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Andrea Fay Friedman, ‘Life Goes On’ Actor With Down Syndrome, Dies at 53

Andrea Fay Friedman, an actor with Down Syndrome who appeared in drama television series “Life Goes On” and Joseph Travolta’s family drama “Carol of the Bells,” died Sunday in Santa Monica from complications due to Alzheimer’s. She was 53.

Friedman contributed to much-needed representation for individuals with Down Syndrome in the world of entertainment. One of her well-known roles was in “Life Goes On” as Amanda Swanson, the girlfriend of Charles “Corky” Thacher (Chris Burke), who later become Corky’s wife on the show. Throughout her life, the actor also appeared in several television series, including “Baywatch,” “Chicago Hope,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “ER,” “The Division” and “Saving Grace,” establishing her presence in an industry where inclusion was often rare. She was also the subject of the 2009 documentary “A Possible Dream: The Andrea Friedman Story.”

In 2010, Friedman showed her ability to tackle controversy with grace after voicing a character with Down syndrome, Ellen, in an episode of “Family Guy.”

In the cartoon, asked about what her parents do, Ellen says, “My dad’s an accountant and my mom is the former governor of Alaska,” the latter part referencing Former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin’s son, Trig Palin, who also has Down syndrome.

Palin slammed the reference during an appearance on Fox News, stating that “some things just aren’t really funny” and that such a depiction was the product of “cruel, cold-hearted people.”

“I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor,” Friedman wrote in response in an email to the New York Times. She also told ABC News that Palin didn’t get the joke and that her character should be inspirational, rather than someone to be derided.

Friedman’s last film project before her death was in the 2019 family holiday film “Carol of the Bells,” which told the story of Scott Johnson (RJ Mitte), a young man and adoptee who searches for his biological mother (Friedman), finding that she has Down syndrome.

In a Variety guest column by Lauren Appelbaum, Applebaum praised the representation of disability in four holiday films. One of them was “Carol of the Bells,” which she notes “was the world’s first feature film with up to 70 percent of the crew having a developmental disability.”

“When filmmakers choose to include characters with disabilities, they can help to remove the stigmas that currently exist about interacting with individuals with disabilities,” Applebaum wrote. “That is why it is worth celebrating authentic portrayals like those in these holiday films.”

Outside of acting, Friedman also served as an assistant teacher at UCLA’s Pathway program, an initiative for students that teaches them to live independent lives.

Friedman is survived by her sister, Katherine Holland; her brother-in-law, Grant Holland; her nephews, Lawson and Andrew Holland; and her father, Hal Friedman.

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