Editor's note: Jamie-Lynn Sigler, 34, announced recently that she has been suffering from multiple sclerosis since she was 20. But this isn't the first health issue the Long Island native has had to overcome. This story about Sigler -- who recently married Manhasset-born baseball player Cutter K. Dykstra, son of former Mets star Lenny Dykstra -- originally appeared in Newsday on Aug. 5, 2002.
When Jamie-Lynn Sigler buys a box of Raisinettes during the intermission of "Beauty and the Beast," it's an act of great personal significance for a young woman who has overcome an eating disorder. No one standing in line, however, notices or recognizes her.
When Sigler gets her picture taken a block away from the Broadway theater where she is soon to star, she stops traffic - literally - as a van driver hits the brakes to praise her smile and question her about the future of "The Sopranos," the wildly successful HBO show in which she plays mob daughter Meadow Soprano.
Few 21-year-olds have led as eventful a life as Sigler, from self-starvation to celebrity status, to say nothing of two serious bouts with paralysis from Lyme disease. On a happier note, Sigler also had joyous high school days in Jericho with a supportive family and a thriving theater career on Long Island, where she belted "Tomorrow" in a curly red "Annie" wig from at least three different stages.
It's enough to fill a book. And it does, in Sigler's new "Wise Girl: What I've Learned About Life, Love, and Loss," a Pocket Books paperback original written with Sheryl Berk, a Biography Magazine editor who approached Sigler with the idea after reading about her Lyme and eating problems.
Reviewing her life for the autobiography made her realize how much has happened, Sigler says. "Some people go through life without having any of that, and I'm so grateful. Even the horrible, hard times, they're what made me what I am right now. And I couldn't be happier where I am now... I definitely have a greater quality of life than ever before."
Life now includes a book tour next week; a new season of "The Sopranos" launching Sept. 15; her Broadway debut Oct. 1 as Belle in "Beauty and the Beast," which she was directed to watch every evening last week; the debut of a movie, "Extreme Dating," now being edited, and another possible film (for which she would go blond) if her schedule permits; keeping a photo diary at the request of Entertainment Weekly; a recent show about her Las Vegas vacation house on MTV; serving as spokeswoman for the National Eating Disorders Association; and happy co-habitation with her boyfriend and manager, A.J. Discala.
Discala, 31, became her manager when she recorded the album "Here to Heaven" two years ago, and they've been dating about a year, Sigler says. Seated next to her at the theater, Discala holds her hand and notes afterward in mock jealousy that she will be kissing her co-star (the Beast) three times. She hugs him and glows. Annie has grown up.
She even has a perspective on all the parts she didn't win as she auditioned for Broadway and television while being active at Plaza Playhouse (now Cultural Arts Playhouse) in Old Bethpage and other Long Island theaters (though she did get one national tour before "The Sopranos"). If she'd gotten them, she might not have been available for "The Sopranos."
The Lyme disease episodes happened after she already was in the series. She had unknowingly been bitten by a tick while doing a bit part in an independent film. At first, doctors couldn't diagnose the cause of her paralysis. When they finally did, several weeks of antibiotics and physical therapy brought her back to normal. The second time she started feeling the paralysis, the medical response was quicker.
One regret she writes about is being unable to fit college into her schedule: She ended her dorm days after a disastrous morning at New York University when she overslept and missed an important exam and a "Sopranos" photo call. "I didn't want to lose that experience. I wanted to be like everyone else. But now I realize that everyone has to take their own path."
She was fortunate, she says, to stay in Jericho High School and even attend the prom. Her book includes photos showing Sigler with friends at the prom, singing at a brother's bar mitzvah at age 8, with "Sopranos" colleagues (Aida Turturro is her best friend there) and with her family.
"My mom has seen every performance I've ever been in," says Sigler. That would include last year's tour with "Cinderella," which stopped off at Madison Square Garden. "My father bought 47 tickets for my opening night" in "Beauty and the Beast" and intends to see it every night for two weeks until he has to travel to take care of the national baseball league for adult men he founded and runs.
When her run is over, she plans to go back to shooting the fifth and final "Sopranos" season, though whether there will be a fifth season is not yet determined, she says. During the coming season, already taped, Meadow "is definitely growing up a lot," she says. She moves out of her dorm into an apartment and gets "closer to her family," which the season focuses on more than the mob.
All this might not have come to pass if Sigler had succumbed to the eating disorder, which almost cost her the "Sopranos" role, because she'd lost so much weight between the pilot and the taping of the first episode. Her problem was "exercise bulimia," she says, triggered by being dumped by a high school boyfriend and general stress. She would try to get rid of every calorie she consumed through exercise. "If I had a lollipop before coming home, I would do bicep curls in the car, and then pace around the house until I burned every calorie," she says. After about six months, she admitted her problem to her parents, who immediately got her psychiatric and medical help.
Now she goes easily for the chocolate-covered raisins. And she has tips in her book for other young women. "I wanted to seem more like a big sister," says Sigler. "I wanted to let them know, 'You're not alone.'"