James Earl Jones continues to lead an iconic career.
His booming baritone voice commands the space. His kingly presence sets a tone. And his body of work can hit you like an electric charge. He has appeared in over 90 productions across stage, television and film , receiving an abundance of accolades for his riveting performances in productions such as the 1983 August Wilson stage play Fences, 1974’s Claudine and of course, 2014’s Star Wars Rebels, respectfully.
But nearly 40 years into his Hollywood reign, it wasn’t the praise or awards that hit Jones like a thunderbolt. It was his health.
“I joined a program for exercise and diet, trying to lose some weight which is a problem actors always have to confront and I was sitting on a bench in a gymnasium and fell asleep,” he tells JET. “That’s an odd place to have a nap.”
An onsite doctor encouraged him to pay a visit to his physician and have a test taken. He followed the advice only to get a startling wake-up call.
“And there it was…Type II Diabetes,” the performer recounts.
Diabetes continues to be a health epidemic and the rate at which people are being diagnosed with the blood sugar disease is not waning. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 14 million Americans are diagnosed with the ailment every five minutes. The physical makeup of those at higher risk of obtaining type 2 diabetes are African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Asian-Pacific Islanders.
In addition to ethnicity, factors such as age, weight and family history play a role in the chances of having diabetes.
“There was diabetes in the family. I guess, perhaps, I’d have to say that at that age, not that I was detached from my body, but I was less aware of the signals that every human being gets from the body,” he shares. “I’ve been in the army and the body goes through significant bounds and when you carry that civilian life, that can be a problem and it was for me. I wasn’t sensitive to my own body signals.”
Jones also admits to having that innate sweet tooth, laughing as he states, “A human being wants all the sugar you can put in front of him. There’s a struggle for everybody.”
While always presenting his characters with authenticity and honesty, he struggled with accepting the seriousness of his diagnosis.
“My thing was the tendency of denial. Denial that one little cookie wasn’t going to hurt me,” he conceded. “And what I’ve realized is that the biggest problem I have as a diabetic is the blood sugar. How am I going to keep my blood sugar balanced so that it’s not too low or too high?”
Dealing with diabetes has not slowed James Earl Jones down. In fact, he is now making it his desire and motivation to raise awareness and get the word out about the depths of the issue.
This is why Jones has joined forces with Janssen Pharmaceuticals as the spokesperson for their “I Can Imagine” campaign.
The campaign encourages people to take control of their diabetes by taking a quiz that determines your behavioral strengths.
Jones Says his other goal is to make sure the diagnosis and warning signs are taken a lot more seriously.
“There’s nothing automatically deadly about it but it can lead to bad consequences if it’s not tended to,” Jones advises.
This article originally ran on JETMag.com.