Friday, February 03, 2006

Memory Walk brings ‘Niles’ home

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The grandstand is vacant now at Saratoga Race Course. The leaves have already begun their slow descent to earth. And the nine-furlong track seems as neverending as the devotion of those who gathered Saturday outside the racecourse gates for the Alzheimer’s Association Memory Walk.

Union Avenue was packed outside the track as a crowd of at least several hundred gathered to welcome home David Hyde Pierce and to follow his steps leading through the Spa City for the walk.

‘This morning, what we are doing here in Saratoga is also being done across the country through September and October,’ Pierce told the crowd, standing atop a makeshift stage at the track’s entrance. ‘The reason we are here today is that there are some things that we can do.’ Pierce talked about the necessities of raising money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. He also spoke of its non-discriminating nature.

‘Latin or Asian, African American or Caucasian,’ Pierce said, the disease crosses all divides. ‘What we are trying to address is that Alzheimer’s has no boundaries.’ He also dispelled the notion that the disease only affects the elderly. ‘I’m 44 years old, and if I’m going to have Alzheimer’s when I turn 65 years old, then now, it has already begun.’ Pierce lost his father and grandfather to the disease.

Shortly before appearing on the stage, Pierce met with the media to discuss everything from his acting career to a cure for the presently-incurable disease.
‘We are shockingly close to a cure,’ Pierce said, stressing the need for money to be used for funding research. ‘I’m not a medical person, but the information that I have been able to gather from people who are says that we are close - I would say somewhere in the five- to 10-year range.’

Pierce sits on the Board of Directors of the national Alzheimer’s Association and also serves as the national chairman of the association’s Memory Walk program. He last hosted the Saratoga walk in 2001, which he calls the one most personally important to him. The Memory Walk program in the Northeastern New York region is in its 11th year. It includes 11 walks spread across 17 counties. Currently, 35,000 people with Alzheimer’s disease reside in the 17-county area. Funds raised from the Memory Walk support educational and supportive services for individuals and families impacted by Alzheimer’s disease.

Visiting his hometown also provided Pierce the opportunity to catch up with old friends. One was Lawrence Ostwald, a retired mathematics educator who taught at Saratoga Springs High School for 30 years and remembers Pierce and his siblings Barbara, Nancy and Thomas. Pierce first caught the acting bug while attending a New York City Ballet performance at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center when he was 7 years old.

These days, Pierce spends most of his time on the West Coast, portraying Dr. Niles Crane on the NBC series ‘Frasier.’ After Saturday’s walk, he hopped a plane back to the West Coast in time to attend tonight’s 55th annual Emmy Awards in Los Angeles. Pierce is nominated for his fourth Emmy, for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series.

Pierce said the series is slowly winding down. ‘We will be shooting our last episode on March 23,’ he said, met by a collective sigh of sadness from the crowd. ‘Part of the idea is wanting to go off while people are still sad about it.’ After the conclusion of the series, Pierce said he may return to the New York stage. That’s where he got his theatrical start in the early 1980s, selling ties at Bloomingdale’s department store by day and performing on the Broadway stage at night.

Given his knowledge about and involvement with Alzheimer’s disease, he was asked if a role that focuses on the disease is in his future. ‘Alzheimer’s is something that is so easy to sentimentalize,’ he replied. He said the possibility does exist, however, ‘if I found the script that did justice to the complexity of the issues.’
Pierce was presented Saturday with the Alzheimer Association’s ‘Remembrance Award,’ a framed plaque that included a sailboat drawing by 95-year-old Rolland Purdy, who coincidentally shares an April 3 birthdate with the actor. Pierce and Thaddeus Raushi shared the ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the walk. Raushi, after being diagnosed with possible early onset of Alzheimer’s in the 1990s, wrote about his experiences in his book ‘A View from Within.’ Others on hand included PYX-106 morning show host Bob Wolf and Channel 13 health reporter Benita Zahn. Mayor Ken Klotz joined members of the Lake George Opera for a rendition of the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ shortly before Pierce, wearing a Memory Walk 2003 T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers, announced to the crowd, ‘Let’s go walk!’

He then led the group on a wide path that cut across Union Avenue and into the city streets.

by Thomas Dimopoulos
for The Saratogian and The Troy Record, Sept. 21, 2003.


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