Actress and MTV VJ Karen Duffy Has Been Living With Rare Chronic Illness Since 1996

Kelly Corbett - Author

Apr. 13 2022, Published 8:45 p.m. ET

Karen Duffy at the premiere of 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' in 2000
Source: Getty Images

Karen Duffy at the premiere of 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' in 2000

In the 1990s, Karen Duffy was a household name. Most known for her gig as an MTV VJ (aka video jockey), Karen also rose to fame for her roles in Dumb and Dumber and Blank Check. Nicknamed "Duff," she was very well-acquainted in the entertainment industry and had a promising career ahead of her. But then, her health began to decline.

Karen had succumbed to a rare chronic illness with no cure. What illness was she diagnosed with, and how is she today? Keep reading to find out.

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What illness does Karen Duffy have?

After months of mysterious headaches and bouts of pneumonia, Karen Duffy was officially diagnosed with sarcoidosis in 1996. Per Mayo Clinic, sarcoidosis is an incurable disease that causes clusters of inflammatory cells (known as granulomas) to grow in the brain, central nervous system, and lungs, as well as other organs. As a result, patients typically deal with chronic and debilitating pain for years.

The exact cause of sarcoidosis is unknown and while it can go away on its own, Karen has seen no improvement over the past two decades. However, since her diagnosis, she has continued to work to a varying degree — and has even penned a few books about her experience.

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John Lambros, Karen Duffy, and Ellen Barkin
Source: Getty Images

Karen Duffy (middle) with her husband, John Lambros, and actress Ellen Barkin in 2000

In 1997, she got married to her husband, investment banker John Lambros. In 2003, they welcomed son Jack Lambros via surrogate, per ABTC.

But to this day, she struggles with simple tasks. As noted in a 2016 interview, "a few days a week, she hurts too much to leave the house."

Regularly, she'll deal with sharp, shooting pains down her neck, shoulders, and spine. Her elbow may also start to feel a burning sensation, which, in turn, causes her fingers to involuntarily contract and weakens her ability to grasp items.

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Extended-release morphine pills, lidocaine patches, and even steroids help reduce her pain, but nothing can make it completely disappear.

"There's a lot of shame involved with chronic illness because you worry that people think you're a slacker. I would love to be able to play tennis with my husband and be at every hockey practice with my son, but monkeys will fly out of my butt first," she told the outlet.

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Karen Duffy discusses her last night out before falling ill with sarcoidosis.

In April 2022, while promoting her new book, Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who's Been Through It, Karen spoke with People about the last night she remembered feeling OK before her chronic illness took over.

Karen recounted the September 1995 Emmys ceremony, which she attended with her good friend George Clooney, as her last normal experience. "It was the next day that I became symptomatic with sarcoidosis," she said.

As she explained, she woke up after the awards show with excruciating pain in her head and neck that felt "like an electric eel swimming up my spinal column." Her life had forever changed overnight.

Today, Karen is in her 60s and, while she's had a few near-fatal experiences as a result of her illness, she's still pushing through. "I just can't believe I got here. There were times I didn't think I'd make it. I feel like this is all a bonus round," she revealed to the outlet.

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