Actor, comedian and multiple sclerosis advocate, David L. Lander, most beloved for his role as Andrew “Squiggy” Squiggman on the classic Garry Marshall sitcom, Laverne & Shirley, died on Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles after bravely fighting MS for several decades, PEOPLE confirms.
Born David Leonard Landau, the youngest son of two Jewish schoolteachers, in Brooklyn, New York, on June 22, 1947, the actor never let his illness prevent him from pursuing his life’s passions. Having amassed over 120 film and television credits, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Used Cars, Scary Movie and 101 Dalmatians: The Series, Lander continued working as an animation voice actor as recently as 2017.
Lander decided to become an actor when he was just 10 years old, studying drama first at the High School for the Performing Arts, before continuing his education and training in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University, where he was introduced to fellow performer Michael McKean, forming a creative partnership that would forever change the course of his life.
Having already created their future Laverne & Shirley characters, Lenny and Squiggy, during their studies at Carnegie Mellon, the comedy duo continued developing the offbeat and lovingly annoying twosome as members of The Credibility Gap, a Los Angeles comedic performance ensemble.
In 1975, television producer Garry Marshall added the characters to the cast of his 1950s Milwaukee-set Happy Days spinoff, Laverne & Shirley, as the upstairs neighbors and constant foils of the title characters played by Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams. In 1979, Lander and McKean released the highly collectible album Lenny and Squiggy Present Lenny and the Squigtones, featuring Christopher Guest on guitar (credited as Nigel Tufnel, a name he would later reuse in the spoof rock band Spinal Tap).
A year after the sitcom ended in 1983, Lander was diagnosed with MS, but chose to keep his diagnosis private, fearing it could end his career. That all changed in 1999, when he bravely revealed his diagnosis in his memoir, Fall Down Laughing: How Squiggy Caught Multiple Sclerosis and Didn't Tell Nobody.
Besides Lander’s trademark self-deprecating humor, the book also served as a source of inspiration for others battling the disease, with advice on everything from exercise programs, to support groups and alternative forms of medicine. The tremendously positive response to the book inspired Lander to speak at conventions, attend fundraising galas, including fellow advocate Nancy Davis’ Race to Erase MS galas, and most importantly work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Lander was able to combine his MS advocacy work with his lifelong love of baseball by publishing reviews of handicap accessible areas in different ballparks. The avid Pittsburgh Pirates fan had a small stake in the Portland Beavers and worked as a talent scout for the Anaheim Angels and Seattle Mariners.
In a candid 2007 interview with Brain & Life Magazine, Lander shared, "My doctor painted a fairly bleak picture of the disease, even going so far as to tell me I probably wouldn't walk again… Whatever happens, MS can't take it all. I will always have my heart and soul, my wit and wisdom. Wherever the chips may fall, if I fall with them I will make it a point to do so gracefully—and laughing."
Lander is survived by his wife of 41 years, Kathy, and his daughter Natalie, who continues her father’s legacy as an actress. Natalie teamed with her father in his last credit, an episode of the animated children’s series Goldie and the Bear. David’s family hopes his fans will remember him for all the laughter he brought into the world.
Memorial contributions may be made to The National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
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