Roberta Flack Diagnosed with ALS - Now Unable to Sing

Grammy-winning singer Roberta Flack has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). ALS has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak, according to a statement released by her management firm.

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Roberta Flack Diagnosed with ALS - Now Unable to Sing
3 Min Read November 15th, 2022

Legendary singer Roberta Flack, known for huge hits like "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Killing Me Softly With His Song," "Feel Like Makin' Love," and duets (with Danny Hathaway), "Where is the Love," and "The Closer I Get to You," will no longer be singing.

Her management team announced she has been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. ALS is a progressive and usually fatal disorder that attacks an individual's nerves and muscles. It is sometimes called Lou Gehrig's disease, after the famous New York Yankee slugger whose death in 1941 was caused by this disease.

The singer's ALS symptoms have "made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak," according to her management team's announcement. Flack, who is 85, survived a stroke in 2016.

But it will take a lot more than ALS to silence this icon.

The statement said she plans to stay active in her musical and creative pursuits.

Her fortitude and joyful embrace of music that lifted her from modest circumstances to the international spotlight remain vibrant and inspired.

Her Grammy-nominated album "Killing Me Softly," was double Platinum recognized by the Recording Industry Association of America. Next year marks its 50th anniversary of "Killing Me Softly with His Song," the album's number-one song, which earned the 1973 Grammy Award for Record of the Year.

Flack will release a children's book, "The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music," in January 2023. 

I have long dreamed of telling my story to children about that first green piano that my father got for me from the junkyard in the hope that they would be inspired to reach for their dreams.

Flack said that she wants children to know that dreams can come true with "persistence, encouragement from family and friends, and most of all belief in yourself."

ALS Symptoms

According to the ALS Association, symptoms can begin in the muscles that control speech and swallowing or in the hands, arms, legs, or feet. The signs and symptoms of ALS and the order or pattern of progression differ between individuals. However, progressive muscle weakness and paralysis are universally experienced.

Symptoms usually start when someone is in their 50s or early 60s. ALS typically involves a gradual onset. Many people experience difficulties with simple tasks requiring manual dexterity. These tasks include things like buttoning a shirt, writing, or turning a key in a lock. In other cases, symptoms initially affect one of the legs, and people experience awkwardness when walking or running, or they notice that they are tripping or stumbling more often. Other individuals first see changes in voice and speech, muscle spasms in the jaw, face, voice box, throat, and tongue, and inappropriate, excessive laughing and crying.

The complications of ALS include:

  • Memory loss

  • Difficulty in swallowing, often leading to malnutrition, aspiration, and pneumonia (lung infection)

  • Difficulty in breathing 

ALS Leads to 24/7 Care

The ALS patient will start to lose their independence as the illness progresses, and by the time it is fully advanced, they will need round-the-clock long-term care.

The long-term care for ALS patients is enormously expensive since it usually requires someone to need 24/7 semi-skilled and skilled care. This care is not paid for by health insurance or Medicare beyond a limited amount of days.

In addition to Lou Gehrig, there have been several famous people who have suffered from ALS. These include:

Professor Stephen Hawking

Dwight Clark, an American football player

Ezzard Charles, boxer

Steve Gleason, an American football player

Chairman Mao, the forefather of communist China

ALS Care is Costly

Many people with ALS will end up on Medicaid to pay for their long-term health care as the high costs drain their assets. Medicaid will pay for long-term care services for those with little or no income and assets.

Long-Term Care Insurance will pay for care as well, but many policyholders will still have extensive expenses despite the insurance due to the unusually very high cost of care for those with ALS.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Most long-term health care is not as costly as ALS. However, long-term health care is expensive, and paying for the care would be challenging, even for those with above-average savings. 

Most long-term care services are provided in someone's home, not a nursing home. Although, more and more people opt for assisted living, which is not as expensive as a nursing home or as institutional.

The cost of care varies depending on where you live. You can find the current and future cost of care by using the LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator.

Long-Term Care Insurance will provide you with money to pay for the quality care you deserve in your desired setting. You would not have to use most of your income or drain your 401(k) or other assets to pay for care. 

If you have savings, you can shelter them and avoid exhausting your savings and ending up on Medicaid. Medicaid will pay for long-term care services, but only once you have little or no income and assets.

Since LTC Insurance is medically underwritten and priced based on your age and health when you obtain coverage. The ideal time to get a policy is when you are younger and healthier. Most people do so in their 50s.

Seek the assistance of a qualified Long-Term Care Insurance specialist to obtain accurate quotes from all the top companies. Every insurance company has its own underwriting criteria and pricing

Keep in mind that Long-Term Care Insurance is regulated by the federal government and the states providing policyholders with consumer protections, regulated benefit triggers, and tax incentives.

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