Andrea Fay Friedman, Who Built a Breakthrough Acting Career, Dies at 53

andrea fay friedman, who built a breakthrough acting career, dies at 53

Andrea Fay Friedman in 2003.

Correction: December 7, 2023

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the year Sarah Palin was the Republican nominee for vice president. It was 2008, not 2018.

Andrea Fay Friedman, an actress who starred in the groundbreaking television series “Life Goes On,” died on Sunday in her home in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 53.

She died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease, according to her father, Hal Friedman. He said that she had not been able to speak for the past year because of the disease, which is common in people with Down syndrome who are over 50.

Ms. Friedman was known for her portrayals of people with developmental disabilities. She called her Down syndrome her “up syndrome,” Mr. Friedman said in a phone interview.

Andrea Fay Friedman was born on June 1, 1970, in Santa Monica. After graduating from West Los Angeles Baptist High School, she studied acting and philosophy at Santa Monica College for two years.

Her breakthrough in acting came in 1992 on the TV drama “Life Goes On,” in which she played Amanda Swanson, the girlfriend and later wife of the main character, Charles “Corky” Thatcher, who also had Down syndrome. She played the character for two seasons.

andrea fay friedman, who built a breakthrough acting career, dies at 53

Ms. Friedman with Chris Burke on the set of “Life Goes On” in 1992.

Mr. Friedman said that she got involved in the show while working at a child-care center during her college years. A parent there was writing the music for “Life Goes On,” he said, and suggested she pitch her ideas to the writers.

She eventually convinced the producers to include another character who had Down syndrome, Mr. Friedman said. She was originally going to appear in just one episode, but “she did such a great job that they made her a regular on the show,” he said.

She would later occasionally appear in other hit shows, like “Baywatch,” “ER” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.”

Her final appearance on screen was in the 2019 holiday drama “Carol of the Bells,” in which a man searches for his biological mother, played by Ms. Friedman, and learns she is developmentally disabled.

Ms. Friedman also worked with neurodiverse students through the Pathway program at U.C.L.A. Extension.

In addition to her father, she is survived by her younger sister, Katherine Holland.

“When we were young, everyone noticed that she was a little different,” Ms. Holland said in an interview. “People can be cruel, and I thought that I had to protect her.” That changed, Ms. Holland said, after Ms. Friedman was cast in “Life Goes On.”

“Suddenly people are staring at us not because she has Down syndrome,” she said, “but because she’s famous.”

In 2010, Ms. Friedman had a “dispute” with Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Mr. Friedman said.

In an episode of the animated series “Family Guy,” Ms. Friedman voiced a girl with Down syndrome named Ellen who dates the teenage character Chris. Ellen tells him over dinner that her mother is “the former governor of Alaska.”

Ms. Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome, said that the show “really isn’t funny” and was the work of “cruel, cold-hearted people.”

Ms. Friedman wrote in an email to The New York Times at the time that Ms. Palin “does not have a sense of humor,” adding, “I think the word is ‘sarcasm.’”

“In my family we think laughing is good,” she wrote. “My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life.”

Emily Schmall contributed reporting.

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