Who is Fran Drescher? How The Nanny star rose to Sag-Aftra presidency

She found fame in the '90s sitcom, survived cancer, became a US diplomat and is a staunch women’s rights activist

Fran Drescher became the union's president in September 2021; the activist actress rose to fame in '90s sitcom The Nanny. Photos: Reuters / CBS
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To television fans, she is known as the smart and sassy Fran Fine from the popular '90s TV series The Nanny. But in Hollywood, Fran Drescher has long occupied a more powerful role as the president of the actors' and performers' union, Sag-Aftra.

Drescher, 65, made headlines this week when she announced the union, which stands for Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, and represents more than 160,000 performers would join the Writers Guild of America (WGA) on strike.

“Shame on them,” she said of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the likes of Paramount Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros. “They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment.”

But how exactly did the New York native go from sitcom star to union president?

From Hollywood to Broadway

Drescher built her Hollywood career in the 1970s and '80s with roles in Saturday Night Fever, This is Spinal Tap and Cadillac Man. But it wasn’t until the career-defining The Nanny, that the actress from Queens became a household name.

The Nanny was an instant hit, running from 1993 to 1999 and featured Drescher as a door-to-door cosmetics saleswoman, who is employed as a nanny for Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield’s (Charles Shaughnessy) three children.

Known for her comedy timing, unique voice and recognisable laugh, when the show ended Drescher earned small roles in a number of high-profile shows including Law & Order and Entourage. She also had her own daytime programme The Fran Drescher Tawk Show in 2010 but it was cancelled after three episodes.

The actress enjoyed small-screen success the following year with a sitcom she created with her ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, Happily Divorced, which ran until 2013.

Taking a break from Hollywood in 2014, Drescher moved back to New York to star on Broadway as the wicked stepmother in Cinderella.

Cancer misdiagnosis sparks activism

In her 2002 memoir Cancer Schmancer, the actress details her cancer battle, which began with two years of symptoms and misdiagnoses by eight doctors. Eventually diagnosed with uterine cancer, she underwent an emergency hysterectomy in 2000.

Her experiences led her to launch a cancer charity, named after her book, in 2007. “I wrote the book so that others wouldn't go through what I did," she told HealthyWomen. "I very quickly realised that my experience is really quite common and happens often. It became clear that the book was not the end, but just the beginning of what became a life's mission."

As well as spearheading the charity, Drescher was appointed as a public diplomacy envoy for women's health issues by the George W Bush administration in September 2008, with a remit to raise awareness globally. She later revealed she had considered running for senator of New York when Hillary Clinton left the post in 2009.

Friends in A-list places

In 2021, Drescher made a bid to become president of Sag-Aftra, running against Stranger Things actor Matthew Modine.

Her campaign was backed by Hollywood stars including Tom Hanks, Rosario Dawson and JK Simmons. Will & Grace star Debra Messing told Deadline: “I have long admired Fran for her tireless activism and powerful voice on women’s health.”

The former actress won the election, becoming president of the union in September of that year.

“I am honoured to serve my union in this capacity,” she said. “Only as a united front will we have strength against the real opposition in order to achieve what we all want: more benefits, stronger contracts and better protections. Let us lock elbows and together show up with strength at the negotiating table.”

Drescher made good on her election win promise, announcing the Sag-Aftra strike would begin on Friday.

“The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI,” she said. “If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble.”

Updated: July 14, 2023, 2:03 PM