John C. McGinley, star of SCRUBS, father of a 7-year-old son with Down syndrome, and National Spokesperson for the annual NDSS Buddy Walks that take place across the U.S., presented the VISION Award to Bill Smitrovich. Smitrovich spent 4 seasons on the ABC series LIFE GOES ON as the admirable dad Drew Thatcher. As the head of the Thatcher family, Smitrovich parented three children, one of whom, Corky (played by Chris Burke), had Down syndrome. Smitrovich embraced his role as the "ultimate" father figure of a child with Down syndrome and made himself available to many who lived the role daily. He made time from his personal life to promote public awareness and acceptance of the genetic condition. Some years later, Smitrovich played an expectant father of a child with Down syndrome in an episode of the CBS episodic TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL; that episode touched hundreds of thousands of families as well.
Actor Chris Burke, best known for his role on LIFE GOES ON, has continued to work as an actor on shows like PROMISED LAND, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL, THE COMMISH, ER and more. As the NDSS Goodwill Ambassador, Burke travels all over the country promoting awareness through personal appearances. Burke, a resident of New York, was presented with the VOICES Award along with 6 other actors with Down syndrome who reside in Los Angeles.
Andrea Fay Friedman, also best known for her work on LIFE GOES ON, continues to work consistently and was nominated for an Emmy Award for her guest starring role on LAW AND ORDER: SVU. Friedman is a very active public speaker and returned from an engagement in New York just in time to receive her honor. Actors Louise Brown, Kristine Johnson and Christine Young have all had co-starring roles on NBC's drama ER. The three women also speak to community groups on Down syndrome, represent Special Olympics and have received many other awards for their personal accomplishments.
Actor Brad Silverman first appeared as a recurring character on QUANTUM LEAP, which lead to a co-starring role with Sean Penn in the feature film I AM SAM. Most recently he co-starred with Larry David on the HBO series CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Blair Williamson, who has co-starred on ER, has been a murder victim on CSI and guest-starred on THE GUARDIAN, is currently working on the feature thriller UNKNOWN, starring Jim Caviezel, Greg Kinnear and Joey Pantoliano, for release in 2006.
Actor Robert David Hall, who plays the quirky coroner Dr. Albert Robbins on CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION, and recurred on LIFE GOES ON as high school teacher Mr. Mott, was on hand to sum up the accomplishments of the actors. As the National Chairman of the Screen Actors Guild, AFTRA and Equity Performers with Disabilities Committee, and as a working actor with a disability (Hall walks on two prosthetic legs with the assistance of an arm crutch), he knows how difficult it can be to be seen as an actor for a role and not just as a character who shares the same disability. Hall remarked, "Blair Williamson's role on UNKNOWN as the custodian is a break out role for actors who have Down syndrome. The role was originally written as a character who had survived a head injury and not someone with Down syndrome. Casting director Shannon Makhanian brought in Williamson for an audition and he was cast in the role. We need more creative people in Hollywood who see the bigger picture. Why can't someone with Down syndrome play the sister, brother, customer, clerk and more? These roles in television and film bring about awareness and acceptance for individuals with Down syndrome and others who live their daily lives with disabilities."
The National Down Syndrome Society is a nonprofit organization representing the more than 350,000 Americans who have this genetic condition. NDSS is committed to being the national leader in supporting and enhancing the quality of life, and realizing the potential of all people with Down syndrome. NDSS demonstrates this commitment through their education, research and advocacy initiatives that benefit people with Down syndrome and their families. http://www.ndss.org or 800-221-4602
The Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles is a non-profit organization who provides resources, services and support to individuals with Down syndrome and their families in Los Angeles. Committed to enhancing the lives of these individuals, they reach out to the entertainment industry by providing a national casting liaison service for actors with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities, and expert consultation and referrals to productions including Down syndrome in their stories. http://www.dsala.org or 818-242-7871
About Down syndrome
Down syndrome is a genetic condition caused by the presence of three, instead of the typical two, copies of Chromosome 21. People with Down syndrome possess a wide range of abilities and are active participants in the educational, occupational, social and recreational activities of the community.