Positive spin James Earl Jones’ wise words
Actor James Earl Jones – the voice of Darth Vader – shares his type 2 diabetes insights
After a surprise type 2 diagnosis more than 20 years ago, James Earl Jones learnt to raise his own level of awareness. His mother and several other members of his Michigan-raised farming family had diabetes but, like many, he was still shocked when he was told he had diabetes in his sixties. “My diagnosis hit me like a thunderbolt,” Jones, 86, tells Diabetic Living.
Best known for voicing Darth Vader in Star Wars and Mufasa in The Lion King, Jones starred alongside Vanessa Redgrave in Driving Miss Daisy on Broadway and London’s West End in
2010 and 2011, and, in 2013, with Angela Lansbury in the production that toured Australia for four months.
His health journey, however, has been one of his hardest parts. “I’ve had the chance to do some very interesting roles in my career, but I find that living with type 2 diabetes is one of the most challenging roles I’ve ever had,” Jones says.
After his diagnosis, Jones – whose film credits also include Field of Dreams and The Hunt for Red October – put together a team of medical experts. “I’ve certainly had to make lifestyle changes, like exercising more and watching what I eat,” said Jones, who owns a property in upstate New York. “I try to walk in the woods behind my house and in my neighbourhood as often as I can. I make healthier food choices now, too.”
After the 2016 death of his wife of 34 years, actress Cecilia Hart, who passed away after a battle with ovarian cancer, Jones’s main support is their son Flynn. He assists with his father’s diet and health appointments. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help from my family,” Jones has said.
Diabetes is not the only hurdle the actor has taken in his stride. As a child he learnt to manage his stutter with public speaking and acting. “Stuttering is painful,” he has said. “In Sunday school, I’d try to read my lessons and the children behind me were falling on the floor with laughter. But by the time I got to school, my stuttering was so bad that I gave up trying to speak properly.”
His high school teacher Donald Crouch encouraged him to read poetry aloud to his classmates and take up debating
If you want to lift yourself up, lift up
someone else – Booker T. Washington,
and dramatic reading classes. To this day, Jones manages his stutter by avoiding some sounds including ‘M’. And as a result, he says he has a much wider vocabulary than those who “have more choices of words at their disposal”.
Jones’s positive spin on his stutter, which led him to the career that he loves, is much like his take on diabetes. It’s something he knows has enriched his health. n
The actor, who has type 2, is proactive about his diabetes care. Left: Cecilia Hart and James Earl Jones attend the 70th Annual Tony Awards just months before Hart’s death in 2016.