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Maria Shriver finds a community in 'The Alzheimer's Project'

May 10, 2009 |  3:00 am
ShriverEverything changed for Maria Shriver in the summer of 2003. Her husband announced he was running for governor and later won. She lost her job as an NBC News anchor as a result. Her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, had a stroke. Finally, her father, Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

"It was one of those periods where I was like, 'Whoa, what's going on?' " Shriver said, shifting on the plush sofa of a Beverly Hills hotel suite.

As a way to cope, she wrote a children's book about the disease -- "What's Happening to Grandpa?" -- and went to HBO documentary film powerhouse Sheila Nevins to plead with her to adapt it as a film. It took three years, but Nevins eventually relented.

Shriver was named an executive producer of "The Alzheimer's Project," a position far less integral to its four films than if she had been reporting the story for NBC News but one that gave her broad influence. She suggested the film "Caregivers," for instance, and accompanied filmmakers on interviews with top scientists for the "Momentum in Science" segments. Shriver hosted "Grandpa, Do You Know Who I Am?," which airs Monday night, ad-libbing several candid revelations about her experience watching her father succumb to the disease.

Her celebrity status has played a significant role as well. HBO's Nevins suspected the attention the documentaries already have received is to Shriver's credit.

For Shriver, though, "The Alzheimer's Project" has given her a worthy cause in which to channel her pain.

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(Photo courtesy Getty Images)