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Earth, Wind and Fire Founder Stricken With Parkinson's Disease

Maurice White reveals he has a neurological disease

February 29, 2000 12:00 AM ET

Maurice White, founder, producer and co-leader of the legendary R&B group Earth, Wind and Fire, told RollingStone.com today that he is suffering from Parkinson's Disease. Although the fifty-eight-year-old musician was originally diagnosed with the degenerative neurological disease eight years ago, he opted to keep his condition a secret. But now, with his band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame only a week away, White feels that the time has come to set the record straight.

"I just got tired of not talking about it," White said. "I had pretty much disappeared from the scene; a lot of people had not seen me in a long time, and they started wondering what was happening."

Indeed, rumors about White's ill health have swirled throughout the music industry since 1995, when he announced that he would no longer tour or perform with the group, which is best known for such hits as "Shining Star" and "After the Love Has Gone." But White, who is currently hard at work on finishing Earth, Wind and Fire's twenty-third album (due late summer from Refugee Camp/Sony), insists that Parkinson's was only one of the motivating factors for his retirement from the road.

"With Parkinson's, you do need more rest," White explained. "But part of it was the everyday travails of the road -- I'd been on the road for thirty years, and it just gets to you, you know? It was really just time for a change, so I built a recording studio and started to work on my label [Kalimba Records], which was something I needed to do anyway."

Parkinson's disease is a non-fatal neurological disease that affects the part of the brain that produces the vital chemical dopamine; sufferers typically experience bodily tremors, stiff joints and muscles, or have difficulty moving. Though a cure is currently still as baffling as the cause, the symptoms can be effectively controlled and minimized through the use of medication.

White first noticed tremors in his hands during the late Eighties, but continued to tour and perform with Earth, Wind and Fire after being diagnosed with the disease. "I traveled with the band for five years with Parkinson's," he said. "I was treating it with medication then, and I still have it under control. It's not taking anything away from me."

White, who expects to join his bandmates onstage at the Hall of Fame ceremonies, has been talking with the National Parkinson Foundation about helping to raise funds to battle the disease, which currently afflicts nearly 1.5 million Americans, including actor Michael J. Fox and boxing great Muhammad Ali. "We're figuring out some stuff that I can do for them," said White of the Foundation. "They're really trying to help increase awareness, and they're working really hard. I think they'll have a cure within five years."

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