August 15, 2020
Jennifer Holliday's gigantic voice and superb talent made her a Broadway and recording star, and she did it all while battling crippling health issues.
Actress and singer Jennifer Holliday, who won a Tony Award and a Grammy for her work in "Dreamgirls," is now 59 years old and has been battling serious health issues for decades.
But Holliday is a true survivor, and even though she is afflicted with multiple sclerosis, and went through a period of blindness, she has battled through -- and her story is an inspiration.
The devastating condition manifested in mood swings that many around her attributed to Holliday's fame going to her head, typical "Diva" behavior -- and the already plus-size singer started to gain even more weight
In 1981, 21-year-old Jennifer Holliday was cast as Effie Melody White in the original stage production of the massive hit, "Dreamgirls." The role was Holliday's breakthrough and won her a Tony Award as Best Leading Actress.
Rocketed into stardom overnight, Holliday reveals, she struggled to come to terms with the changes in her life -- including pressure from agents and musical producers to lose weight.
Holliday performed in "Dreamgirls" for the next four years, and that was when she first started struggling with depression, a condition that went undiagnosed for years. She revealed:
“When I was suffering with (sic) depression, people weren’t talking about depression. It had a stigma. Nobody asked me about it.”
The devastating condition manifested in mood swings that many around her attributed to Holliday's fame going to her head, typical "Diva" behavior -- and the already plus-size singer started to gain even more weight. Holliday confessed:
"I came to a point when I couldn't hear the music anymore. The music had stopped in my life, the laughter had stopped in my life."
Undiagnosed depression hounded her until she attempted to take her life on her 30th birthday, devastated by the rejection she suffered at the hands of the music industry. The suicide attempt led to Holliday finally getting the help she needed, and life-changing surgery. She confided:
“I had just been dropped by my record company because they called me too unattractive and not marketable. (...) I told the doctor, ‘That’s the reason for my problems.(...) I’m too big.’ ”
Holliday underwent gastric bypass surgery and lost an incredible 124 lb, but the weight loss didn't have the impact in her life that she thought it would. Suddenly the same producers who had told her she was "too big" complained that she was so thin her fans wouldn't recognize her.
For the next three years, Holliday battled to find work, and worse of all, she found that her friends had vanished along with the good times. People were uncomfortable with the "new Jennifer Holliday," her new striking figure, and above all, her new confidence.
In 1999, Holliday was cast in a recurring role in the hit legal series "Ally McBeal," and that was when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Holliday had unknowingly been suffering from MS symptoms for six years, a disease that had been misdiagnosed as Lupus.
The diagnosis finally came when Holliday lost the ability to walk. Doctors performed a spinal tap and came back with a conclusive diagnosis. MS affects the brain and the spinal cord and can result in pain and difficulty in movement, and occasionally, vision issues.
In 2007, MS brought Holiday yet another challenge. She experienced a sudden sharp pain in her left eye and went blind. To add to her troubles, Holliday had no health insurance at the time.
The resolute Holliday decided she could live with blindness as long as she had her music. She recalled:
"I told my neurologist, ‘Fortunately, there are a lot of blind singers. There was no discoloration in the eye, so I’m not concerned about seeing out of it as long as I can sing.’ ”
Although there is no cure for MS, there are some treatments that help some patients, and Holliday started looking for alternative treatments that might help her have more mobility. Fortunately, seven months after losing her vision, Holliday's blindness dissipated, and she recovered a measure of mobility.
BACK ON BROADWAY
The unstoppable Miss Holliday has also become an advocate and an inspiration for MS sufferers and has often lent her voice to help raise funds for MS research, traveling all over the world.
Chart-topping Gospel song after song has taken Holliday's message of hope, faith, and solidarity -- and music, always that marvelous music -- to millions of fans.
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