'20/20': Dudley Moore Battles Brain Disease

ABCNEWS' Barbara Walters interviewed actor and musician Dudley Moore for 20/20 in the fall of 1999 about his career and the malady that ultimately took his life. The following is a transcript of their conversation.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABCNEWS: Now the great comic actor, Dudley Moore. For years, he made us laugh in movies like Arthur and 10. But all that is history.

Last fall, Dudley Moore took a courageous step, coming on 20/20 to talk about the mysterious illness that has been taking control of his body and his mind. He said that he hoped to reach other people who are afflicted with this rare disease but hadn't received a correct diagnosis.

Well, he got his wish. After seeing his story here, thousands of people came forward to say that it had helped them or a loved one finally identify their illness. So tonight, with that in mind, we tell Dudley Moore's story again. The man who once made millions of people laugh now touches a very different emotion.

(VO) He was once a brilliant comic actor and an acclaimed concert pianist. Today, his hands and fingers strain to hit the right notes and keys. Every day, Dudley Moore struggles to get out of bed, to walk, to see and, tragically, to even speak.

Slowly, over the last decade, a rare and incurable brain disease has insidiously taken over his body. Four times divorced, he is cared for by an old friend, pianist Rena Fruchter, and her family. He now lives far from Hollywood, in this modest New Jersey home, close to his doctors and therapy center. Most people remember Dudley Moore because he made us laugh.

ACTOR DUDLEY MOORE: (From Arthur) Hello, girls!

WALTERS: (VO) Especially as the lovable millionaire drunk in the 1981 film Arthur.

(Clip shown from Arthur)

WALTERS: (VO) For years, rumors swirled that Dudley Moore had become, like Arthur, a drunk. No one knew that it wasn't booze, but his neurological system that made him stagger and slur his speech. Until now, he has never talked about his illness nor its effect on his life filled with triumph and torment.

(OC) People thought you were Arthur?


WALTERS: They took the character from the movie who was drunk and said, "That's Dudley."

MOORE: It's amazing that Arthur has invaded my body to the point that I have become him. But that's the way people look at it.

WALTERS: Your mind is intact.


WALTERS: So you know very well what is happening to you?

MOORE: Yes, I know very well what is happening to me. I know particularly what people say and think.

WALTERS: What do you most want people to know?

MOORE: I want them to know that I'm not intoxicated.

WALTERS: You're not drunk.

MOORE: No. And I just want them to know that I am going through this disease as well as I can.

WALTERS: Do you feel as if you are a prisoner in your own body?

MOORE: Yes, I do. I am trapped in this body, and there is nothing I can do about it.

WALTERS: (VO) Dudley Moore, in a way, has always been trapped in his body, always faced physical and emotional adversity.

He was born 64 years ago in England with a clubfoot. At the time, his mother knew the intense pain he would suffer as he revealed to me in this 1982 interview.

MOORE: (From 1982 interview) She rather charmingly volunteered the information that she wanted to kill me when I was born … But I mean, I took it in the spirit in which it was offered.

WALTERS: (From 1982 interview) Because she thought you would be so unhappy?

MOORE: (From 1982 interview) Because she knew or thought that I was going to be so unhappy. Of course, this influenced the way I felt about myself, you know, so that I grew up with a great lack of self-confidence. And I spent a lot of time in the hospital, and I wasn't able to cope with it very well — until I discovered comedy.

WALTERS: (VO) He escaped through comedy and music, attending Oxford on an organ scholarship. There he formed the comedy group, Beyond the Fringe, and went on to enormous success with Peter Cook in both England and here in America on Broadway.

MOORE: (From an old comedy show) (Singing) "Until we meet again."

WALTERS: (VO) In the early '80s, at age 44, he became an unlikely international movie star and sex symbol when he was cast opposite Bo Derek in the film 10 by director Blake Edwards.

BLAKE EDWARDS, DIRECTOR: Oh, he's a consummate actor. His instincts are wonderful. He lives in a state of constant humor.

WALTERS: (VO) The film also showed the full range of his talent. Bo Derek remembers the first time Moore played the movie's theme song.

BO DEREK, ACTRESS: All of a sudden, Dudley started to play the song. And it was like a new piece of music. It was as though he transformed. And I remember everybody just sat wherever they were standing. They just sat down and watched him play.

WALTERS: (VO) Then came his 1981 Oscar-nominated success in Arthur.

(Clip from Arthur showing Dudley Moore appearing drunk)

BLAKE EDWARDS: He's a good actor. There are some people that just know how to play drunks. I make a study of drunks. And his drunk was as good as any I've ever seen.

(Clip from Arthur showing Moore appearing drunk)

WALTERS: (VO) Dudley Moore was on top of the world. He was hot, in demand, and on Hollywood's A-list. But after Arthur, with a series of bad film choices, his career spiraled downward.

So Moore returned to his first love, music. He began playing in jazz bands, recording classical albums, and performing with world-renowned orchestras, here with famous conductor Sir George Solti.

RENA FRUCHTER: I was absolutely blown away the first time I heard him play. I had no idea he was such a wonderful musician.

WALTERS: (VO) Seventeen years ago, as a music columnist for The New York Times, Rena Fruchter met and wrote about Moore and his music. They have been close friends and collaborators ever since.

RENA FRUCHTER: Dudley is a musician, I think, first. I think in his soul, he would probably have to agree with this. And everything else, I feel, grew around that.

WALTERS: What does music mean to you?

MOORE: Music means everything to me. It is an art that I love to practice.

WALTERS: (VO) But he never gave up on acting. In the early '90s, he starred in two television series, one called Daddy's Girl.

(Clip from Daddy's Girl)

WALTERS: (VO) Both series failed and those close to Moore remember that something seemed wrong, especially to his manager of 25 years, Lou Pitt.

(OC) Dudley was forgetting his lines?

LOU PITT: It wasn't that he was forgetting them. He was having difficulty grasping them.

WALTERS: What did you think?

LOU PITT: You know, at first, I thought that it was personal, that it was trouble, that he was preoccupied. This is a consummate professional. He would be there, you know, before anybody else. He would know all his lines.

WALTERS: And now, suddenly, he can't remember his lines.

LOU PITT: Couldn't remember a thing.

WALTERS: Then in 1995, you had a really good role in the Barbra Streisand movie, The Mirror Has Two Faces.

MOORE: Mm-hmm.

WALTERS: They fired you.

MOORE: They fired me because I couldn't remember my lines after a certain point.

WALTERS: This must have been devastating for you.

MOORE: It was devastating.

WALTERS: (VO) It was probably Dudley Moore's last chance at a comeback. After the disaster on the Streisand set, it was unlikely that he would ever be hired as an actor again.

RENA FRUCHTER: He felt like his life was over at that point. He said, "Something is wrong. I don't know what is going on." That was a major blow for him.

WALTERS: To be fired?

RENA FRUCHTER: Yeah, yeah.

WALTERS: And to know that the career in acting was probably going to be over?

RENA FRUCHTER: Yeah, well, he said that. He said, "That's the end of my acting career."p>

WALTERS: (VO) In the midst of a deep depression, rumors started to swirl in Hollywood and in the tabloids that his career was over, that Moore was an alcoholic. In public, he was often seen wobbling and slurring words.

But his closest friends say they never saw him drink excessively.

BLAKE EDWARDS: I was shocked, because that wasn't the Dudley I knew. I never thought it's some serious illness, some impairment. I thought, "Well, it's because he's having all those personal problems, maybe he's taken up booze, and maybe he's gotten involved in drugs."

WALTERS: (VO) His personal life was also in shambles. Despite his height and clubfoot, he had always been a ladies' man, attracting tall, beautiful women. Some called him "Cuddly Dudley." But his relationships and marriages were often marked by turbulence, especially his last wife, who made headlines after accusing him of a string of abuses, from drugs to assault.

Moore denies it all, even the time she had him arrested for allegedly striking her. Though charges were later dropped, it was clear that other unexplainable problems persisted. In 1995 and '96, he was involved in a series of car accidents. In one, he drove off a Colorado road and down a steep slope. His vision and concentration were off, but he refused to see a doctor, insisting it was only age.

(OC) What were your first symptoms where you said, "Something is wrong"?

MOORE: Well, I think in Australia.

WALTERS: (VO) It was in Australia in 1996, while performing with his pianist friend Rena Fruchter, that he began having problems. His acting career in ruins, Moore thought he still had his music. But he began to have trouble playing. His once-fluid sound was now erratic and stumbling.

RENA FRUCHTER: I didn't know what to think. There was a lot going on. He started having trouble with one finger and things just weren't going exactly the way he wanted them to. We just had no idea.

WALTERS: What did the reviewers say?

RENA FRUCHTER: The reviewers said everything from, "It Was a Perfect 10" to "Moore is Less." There were reviews that didn't even show Dudley. There was one that said, "Dudley Drunk on Stage" question mark.

WALTERS: What did you think was wrong with you?

MOORE: I thought it was some illness that I couldn't fathom.

WALTERS: Were you scared?


WALTERS: (VO) So scared that Fruchter finally convinced him to seek medical help. Doctors in London and New York offered an array of theories, but each turned out to be a dead end. At the Mayo Clinic, doctors discovered a hole in his heart, but surgery didn't fix his increasing struggle to speak and walk. A team of neurologists and a battery of tests followed, but no one could figure out what was wrong. His illness remained a mystery, and his depression became intense.

(OC) Did you ever think of committing suicide?

MOORE: Yes. I don't know, I don't know, I don't know when it was.

WALTERS: But you remember thinking…


WALTERS: …You just wanted to give up and die?


WALTERS: But that wasn't going to happen, not as long as he had a friend like Rena and a doctor who would finally tell Dudley Moore what was wrong with him.

In 1994, Dudley Moore, the brilliant comedian and pianist, began to realize that he was losing control of his body. He had trouble talking, playing the piano, even walking. But the big question was why? It would take four years, one devoted friend, and the right medical specialist for Dudley Moore to discover, finally, what he was fighting and what it would take for him to survive.

(VO) In 1998, as his body continued to inexplicably break down, Dudley Moore was desperate. Finally, his friend Rena Fruchter, took him to see Dr. Martin Gizzi, a New Jersey neurologist.

DR MARTIN GIZZI: On Dudley's first visit, he was rather depressed about not being able to obtain a diagnosis. His major concern was being able to play the piano, though. And he wanted anything that would help him with that.

RENA FRUCHTER: He took one look … he checked the eye movements, and one of the symptoms is slow, vertical eye movements. And he said, "I think it's PSP."

WALTERS: (VO) Moore finally had his diagnosis; but the news wasn't good. PSP, or progressive supranuclear palsy, is an extremely rare and hard to detect neurological disorder. The cause is unknown, but an estimated 20,000 Americans suffer from this incurable and debilitating brain disease. It is sometimes compared to Parkinson's, but without the characteristic tremors.

MARTIN GIZZI: The classic symptoms of PSP include balance difficulty, rigidity of the limbs, slowness of movement, and loss of coordination of eye movements. Depression becomes quite common in later years. Additional symptoms include memory difficulties, slurring of speech, and difficulty swallowing.

WALTERS: (VO) For now, there are no drugs to cure the disease or stop its relentlessly progressive course. PSP is not fatal, but complications, like pneumonia or choking, could suddenly end Moore's life.

RENA FRUCHTER: From what I understand, there is a coughing, choking, and swallowing problem with this disease. And people ultimately can die from pneumonia from having this.

WALTERS: How do you feel when you hear this?

MOORE: I don't like it. I don't like it. The thought of choking to death must be awful. I don't find it very comforting.

WALTERS: (VO) Moore said he went public with his disease in order to reach out to other victims of PSP. He gave us extraordinary access to his new life, which includes weekly rehabilitation at the world-famous Kessler Institute.

DR. THOMAS GALSKI: Our goal is to maintain the quality of life as long as we can, as well as we can.

WALTERS: (VO) Dr. Thomas Galski is in charge of Moore's treatment, including their weekly psychotherapy.

THOMAS GALSKI: Tell me what the mood's like.

MOORE: The mood is fine.

THOMAS GALSKI: His body has, in a sense, betrayed him. The difficulty of having a humorous, quick, witty conversation with someone and being at a loss because you can't process that information as quickly as you've done in the past. It's extremely exasperating in those very little ways.

MOORE: Yes, it is different than I used to speak.

THOMAS GALSKI: Gone? Is the thought gone?

MOORE: Gone, gone.


WALTERS: (VO) Moore also meets with a speech therapist who helps him with his breathing, to relax, to speak simple words.

MOORE: Seven, eight, nine, 10.


WALTERS: (VO) And simple phrases.

MOORE: We are the hero of our own story.


WALTERS: (VO) By the time he's finished, Moore is physically drained and mentally exhausted. But now, in the early stages of the disease, Moore's doctors want him to stay active. Even though he can no longer play, he lends his support to music for All Seasons, a group that brings music to confined people in nursing homes, prisons and, on this day, a hospital.

NURSE: Mr. Moore, I'm not Bo Derek, but I love you just as well.

MOORE: That's nice.

WALTERS: (VO) But going out in public can be treacherous. The disease affects coordination and balance, and Moore often falls, sometimes two or three times a day.

(OC) But you never know when it's going to happen?


RENA FRUCHTER: Just for Dudley to keep going, it's a struggle. He's courageous.

WALTERS: (VO) In some ways, this is Rena Fruchter's story, too. At great personal sacrifice, she has devoted herself to Moore and is always by his side.

(OC) Dudley is so much a part of your life. You have to take care of him. You are with him around the clock. You are married. You have children. You have grandchildren.


WALTERS: Are you a saint?


WALTERS: Is she a saint, Dudley?


WALTERS: She is?

MOORE: She is a saint.

WALTERS: Certified saint?

MOORE: She is a saint. Certifiable.

RENA FRUCHTER: Certifiable.

MOORE: Yes. She has endless compassion for me. And I just feel that she is extraordinary in that way.

WALTERS: Dudley, if it were not for Rena, is there anyone else to take care of you?

MOORE: I don't think so. I mean, I can't imagine somebody taking over that role.

WALTERS: There is no one else in your life?

MOORE: No, no.

WALTERS: You have two sons.


WALTERS: (VO) Patrick is 23. And then there is a little boy of 4.

(OC) But you don't see your children?


WALTERS: Why not?

MOORE: Because I don't want to deteriorate before them.

WALTERS: You don't want them to see you like this?


WALTERS: Don't you think they might want to see you?

MOORE: I suppose so.

WALTERS: Most of your life, you have had to overcome severe problems. Now this. Are you bitter? Do you feel cheated?

MOORE: I feel … No, I don't feel cheated. I feel as though it was good that I did my shows before this happened. I got Arthur out and 10 out.

WALTERS: (VO) And people will always love you in those roles …


WALTERS: … and remember you in those roles.

MOORE: Yes, hope so.

BO DEREK: That's so sad that it could have affected his work, and that it was coming on and nobody knew. I think that's tragic.

BLAKE EDWARDS: It just hurt me deeply that kind of person would have his mind attacked. His greatest challenge will be bravely facing it and whatever that means, coming to some kind of terms with it.

WALTERS: (VO) What is your prognosis?

MOORE: I think that I'm going to die. I don't know. I don't think that it's going to be pleasant.

WALTERS: (VO) What do you miss most?

MOORE: What I miss most? I miss playing the piano. I love it. And I miss it very much.

WALTERS: It's been nearly eight months since our story first aired, and Dudley Moore's condition remains relatively unchanged.

And even though he can no longer play the piano, he is currently producing a new CD of his previously recorded concerts, and it will be released in September. The money from the sales will go toward PSP research.