Estess, Jenifer 1963-2003

views updated

ESTESS, Jenifer 1963-2003

PERSONAL: Born February 17, 1963, in Moline, IL; daughter of Marilyn R. Estess; died of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) December 16, 2003, in New York, NY. Education: New York University, degree in drama, 1984.

CAREER: Theatrical producer, actor, and author. Naked Angels (theatre company), New York, NY, cofounder and producing director; Baker Winokur Ryder, New York, NY, public relations. Cofounder of Nantucket Film Festival and New York Women's Film Festival; cofounder and chief executive officer of Project A.L.S. Co-executive producer of television film, Jennifer, CBS, 2001; appeared as herself in film Chelsea Walls.

AWARDS, HONORS: Named Woman of the Year, Glamour magazine, 2001.


(With sister, Valerie Estess) Tales from the Bed: On Living, Dying, and Having It All, foreword by Katie Couric, Atria (New York, NY), 2004.

SIDELIGHTS: Jenifer Estess was a theatrical producer and public relations expert who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 1997. Ironically, she was thirty-five years old at the time of her diagnosis, the same age as New York Yankee baseball legend Lou Gehrig when he was diagnosed with the same disease, which now bears Gehrig's name. Although Estess died in December of 2003, she narrated her story to her sister, Valerie Estes, and Tales from the Bed: On Living, Dying, and Having It All was published posthumously in 2004.

Estess's memoir focuses primarily on how Lou Gehrig's disease changed her life, but it also includes reflections on her early family life, including her parents' divorce and the strong bond she had with her sisters. Estess began noticing systems such as muscle twitches in her legs when she was in her mid-thirties. Ignoring them at first, Estess, who was in good physical shape otherwise, finally went to a doctor after she found that she became exhausted by merely walking up a flight of stairs. Initially, her symptoms were diagnosed as being stress related, but eventually the doctors told her she had the fatal nervous system disease. The doctors inform her that she should prepare to die, and one even suggested that she run up her credit cards and go see Paris or whatever else she might want to do in her final few years. But, as Estess recounts in her memoir, she had other plans, including starting Project A.L.S., which would go on to raise more than seventeen million dollars for research into the disease by the time Estess died at age forty.

In addition, Estess continued with a life-long dream to start her own film company with her sisters. In her memoir, Estess also reflects on her past love life, as well as the romances of her mother, who was divorced from her father. In the foreword to Tales from the Bed, television personality Katie Couric calls Estess "a wonderful listener and a hip and funny Dear Abby, doling out especially good advice in matters of love." Another prominent figure in the book is the author's friend Reed, who, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted, "liberates—and loves—the wheelchair-bound Jenifer." Writing in Library Journal, Elizabeth Williams noted that Estess "writes humorously about visiting psychic healers and picking out a wheelchair." A Publishers Weekly contributor felt that while "the story is compromised by a too-casual structure," it also makes for a "fast-paced, witty book."



Estess, Jenifer, Tales from the Bed: On Living, Dying, and Having It All, Atria (New York, NY), 2004.


Fortune, May 17, 2004, Cora Daniels, "One Family's Cause May Cure a Disease," p. 40.

Good Housekeeping, June, 2004, Jennifer Allen, "What They Did for Love," p. 154.

In Style, June 1, 2000, Honor Brodie, "Get with the Project: Jenifer Estess Fights ALS with a Little Help from Her Famous Friends," p. 206.

Library Journal, May 1, 2004, Elizabeth Williams, review of Tales from the Bed, p. 134.

Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, review of Tales from the Bed, p. 52.



Daily Variety, December 19, 2003, p. 56.

Los Angeles Times, December 23, 2003.

Variety, December 22, 2003, p. 64.


Robert Packard Center for ALS Research Web site, (December 17, 2003).*