By Daniel J. Vance


  You know him as "Corky." But actor Chris Burke only played Charles "Corky" Thatcher from 1989-93 on ABC's Life Goes On.

  He is perhaps the world's most famous person with Down syndrome.

  I interviewed him over the telephone recently while he was in New York doing work for the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS). He's their official "ambassador" and editor of their News & Views, the nation's only magazine written for and by persons with Down syndrome.

  He struck me as a really down-to-earth, likeable, and funny guy.

  "Starting my first acting job was like going to school for the first time," he said to me. "You see all the difficulties. You get nervous, then scared. But you get over it. Acting can be easy to learn once you first learn what the industry is all about."

  And learn he has. Besides Life Goes On, he has had roles on Touched by an Angel, The Commish, Heaven and Hell, Desperate, and Jonathan: The Boy Nobody Wanted. Doubleday published his 1991 autobiography, A Special Kind of Hero.

  "I have had the opportunities to do what I have always wanted," said Chris, 37. "Acting has always been my dream."

  Nearly all Down syndrome births are caused by a defective cell division creating an embryo with three No. 21 chromosomes instead of two. An infant with Down syndrome may have an upward eye slant and a flat, small nose; a single, deep crease across the middle of the palm; low muscle tone; and an abnormal ear shape. It is the most frequently noted cause of mental retardation, though usually the retardation is mild.

  I asked Chris if he had any encouraging words for the 350,000 Americans who have Down syndrome. He said, "Success is not determined by our disabilities; it's our abilities that count. Just give it your best. Work hard and never give up."

  Chris also is a naturally gifted speaker. He tours the country with musical friends John and Joe DeMasi. They have cut three CDs for children. If you would like more information about booking Chris at your college, corporation or for your association fundraiser, you can reach him through www.damonbrooks.com. If he is only half as entertaining in person as on the telephone, then your college, corporation or association will have a very special evening indeed.

  For more information about Down syndrome, visit www.ndss.org.

  [Contact Mr. Vance through www.danieljvance.com.]