Seth Rogen's funny, touching fight for Alzheimer's patients

The actor delivers a knockout speech to a Senate subcommittee

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Published February 27, 2014 3:28PM (EST)

  (Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)
(Reuters/Mario Anzuoni)

"Thank you for the opportunity to be called an expert at something," Seth Rogen told to his audience on Wednesday. "First, I'll address the question I assume many of you are asking. Yes, I am aware that this has nothing to do with the legalization of marijuana." The 31-year-old actor, better known for his roles in "Freaks and Geeks" and "Pineapple Express," wasn't addressing a typical group of fans. He was speaking to a Senate Appropriations subcommittee, and he was talking about a subject he's spent the past several years getting a grim crash course in. He was talking about Alzheimer's disease.

Rogen appeared on the witness panel along with doctors from the National Institutes of Health, and former Rep. Dennis Moore of Kansas, who has Alzheimer's. And after chiding the chairman for never seeing "Knocked Up," Rogen went on to describe his mother-in-law's early onset diagnosis at the age of just 55, and how, "After forgetting who she and her loved one were, she forgot how to speak, feed herself, dress herself, and go to the bathroom herself, all by age of 60." And he pointedly told the committee that "Unlike any of the other top 10 causes of death in America, there is no way to prevent, cure, or even slow the progression of Alzheimer's."

Throughout his testimony, Rogen was effortlessly funny, admitting that "I came here today for a few reasons. One: I'm a huge 'House of Cards' fan." But he was also impassioned and sincere, noting that "People need more help. I've personally witnessed the massive amount of financial strain this disease causes, and if the American people ever decide to reject genitalia-driven comedy, I will no longer be able to afford it." And he expressed his desire "to show people they are not alone -- so few people share their personal stories."

Alzheimer's is often a private burden for the people who live with it and their families. It robs them of everything that makes them who they are, who they ever were, and creates what Rogen describes as "shame and stigma." And as Rogen attests, it does not just target "only really, really old people" and does not just manifest in "forgotten keys, wearing mismatched shoes, and being asked the same questions over and over." Instead, as Rogen says, there's a whole lot more to the "real ugly truth of the disease." That's why he's helped launched Hilarity for Charity as part of the National Alzheimer’s Association, "to help families struggling with Alzheimer’s care, increase support groups nationwide, and fund cutting-edge research."

After his compelling testimony Wednesday, Rogen went the extra mile by appearing on "Hardball" and chiding the subcommittee for its low turnout. "It seems to be a low priority," he said. "It seems like these people [the senators] don't care. That's the direct message they're giving by leaving during our testimony." He then took to Twitter to reveal the bleak view from where he sat, noting, "All those empty seats are senators who are not prioritizing Alzheimer's. Unless more noise is made, it won't change."

A few years ago, I saw Rogen, along with screenwriter Will Reiser, give a talk about their collaboration on the film "50/50" -- and Reiser's real cancer experience that inspired it.  Rogen was then, as he demonstrated again Wednesday, a disarming combination of self-effacing, whipsmart and profoundly concerned about a crappy disease that had done a number on a person he cared about. He was knowledgeable and goofy. At one point, he joked with a surgical masked chemo patient in the audience who'd defied doctor's orders to come to the event. He was, throughout, fantastic, just as he was on Wednesday, when he told the committee that "The [Alzheimer's] situation is so dire that it caused me, a lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicated manchild to start an entire charity organization." I can't think of a lazy, self-involved, generally self-medicated manchild with more heart and integrity, or one whose cause deserves more respect and attention.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Alzheimer's Disease Hiliarity For Charity Seth Rogen Video