too.
She’s currently set to star in the Netflix original series “Another Life” as Harper Glass, a media influencer who’s trying to break one of the biggest stories of all time. Other notable names in the sci-fi show are Katee Sackhoff, who plays astronaut Niko Breckenridge, Samuel Anderson and Tyler Hoechlin.
In 2018, Blair appeared as Jess in Netflix’s “Lost in Space,” with Parker Posey playing her on-screen sister June.
Blair wasn’t prepared for the attention her announcement received, telling Vanity Fair that she thinks of herself as “pretty much a nobody in Hollywood.”
“It wasn’t about announcing a dramatic diagnosis,” she explained. “I had no idea, for some reason, that news outlets would pick it up or anything. When they did, I was kind of uncomfortable. Then I was worried, thinking, ‘Will anyone hire me?'”
Noreen Halpern, an executive producer on “Another Life,” made it clear that Blair’s illness would have no impact on her role on the show.
“Her manager said, ‘She’s concerned that you aren’t going to want her on the show anymore,’ which was insane to me,” she told Vanity Fair. “Because we wanted her… What was heartbreaking for me was her having to deal with the unknown, coupled with her feeling that we weren’t going to fully embrace her. We said, ‘We’re going to make this work.'”
Sharing The News With Her Biggest Love
Blair didn’t have a problem telling her 7-year-old, Arthur Saint, her son with fashion designer Jason Bleick, about her illness.
“I did have to tell him after the MRI. I said, ‘I have something called multiple sclerosis,'” she told Roberts. “And he almost cried and said, ‘Will it kill you?’ And I said, ‘No. I mean, we never know what kills us, Arthur. But this is not the doctor telling me I’m dying.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, OK,’ and that was it.”
Blair said that Arthur had already sensed on his own that something was up, and that he had seen his mom “falling and doing [different] things.”
No More Mom Guilt
Blair said she’s learned that it’s OK for her to take a day off if she needs to. “My son gets it, and now I’ve learned to not feel really guilty,” she told Roberts. She now has the freedom to stop pretending. “There were times when I couldn’t take it and I was really struggling with how I’m going to get by in life,” she admitted.
Blair also revealed that her illness has brought out her son’s protective side, now that she looks and sounds so different (she has a vocal tremor). “He wants to be closer to my body more, and I can tell he wants to make sure I’m still here inside,” she told Vanity Fair. “I used to be so athletic with him. Now I fall in front of him.”
Life As A Single Mom
After Blair split from Bleick in 2012, she was left to raise 14-month-old Arthur by herself. For the next few years, life as a single mom was tough, she told US Weekly.
“I was an older, tired, single mom,” she said. “As much as I loved my child, I was really lost… lost for, like, four-and-a-half years. I kind of hit rock bottom.” It was through connecting with a community of mom friends that Blair managed to get her confidence back. But despite the tough times, Blair loves nothing more than being a parent.
“It takes a village, and it’s really hard to be the village on your own,” she told The Glow. “But it’s still amazingly rewarding.”
Blair recently paid tribute to her close friend and “Cruel Intentions” co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar — and the feeling is mutual. The actresses shared heartfelt messages to each other on Instagram, with Gellar writing that she will “spend the rest of my life continuing to fight” for Blair as she battles MS.
Earlier, Blair had described Gellar as “everything,” writing, “She tucked me in and brought me dinner and loved me up. I woke with so much love for #sarahmichellegellar. Since the day I met her over 20 years ago, she fought for me.”
Speaking to Vanity Fair, Blair’s doctor Saud Sadiq, director and chief research scientist of the Tisch MS Research Center of New York, revealed how brave Blair is in the face of her illness.
“I have patients with M.S. who are surgeons, actors, a commercial airline pilot, sports figures, successful lawyers — they don’t want anyone to know about their illness because they feel it could hurt their career. Her decision to speak out also brings awareness and increases research funding for the disease when people can see somebody affected in the way that she is,” he said.
Blair herself told the magazine, “I’m happy, and if I can help anyone be more comfortable in their skin, it’s more than I’ve ever done before.”
Good Days And Bad Days
Blair’s Instagram feed shows the ups and downs of MS.
“It is uncomfortable,” she wrote in January alongside an image of her in bed with a teddy bear. “It is a stadium of uncontrollable anxiety at times. Going out, being sociable holds a heavy price. My brain is on fire. I am freezing. We feel alone with it even though the loving support has been a god send (sic) and appreciated.”
However, Blair tries to stay positive even on her worst days. “My life is not about suffering. There are moments of sharing in a way that some may find too much, but there is positivity in these posts. A face to a disease I could not get information about from people I saw succeeding. I am succeeding and love my life.”
Telling The Truth
When she was talking to Roberts on “GMA,” Blair was in an “exacerbation” of MS, which is a flare-up or attack that can cause new symptoms or make existing symptoms worse — an opportunity to share some of the realities of MS that the actress embraced, rather than hid from.
“It is interesting to put it out there, to be here to say, ‘This is what my particular case looks like right now,'” she said. She added that despite dealing with the flare-up, she was doing “very well” and happy to be able to show the world “what being in the middle of an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis is like.”
Searching For Style Solutions
Blair has always been known as a fashion-forward star, regularly featuring on best-dressed lists. But her MS diagnosis has made her think about style in a different way. She’s had to adapt her wardrobe to deal with her limited mobility, and it’s planted the seed for a potential business venture.
“I would like to partner with someone like Christian Siriano on a line for everyone — not just people who necessarily need adaptive clothing, but for those who want comfort, too,” she told Vanity Fair. “It can still be chic. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice style. Like, let’s get elastic waistbands to look a little bit better.”
Blair has been open about her history of self-medicating to cope with the symptoms of a disease she didn’t yet know she had. She told Roberts, “I was self-medicating when [my son] wasn’t with me. I was drinking. I was in pain. I wasn’t always drinking, but there were times when I couldn’t take it.”
After a public incident in June 2016, which saw Blair removed from a plane and rushed to a hospital, she decided to get sober. (Vanity Fair published an apology from Blair, in which she said, “I made a big mistake yesterday. After a lovely trip with my son and his Dad, I mixed alcohol with medication, and that caused me to black out and led me to say and do things that I deeply regret. My son was with his Dad asleep with his headphones on, so there is that saving grace. I take this very seriously, and I apologize to all of the passengers and crew that I disturbed and am thankful to all of the people who helped me in the aftermath. I am a flawed human being who makes mistakes and am filled with shame over this incident. I am truly very sorry.”)
In June 2018, just before she turned 46, Blair celebrated another very important milestone: two years of sobriety.
An Inspiration To Others
Kris Jenner, who bonded with Blair after the actress played her on “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” told Vanity Fair how inspired she is by her friend as she shares her MS journey with the world.
“She really is sharing something so vulnerable, and so scary,” Jenner said. “She showed me what courage is, and how to be brave. I changed a bit of the way I live my life because of her.”
Reaching Out To Michael J. Fox
Blair told “Good Morning America” that she had reached out to fellow actor Michael J. Fox, who revealed his Parkinson’s disease diagnosis in 1998. “I said, ‘I don’t know who to tell, but I am dropping things. I’m doing strange things,'” she said. “He got in touch with me and we began conversations. He really helped me… he gives me hope.”
Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was only 30 years of age, a year after he first noticed his little finger shaking — something he initially attributed to a hangover.
The Michael J. Fox Foundation
In 1999, Fox appeared unmedicated before Congress to illustrate the terrible effects of the disease, and describes how he looked “as if an invisible bully were harassing me as I read my statement.” The following year, Fox founded The Michael J. Fox Foundation, which has raised more than $800 million to date to help find a cure for Parkinson’s disease.
In November 2018, Fox jammed with Joan Jett and Steve Winwood on stage at the A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Cure Parkinson’s benefit gala for The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Shortly before the performance, Jett’s Twitter account shared, “60,000 new Parkinson’s cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. alone this year. Tonight Joan is at @MichaelJFoxOrg’s #FoxGala raising money for important research to help cure the disease.”
Montel Williams Has Also Talked About Having MS
Blair isn’t the only celebrity who has spoken openly about her diagnosis. Former talk show host Montel Williams had symptoms of MS for nearly two decades before he received an official diagnosis. It started with vision problems in his left eye when Williams was about to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I was a 22-year-old African-American male in the best shape of my life,” he said. “At the time, many doctors thought MS primarily affected Caucasian women.”
Like Blair, it was an MRI that finally led doctors to MS.
Jack Osbourne Was Diagnosed At Just 26
Another young star who has become an advocate for the MS community is reality TV star Jack Osbourne, who was diagnosed with the illness in 2012 when he was 26 years old.
Five years later, Osbourne told Today that “MS is not a death sentence.” Dad-of-two Osbourne revealed that “there’s hope, there’s absolutely hope,” and said he sees his diagnosis “as a huge silver lining” because he is “always doing something and trying to accomplish something.”
Jamie Lynn Sigler Kept Her Diagnosis Hidden
Actress Jamie Lynn Sigler went public with her MS diagnosis in 2016 after living with the illness for 15 years.
“I didn’t tell anyone [about my multiple sclerosis],” she told Glamour. “It’s very surreal because [the Race to Erase MS Gala is] an event that I used to go to and would think, ‘No one even knows I have this. [And yet], I’m one of the people that will benefit from this.'”
Sigler also revealed the encouraging words from her doctor when she was diagnosed at the age of just 20 years old: “I don’t want you to think you can’t do anything that you don’t want to do in this life.”
Passionate About Raising Awareness
Blair is passionate about bringing awareness and funding for MS. “I really feel like people with disabilities are invisible to a lot of people. Because they’re uncomfortable, or don’t have the energy to dress up, don’t want to be seen,” she told Vanity Fair.
“You want to still be part of the living, not a shuffling person people get out of the way for because they’re queasy.” She’s committed to taking advantage of her celebrity platform to draw attention to the illness.
“No one has the energy to talk when they’re in… flare-up,” she told Roberts. “But I do ’cause I love a camera.”
Optimistic About The Future
Blair is facing the future with positivity and optimism, boosted by her “strangely amazing” prognosis. “I’m very symptomatic,” she told Roberts. “I have an aggressive MS. But the doctor I saw… he said within a year I could have — at the time he said 90 percent of my abilities back.”
Sadiq echoes Blair’s optimism as she continues with a monthly intravenous-drug therapy that will hopefully calm her symptoms. “I think she’ll be a different person in a year,” he told Vanity Fair.