David Hyde Pierce's longest-running role to date has been as an advocate for Alzheimer's disease awareness and research. Best known as Niles Crane, the character he played for 11 years on NBC's hit sitcom Frasier (as well as his 2008 Tony for the Broadway musical Curtains), Pierce originally got involved with the Alzheimer's cause for very personal reasons. The disease claimed his grandfather, and his father likely suffered from Alzheimer's disease as well.
November is National Alzheimer's Disease Awareness Month and Pierce himself is very aware of the nature of the disease, as well as its potential impact on the millions of baby boomers expected to age over the next two decades.
"I just don't like it," the multi-Emmy winner says. "As something that can happen to you, it sucks." Characterized in its early stages by memory loss and confusion, Alzheimer's disease leads to a withering dementia for which there is no cure. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, home to more than five million people who have it. The Alzheimer's Association anticipates that the U.S. population living with Alzheimer's disease will more than double by 2025. "It's terrible now," says Pierce, "but when these numbers explode, this disease is going to explode."
Pierce's father's dementia started after a stroke. His decline continued until he required round-the-clock care. After watching Alzheimer's slowly rob him of his grandfather, Pierce was grateful for one thing when, in 1998, pneumonia suddenly took his father, at 87. "When he died, he still knew us." By then, Pierce had already been working with the Alzheimer's Association for four years. While filming Frasier, the cast worked three weeks out of every month. Pierce spent his weeks off attending association fund-raisers and board meetings.
Today, his schedule has changed, but his commitment has not lagged. In October, he participated in two Alzheimer's Association events in New York City: A Memory Walk and the Rita Hayworth Gala. Tireless as he is, it is work he wishes that no one had to do.
"We can't wait for the day when we are no longer needed."