In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Jenna Bush Hager, country music icon Alan Jackson revealed that he has been diagnosed with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a degenerative nerve condition.
Speaking with Jenna from the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Jackson, 62, opened up about the condition, which has been affecting his ability to walk. He was diagnosed with CMT ten years ago.
“I have this neuropathy and neurological disease,” Jackson said. “It’s genetic that I inherited from my daddy … There’s no cure for it, but it’s been affecting me for years. And it’s getting more and more obvious. And I know I’m stumbling around on stage. And now I’m having a little trouble balancing, even in front of the microphone, and so I just feel very uncomfortable.”
The condition affects the peripheral nervous system and causes balance problems by compromising smaller, weaker muscles in the body’s extremities. However, the illness does not alter life expectancy.
“It’s not going to kill me. It’s not deadly,” Jackson said. “But it’s related (to) muscular dystrophy and Parkinson’s disease.”
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, there is no cure for CMT but it can be managed with supportive therapy.
Jackson, who has been lighting up the country music scene for more than three decades and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 2017, doesn’t plan on stepping out of the spotlight just yet.
“I never wanted to do the big retirement tour, like people do, then take a year off and then come back,” Jackson said. “I think that’s kinda cheesy. And I’m not saying I won’t be able to tour. I’ll try to do as much as I can.”
At home, Jackson is supported by his high school sweetheart and wife of 41 years, Denise Jackson.
“When I’m down, he lifts me up. When he’s down, I try to lift him up,” Denise explained. “The happy side of that is we’ve had a fairy-tale life.”
Jenna noted that many have said that Jackson, who includes classic instruments in his music, has been described as a man who “single-handedly kept traditional country music alive.” Jackson said that while he’s been glad to have an impact on the genre, he’s happy that he’s now at a point in his career where he can focus on making only what he wants to make.
“I feel a little more freedom now, because I’m not trying to worry about getting on the radio and fitting into their limitations,” Jackson explained.
Jackson said that he hopes that the legacy he leaves behind is his music.
“I’ve always believed that the music is the most important thing. The songs. And I guess that’s what I’d like to (leave) if I had a legacy,” Jackson said.
“He’ll have so many songs for our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren to hear and know who he was,” said Denise. “To know what was important to him. To get a little touch of our lives together through his music.”