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Andrea Fay Friedman, the actor with Down syndrome who costarred for two seasons in the early 1990s on ABC’s groundbreaking drama series Life Goes On, died Sunday, Dec. 3, at her Santa Monica home of complications of Alzheimer’s disease. She was 53.
Her death was announced to The New York Times by her father, the entertainment lawyer Hal Friedman. (According to the National Down Syndrome Society, about 30% of people with Down syndrome in their 50s develop Alzheimer’s disease.)
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Friedman joined the cast of Life Goes On in 1992, portraying Amanda Swanson, a college student with Down syndrome who dates, and later elopes with, the show’s main character Charles “Corky” Thatcher (Chris Burke), who also has Down syndrome. Both the series and Friedman’s storyline were revolutionary in both casting and fully-rounded depictions of people with the syndrome.
A college student herself at the time, Friedman had been working at a child-care center where the parent of one of the kids composed music for the ABC series, according to The Times. The connection proved consequential: Friedman pitched ideas to the show’s producers, who hired her as an actor to appear in one episode. According to Hal Friedman, producers were so impressed with her performance they wrote the character in for the show’s final two seasons.
After Life Goes On, Friedman made guest appearances on TV series including Baywatch, Touched By An Angel, Chicago Hope, Walker, Texas Ranger, 7th Heaven, ER, Saving Grace and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Her most recent credit was the 2019 holiday drama feature film Carol of the Bells, in which she played the biological mother of the main character portrayed by RJ Mitte.
In 2010, Friedman was cast in a Family Guy role that would soon have her trading real-life barbs with Sarah Palin, then the recently-former governor of Alaska running for U.S. vice president on a ticket with John McCain. In the episode, Friedman’s character says of her parents, “My dad’s an accountant and my mom is the former governor of Alaska.” The line was a clear reference to Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome.
Palin went on Fox News to condemn the episode, calling all those involved “cruel, cold-hearted people.”
Friedman responded by telling The New York Times that Palin “does not have a sense of humor,” adding, “In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life.”
Outside her acting career, Friedman worked with U.C.L.A.’s Pathway program for students with intellectual disabilities. In addition to her father, she is survived by sister Katherine Holland and her husband Grant Holland; and nephews Lawson and Andrew Holland.
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