The tale's a familiar one in Hollywood -- rejected twice while growing up, rescued from a pound after biting a goat, honing skateboarding and waterskiing talents for that big break, and then being paid in sausages for the biggest role of his career.
Uggie, a Jack Russell terrier, has found fame late in his canine life as a silent matinee idol's best friend in "The Artist." Yet his appearance at the Golden Collar Awards on February 13 will likely be his last big public appearance. (Contrary to rumors, Uggie has not received an invite to the Academy Awards.) Age and a "mystery shaking syndrome" are contributing to Uggie's premature retirement from the silver screen. And, as with any Hollywood tale, there's an understudy -- or underdog, if you will -- ready to fill in Uggie's pawprints.
Mystery shaking syndrome
Media attention has focused on Uggie's shakes, a neurological condition which isn't debilitating but reinforces his age. "It's very sad but he is suffering from a mystery shaking syndrome. It is a neurological disorder and we've spent thousands on vets' bills trying to figure out what is causing it but the experts don't really know," owner/trainer Omar Von Muller said to the Daily Mail. "This is beyond what is normal for the breed, but all the vets can tell us, after all the scans and tests, is that it is neurological and he is not suffering." The condition manifests itself most when Uggie's kicking back. "It is a shame this has happened when he is getting the biggest success of his career but we feel the best thing to do is to retire him after the Oscars."
Dr. Richard LeCouteur, a veterinary neurologist at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis, says that neurological conditions are "very difficult to document in animals." Jack Russells have been known to suffer myokymia, which causes involuntary muscle movements. Another condition, "white shaker syndrome," can affect white dogs, but more often among Maltese and rarely in Jack Russell terriers.
Jack Russell terriers, an offshoot of the Parson Russell terrier foxhunters of England, haven't suffered the effects of inbreeding as much as other breeds, and can live into their teens.
A dogged persistence
Uggie may not have regrets as he approaches 10 (roughly equivalent to the mid-70s for human beings), but his owner has expressed a few. In an earlier interview with the London newspaper, Von Muller said wistfully, "He's not a kid any more. What has happened to him recently has been fantastic, but I wish it had happened earlier. It would have been electric."
Uggie has had his cinematic moments and even met the love of his life: As Queenie in "Water for Elephants," the terrier professed a pronounced affection for Reese Witherspoon -- and no sausages in sight. "He just wanted to kiss her every time," Von Muller dished to Access Hollywood Live.
There are unsung pups waiting in the wings, namely li'l "bro" Dash (not blood brothers, but they live in the same household), who's about half Uggie's age. Dash stepped in for the faster running sequences in "The Artist." He'll make his first formal public appearance at the inaugural Golden Collar Awards, where Uggie is a front-runner, despite Martin Scorsese's campaign for Blackie of "Hugo." (Here's Dash skateboarding with his bro.)
As for the Oscars ceremony, the Hollywood Reporter hinted at a "very funny skit" with Uggie and Oscar host Billy Crystal, but these are just rumors: A Weinstein Co. spokesperson says there haven't been any invitations or rehearsals. For now, Uggie will likely attend the private studio party.
Big-screen retirement doesn't mean he's going away. Uggie's trading in those demanding 15-hour filming days and going commercial. He has just been proclaimed Nintendo's "first-ever 'spokesdog'" for its Nintendogs + Cats game.
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See the trailer for 'The Artist':