Musicians, athletes, and actors who have type 1 diabetes can help inspire kids to realize that their condition doesn’t have to hold them back. Don’t their parents deserve a little inspiration too? Cue these seven celebrity moms and dads who know all the behind-the-scenes work you put into taking care of your child’s diabetes — because they’ve been there too.
After his son Usher V was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 6, multiplatinum recording star Usher says the biggest change he’s experienced as a diabetes dad is how much appreciation he has for his son, who “every day has to prick himself and has to be cautious of what he eats and also to carry this disorder around — that really is the type of bravery that we all aspire to have,” as he told People magazine.
In front of the cameras, he played everyone’s favorite TV dad Jason Seaver on the hit sitcom Growing Pains. In real life, Alan Thicke had another supporting role: diabetes dad. Thicke’s son Brennan, diagnosed with T1D in 1979 at age 4, inspired the actor to spend decades supporting the fight for diabetes awareness and research. Advocacy was part of how he coped with his son’s diagnosis. “If you’re not doing something, you’re driving yourself crazy. To me, it’s almost a selfish kind of therapy,” he told InsulinNation.com. Thicke passed away in 2016 and is dearly missed by the diabetes community, which remembers him as “always a diabetes dad.”
Disney’s own John Lasseter, chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios, became a diabetes dad when his son Sam was diagnosed with type 1 at the age of 10. Lasseter credits his son as a source of inspiration for Elsa in Frozen — who was originally conceived as the movie’s villain before being recast as the heroine we all know and love. “This little guy was being poked with needle after needle after needle… and he asked, ‘Why me?’ And I thought of Sam as I was thinking of Elsa. She was born with this. Why is she a villain?” revealed Lasseter in the ABC special The Story of Frozen: Making a Disney Animated Classic. He decided Elsa should have a sympathetic song about her isolation. The result was “Let It Go.” With lyrics like “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know” followed by Elsa’s realization that “I don’t care what they’re going to say,” the song may offer deeper meaning to kids with T1D about embracing what makes them different.
Kevin Kline & Phoebe Cates
Actor Kevin Kline, whose film work spans four decades from Sophie’s Choice to A Fish Called Wanda to this year’s Beauty and the Beast, married actress Phoebe Cates of Fast Times at Ridgemont High fame in 1989. The pair live a low-key life compared to most celebrities, but they’re always willing to step back into the spotlight when it comes to speaking out about type 1 diabetes. Their son Owen, now 26, was diagnosed with type 1 as a young child; Kline and Cates quickly became dedicated advocates for awareness and research. Commenting on how T1D changed their lives as parents, Kline told CNN, “Once you have a child diagnosed with diabetes, you stop being merely a parent… you become a parent, a doctor, a nurse.… You count every carb, watch their activity, prick their fingers, and make sure they take insulin.… At first, it’s a lot like having a newborn. Their diabetes never sleeps, and neither do you.”
He played 18 seasons in the NBA and earned a record as one of the league’s best shooters, but these days, the recently retired Ray Allen is handling shots of a different kind as he and his wife devote themselves to helping their 10-year-old son Walker manage type 1 diabetes, a disease he was diagnosed with as a toddler. “Shannon and I monitor everything he eats and drinks. We test his blood sugar with finger pricks 10 times a day, count the amount of carbohydrates he consumes, and do the math required to determine how much insulin to inject. It can take up to seven shots a day just to make sure his blood-glucose levels remain in a safe range,” Allen wrote in a Miami Herald op-ed.
The lead singer of the metal band Korn, Jonathan Davis found out about his son Zeppelin’s diagnosis with type 1 diabetes while he was on the road. “My wife was calling me, saying Zeppy was really tired and just being lethargic and laying around, and something was wrong,” he says in a video for JDRF. “I got home from tour, and we took him to the hospital and told them what was going on. And they started running tests and doing all these things, and they decided to check his blood sugar, just to see. I think [it] was, at that time, 290.” Korn has since recorded “So Unfair,” a song Davis wrote about his son’s diabetes. Proceeds from the single benefit JDRF.
Disclaimer: The experiences and suggestions recounted in these articles are not intended as medical advice, and they are not necessarily the “typical” experiences of families with a child who has type 1 diabetes. These situations are unique to the families depicted. Families should check with their healthcare professionals regarding the treatment of type 1 diabetes and the frequency of blood glucose monitoring.