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Fighting the Difficult Fight: Jacqueline Du Pre, Barbara Jordan And Other Brave Souls Who Came Before Us

When I was told I had Multiple Sclerosis in 1987 I had no idea what it was. My neurologist attempted to explain it to me by using medical terms that were thoroughly confusing. With my mother sitting nervously beside me, I was distracted because I was more concerned about her reaction than focusing on him.

I left the doctor’s office figuring I had Muscular Dystrophy. I was more familiar with that disease from the years of watching The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethons.

I never knew or heard about anyone with MS so I had no name recognition. There weren’t any celebrities splashing their stories across news headlines to tell the story of their life with MS.

No one talked about it.

But I clearly remember my concerned parents mentioning the name Jacqueline Du Pre, and that it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to read any news about her and her life.

Jacqueline Du Pre was a famous young cellist who died from complications of MS in 1987. She was widely regarded as one of the most talented cellists in the last half of the twentieth century, achieving notoriety at a very young age. At 16 she made her formal debut in London, and the next year her concerto debut at The Royal Hall Festival. She was friends with the likes of Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta and Pinchas Zukerman. She married the Israeli-Argentine pianist and conductor Daniel Barnboim in 1967. Her last public concerts were in 1973, with Leonard Bernstein conducting The New York Philharmonic.

In 1998 the movie “Hillary and Jackie” starring Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths was released. It was loosely based on the posthumous memoir of Jacqueline Du Pre written by her siblings. The movie received wide acclaim by critics.

I’ve never seen it.

There have been many famous people who passed away from complications of MS but are now largely forgotten. I believe that we in the MS community have a responsibility to keep their memories alive. Their stories deserve, and should be, told. We know too well about the battles that we fight every day.

They also fought the good fight, yet theirs were fought before any approved medications were available. They lived before there were any consortiums, podcasts or Internet. There was no Facebook, forums or chat rooms. And no one openly talked about having MS.

There were no celebrities talking about their struggles and starting campaigns to raise money for MS research. 

They were all alone, on their own to struggle with no community to embrace them. Here are a handful of the ones I remember:

Who knows what other contributions they would have given if they lived at a time when more choices were available to help with their MS?

Be proud of these brave people, and remember them in your hearts and prayers. Because without their celebrity and unfortunate diagnosis, “Multiple Sclerosis” would never have been mentioned all those years ago. True, it wasn’t much. But it was the start of name recognition. We should be thankful for that.

Before Jack Osborne, Clay Walker and Teri Garr there was the great Jacqueline Du Pre. If she were alive today I believe she would have been a tireless advocate in the fight to find a cure for MS.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Betty
    5 years ago

    I saw “Hillary and Jackie” when it was released. You really should see it. With her basic selfish personality (as played in the movie based on fact)I don’t think she would have been an advocate at all. She died a terrible death and the movie stuck with me. There was this one scene with her having difficulties, but managing, on a European tour. Nine years ago I traveled solo to Europe for 6 weeks. Many a time I was so fatigued and airports so large…but I did it and thought of Jackie.

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    5 years ago

    Thanks, Betty. There was a family feud about that movie because they said the movie took liberties with Jacqueline’s life and her story. So I’m not sure how much of it is true. That said, she was a brilliant musician (check her out on youtube – it’s breathtaking!) whose life was cut too short and too fast. I just want people to remember her.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I am so glad to hear from you!


  • Ann
    5 years ago

    You forgot about Annette Funicello

  • Cathy Chester moderator author
    5 years ago

    I didn’t forget Annette Funicello. My article was about people living with MS in the years before approved medications, Internet – around the 1970’s. Annette Funicello was diagnosed much later, and times had changed by then.

    We all miss Annette and I wrote a piece about her that appeared on The Huffington Post.

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