By Daniel J. Vance
Spend thirty minutes with movie/television actor Ed Jupp and you'll catch a fresh perspective on people with disabilities.
You've seen him perform in secondary roles in movies Born on the Fourth of July, Jacob's Ladder, A Beautiful Mind, The Paper, Bringing Out The Dead, and Ransom, and on television shows Third Watch, Conan O'Brien, Guiding Light, and Law and Order.
He first learned of his disability at 16. "My mother gave me a letter from my doctor to hand to my gym teacher," said the 48-year-old Jupp recently over the telephone. "It said, 'Dear Mr. Deasantis, please excuse Ed. He has a mild case of cerebral palsy. As long as Ed participates in gym please grade him accordingly.' I wasn't supposed to see the letter, but I read it anyway on the bus."
His family and doctor had been keeping his disability a secret, believing it best.
Cerebral palsy is caused usually during fetal development when brain damage short-circuits the brain's ability to effectively control body movement and coordination. It is not a disease and therefore can't be "caught." It does not affect intelligence. Perhaps 750,000 Americans have cerebral palsy to some degree.
"It was confusing not knowing why I'd often stumble and fall," he said of cerebral palsy affecting his legs and his self-image while growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. "I did all I could to look like I wasn't disabled. But if you tugged on my shoulder, I'd fall down. The signal from my brain to legs wasn't working. I didn't want anybody to know and my family wouldn't let me use a cane or crutch."
Then one day a school drama coach needed someone to play the cane-using Benjamin Franklin. Said Jupp, "What I found (in drama) led my life into a whole new direction."
He soon learned that his years of "emotional baggage" coping with cerebral palsy enhanced his acting when he "drew" on those emotions while performing. He also had a deep well of disability from his family to draw on: a brother with cancer, one with blindness, an aunt and mother with brain tumors, and eventually a wife with a spinal cord tumor.
Prompted by a fellow actor on the set of Born on the Fourth of July, Jupp began using a wheelchair at 37. Today, he is a relentless advocate and activist for actors with disabilities.