People remember that Stephen Furst got his big break when he played Flounder in “Animal House.” However, there’s more to the story. Before he got the role, he delivered pizza to Hollywood movie sets and put his picture and résumé in the boxes. When the creators went to grab a slice, they saw his photo, which was all pock-marked from the cheese. No one had ever auditioned quite like that.
Needless to say, he got the role. Stephen also starred as Dr. Elliot Axelrod in “St. Elsewhere” and as Vir Cotto in “Babylon 5” and was a successful TV and movie producer/director as well. Stephen, who was 63, died June 17 after a life-long battle with diabetes. He is survived by his wife, Lorraine Feuerstein, and his sons, Nathan and Griffith.
I met Stephen when he called Renal Support Network (RSN) in 2005. At first, he gave me a false name, but after we spoke for a while, he told me who he was. He talked about having to start dialysis soon and what that would mean for his future. His sister was on dialysis and had just decided to stop because her quality of life had deteriorated so much. Like most people who have been diagnosed with kidney disease, he needed hope.
This initial conversation sparked a friendship. Stephen was funny and sincere and always willing to help others. Shortly after we met, I was working on a program for RSN called KidneyTalk™ Podcast and asked Stephen whether he was interested in being my co-host. He quickly replied, “That would be fun.” We both agreed that we needed to do a test interview to see whether our on-air personalities meshed. They did indeed. I was the hopeful know-it-all, and he was the humorous curmudgeon.
Our first interview was with Jodi Picoult, the best-selling novelist and author of My Sister’s Keeper, which deals with a family whose daughter needs a kidney. Stephen was one of the producers when the book was made into a movie. We interviewed Peter Quaife, the bass guitarist for The Kinks. He was also an amazing cartoonist who depicted funny scenarios that took place while he was on dialysis
One of our funniest interviews was with Howie Mandel, who explained the importance of laughing through illness and described some of his personal health experiences.
Stephen understood how important peer support is. He was a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association. He loved to contribute to RSN’s mission by inspiring people who were in a similar situation. He knew that giving of yourself always comes back tenfold. He served on RSN’s Board, spoke at our meetings, and attended the Annual Renal Teen Prom and Annual Celebrity Charity Poker and Bingo event.
He wrote and directed a short educational video called “Seymour Jones and the Temple of Chronic Kidney Disease” on the importance of knowing the warning signs. He also decorated a lamp depicting his love for cooking for RSN’s “Shine-a-Light on Kidney Disease” campaign.
Stephen said, “The magic is that you can change more things than you could ever dream of.” His cheerfulness, optimism, and sense of humor will be greatly missed. The kidney community and the world have lost a good friend.