Renée Zellweger Has Personal Reason for Supporting ALS Association

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Actor Renée Zellweger, who of course makes a living using her voice to portray characters — most recently in the brand new biopic, Judy, about the late showbiz star Judy Garland — has been involved with the ALS Association for almost five years now, including particupating in this year's new #VoiceYourLove campaign with a heartfelt video.

Losing the ability to speak is one of ALS’s most debilitating symptoms.

“A friend of mine who was my PR person for a very long time started to show signs about six years ago, and then was diagnosed five years ago,” Zellweger told Samaritanmag while in Toronto recently to promote Judy. “She's pretty much unable to communicate. She can move her eyes with the great deal of effort.”

ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord, eventually causing paralysis. The average life expectancy is two to five years after diagnosis, but some, like guitarist Jason Becker, have lived more than two decades, and the late Stephen Hawking, diagnosed at 21, died last year at 76. They both defy the norm.

The #VoiceYourLove challenge is two-fold: to get donations and for people to voice their love for the people in their lives who they’ve lost to ALS or are still fighting. The site include a section to upload your story and add a photo or video.

In the one-minute PSA, made earlier this year, we see Zellweger with her friend, Nanci Ryder, who is in a wheelchair. Zellweger kisses her forehead, and chats with her, showing her something on her phone, and gently removes a hair or piece of fluff from Ryder's eyelid and adjusts her shirt.

“I didn't know anything about ALS,” Zellweger says in the PSA. “I didn't know that was possible. I didn't know that could happen to a body and I didn't know that that's what my friend would eventually be experiencing.

“As a friend, I wish that the friends of people who have ALS knew how much it matters that you just show up, even if you're awkward and clumsy and you don't know what to do, and you don't know what to say — because there is nothing to say, and there is nothing to do except recognize that your friend is still your friend. Exactly the same as before the diagnosis and exactly the same as before, when she was vibrant and running around town. Same person, same everything. Have courage and honour the friendship because I think it makes a big difference.”

Zellweger tells Samaritanmag her advocacy and fundraising for the ALS Association includes the ALS Walk, which she does for “Team Nanci.”  “There's a walk every year," she says. "Come on out.  Los Angeles. The Golden West Chapter, which also covers Hawaii.” 

The next walk Zellweger is involved in is Nov. 3. She is taking donations here. The other walks can be searched on the ALS Association site.

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