American actress Teri Garr is best known as Dustin Hoffman's neurotic girlfriend in the 1982 hit Tootsie. She began working in the 1960s as a dancer in a series of Elvis Presley films. Garr went to make appearances in several shows including The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour. Her film career began to take off with 1974's Young Frankenstein (1974). Garr went to star in Tootsie (1982), for which she earned an Academy Award nomination. Later films include Mr. Mom, After Hours and Let It Ride. In 2002, she announced she was battling multiple sclerosis.
Born on December 11, 1944 (some sources say 1947), Academy Award-nominated actress Teri Garr grew up in the world of entertainment. Her parents had met while working on the same Broadway show. Her father, Eddie Garr, was an actor and comedian. Her mother Phyllis had been a model and a dancer before devoting herself to raising Teri and her two older brothers Ed and Phil. Garr moved a lot as a kid, as her family followed her father’s work around the country.
Garr was only 11 years old when her father died. Her mother supported Garr and her brothers by working in the wardrobe department at NBC and later other studios. Around this time, Garr discovered her passion for dance. She started out studying ballet and later moved on to other forms of dance. Some of Garr’s early work was as a dancer in several Elvis Presley movies, including Viva Las Vegas (1964).
Popular Film Actress
As an actress, Garr first found work in commercials and on TV. She made guest appearances on such shows as Star Trek and That Girl. Garr also had a role in the 1968 film Head featuring the musical group The Monkees. She had gotten that part through her acting classmate Jack Nicholson who had penned the film’s script. While the movie failed to attract much of an audience, Garr remained in demand as a performer. She worked on such TV shows as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour and McCloud.
Garr’s real breakthrough in movies came in 1974 with the comedy Young Frankenstein. She made the most out of her supporting role as Gene Wilder’s lab assistant in this popular Mel Brooks movie. In 1977, Garr starred in Steven Spielberg’s science fiction hit Close Encounters of the Third Kind with Richard Dreyfuss. She also appeared in the comedy Oh, God! with John Denver and George Burns that same year.
One of the high points of her film career was 1982’s Tootsie. She impressed audiences and critics alike with her work in this hit comedy. Garr co-starred with Dustin Hoffman as his actress girlfriend in the film. She was nominated for an Academy Award for Tootsie, but she ended up losing out to another co-star Jessica Lange. Over the next few years, Garr starred in several comedies, including Mr. Mom (1983) with Michael Keaton, After Hours (1985) with Griffin Dunne and Let It Ride (1989) with Richard Dreyfuss.
Later Work and Personal Challenges
In the late 1990s, Garr had a recurring role on the hit sitcom Friends. She played the biological mother of Lisa Kudrow’s character Phoebe. For years, Garr coped with an array of symptoms. "I had no idea what was wrong," she told CNN. “I just felt tingling. . . . I felt buzzing in my foot. And then when I was jogging also, I would get this horrible pain in my arm like a knife stabbing.” It wasn’t until 1999 that she received a diagnosis—Garr had multiple sclerosis. She kept her battle with the disease private while continuing to act, appearing on such shows as ER and Felicity.
In 2002, Garr appeared on Larry King’s talk show to share her struggle with MS. She told Everyday Health that “I decided to go public because there were rumors floating around and I wanted the information to come from me and not an outsider.” Garr went on to raise awareness about the disease, serving as an ambassador for the Multiple Sclerosis Society and as a paid spokesperson for a medication used to treat MS. She also wrote about her experiences in her 2005 memoir Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood.
Garr suffered a health crisis in 2006 when she had a brain aneurysm. After having surgery to fix the condition, Garr made a full recovery. She made appearances in two independent comedies the following year, Expired and Kabluey.
Garr has a daughter, Molly, who was adopted during her first marriage to building contractor John O’Neil. The couple married in 1993 and divorced a few years later.
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