O’Jays member Walter Williams, 67, has revealed that he has been suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) since the age of 39.
The singer, 67, decided to go public with the news in honor of World MS Day on May 26, hoping his revelation will let other MS sufferers know that it’s possible to lead an active life despite the often disabling disease.
“I have done well with MS and I want other sufferers to know that they too can lead a normal life,” Williams told Reuters in a telephone interview. “Why now? Well, it’s a good time to come out and let people know there is medication for this now that helps a great deal. When I was diagnosed they told me I had 20 years to live and there was no cure but it has all changed.”
Williams, a founding member of the The O’Jays, first noticed numbness in his feet, legs and torso while on tour in 1983. At 39, he was diagnosed with the inflammatory autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system.
Over 2 million people worldwide have MS which affects about three females to every male with symptoms often starting to show when people are in their early 30s.
“I knew nothing about MS so when I was diagnosed I just freaked out. The doctor told me to get my life in order as I probably only had 20 years to live,” said Williams. “At first I did the pity party thing and felt sorry for myself, but then I got angry and decided to fight it. I started exercising more to make my body strong and started to eat right and keep a great attitude. I slipped a lot but I got through it.”
Williams, however, was not ready to go public with his MS. He told only his wife, four children and close friends about his condition.
“I just suffered through it. It wasn’t easy but I had to because I didn’t want to stop singing. What aggravated it was heat, so I took cold showers and had a bucket of ice on stage that I could put on my head,” he said.
Williams has continued to perform and tour with the O’Jays for nearly 50 years. A 2005 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame, he is also about to release his debut solo album, “Walter Williams – Exposed,” including two original songs he wrote himself.
“I am a living example that you can live with MS with a great attitude, eating properly, exercising, talking to your health care professionals to find out exactly what is best for you as regards treatment,” he said. “It is not the end of your life. You can live a normal, happy life.”