Shelley Morrison: Recognizable face doing memorable work
Her name might not be as recognizable as her face is, but Shelley Morrison hopes you’ll remember the work that she continues to do for charities just as much as you’ll remember the characters that she has played in her career that has spanned five decades.
As a young girl, she was Sister Sixto in “The Flying Nun,” but Shelley is probably most recognized as the wisecracking Rosario on “Will and Grace” (one of my favorite shows ever). Even going through her own illnesses and challenges hasn’t stopped Shelley from helping others. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, Shelley has since had a double mastectomy and a portion of her right lung removed. You wouldn’t know it by talking with her – she’s doesn’t wallow in her own challenges -- she’d rather talk about what others need, so that’s what we did.
Did you like playing Rosario?
I’m most grateful for Rosario and Will and Grace because it did afford me a certain amount of celebrity so I could work with different charities and bring attention to them. That’s been the exciting part – no, I don’t miss it because now I have time to do some of the projects that I want to do.
What charities are you currently working with?
One charity is the Best Friend’s Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. Three times a year, we do an event (in Los Angeles) and all of the shelters bring the animals that are for adoption. They screened the applicants and found homes for 750 animals. A few weeks ago, we did another event and found homes for 400. The difficult part is when I get up on stage to introduce the large older dogs that are hard to place; it breaks your heart. As you’re petting them to keep them calm you can feel their fear by touching them and you fall apart.
Why did you get involved with this charity?
When I was little, I brought home every stray you could think of and my mom was an animal person. When you’re afforded some celebrity, even going back to The Flying Nun, we’d do projects with protecting animals and I learned that if we don’t treat the four-legged ones with honor, how can we treat each other with honor. It’s been a lifelong project.
You’ve been involved with L.A. Shanti, a volunteer-driven, not-for-profit, AIDS service organization in Los Angeles County, dedicated to providing emotional support services to a frightened and neglected gay community. Do you know anyone who died of AIDS?
Oh gosh, too many. There’s been a shift trying to get more educational programs out to young people who think they are bulletproof. People have become complacent and figure if there are new medications that will take care of it.
We follow the Native American philosophy “everyone and everything is sacred” and…sometimes I want to take some of the young people to see the last stages, but you can only do what you can do.
How do you handle the mental part of the work that you do?
I have a deep spiritual core. I ask for help from our guardian angels who watch over us. I choose certain areas -- animals, AIDS, breast cancer – but if I do too many, it dilutes the effectiveness. I don’t just want to go and show up. When I commit, it’s a total commitment.
When I was little, my mom would pick me up from P.S. 64 during World War II and take me to the Red Cross where we would put on these white cotton gloves and help fold bandages to send overseas to the soldiers, so you do what you see. It empowered me and there has to be a continuation, so I take my nieces and nephews now. I took my young ones to the Salvation Army to kick off the Christmas season and then to serve meals to the homeless.
Do you do this for a photo opp?
It doesn’t even enter my mind; if there is a need I’m there. There are lots of celebs who they have to pay to be at these things and that pisses me off. If they want to give me a goodie bag, etc. I tell them no, donate it to the silent auction. I donate some of the stuff I got from Will and Grace to a silent auction. I honor people like George Clooney, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt who put their money where their mouth is – we need them to draw attention or it’s in darkness. I’m not a big star – I’m a character actress, but what’s the purpose if you don’t put back. Everybody has an opinion (about why celebs do charity work) and they are entitled to it. I’ve known celebs that only go to the events for the red carpet and then they leave – that’s not good.
Anyone can get involved, charities constantly need volunteers whatever your area might be -- children, animals, AIDS, cancer.
For more information on Shelley's causes, click on their names in the story!
Next week: The amazing story of soap opera legend Kimberlin Brown and the life that she saved.