Exclusive: Patti LaBelle Talks Losing Her Sisters To Lung Cancer, And Thinking She Wouldn’t Live To 50
It’s not every day that one gets to chat with a music legend and supreme diva. And while I could have chatted with the delightful Patti LaBelle for hours on end about all things music, including her classic cuts, we had serious business to discuss when I briefly chatted with her over the phone on a Thursday afternoon. Very serious business.
Did you know that lung cancer is now the No. 1 cancer killer of women? Yeah, neither did I. And that’s why LaBelle has teamed up with the American Lung Association to promote their LUNG FORCE initiative. The aim is to get more people to do their research on lung cancer and work to prevent it, educate and empower both patients and those in healthcare, and, of course, increase funds for more lung cancer research. This is all very important to LaBelle, who lost two sisters, in their 40s at the time and who smoked, to lung cancer.
Check out what LaBelle had to say about getting people to take lung cancer seriously, her sisters, and how she’s staying healthy at 71 with her family’s medical history. And, of course, we also got a few questions in about folks trying to remake “Lady Marmalade,” and that misguided fan who tested LaBelle’s patience on stage in Vancouver.
MadameNoire: What influenced you to join forces with the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE?
Patti LaBelle: I lost my sisters, Vivian and Jackie, in their early 40s, to lung cancer. It was a very, very, very devastating feeling for me and my family members still left at the time. They’re all gone now. Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer of women, more so than breast, colon and pancreatic cancer combined, which I just found out myself.
By the time of their demise, every time I would come home from tour, because we all lived together at my mother’s house, they were walking around all skinny and sick, not knowing what lung cancer really meant for them. But once they were diagnosed, within a year, they both died. I was not aware of all the factors about lung cancer until I joined the American Lung Association LUNG FORCE initiative. Did you know one woman in the U.S. dies every eight minutes from lung cancer?
You once said that you didn’t think you would make it to 50 because of your family’s health history. You’re 71 now. What have their deaths taught you about life and living it to the fullest? And how do you take care of your health now?
When I turned 46, that was a blessing because my sisters died in their early 40s. My mother died of complications from diabetes. My father, from Alzheimer’s. My other sister, of colon cancer. My family has been touched by so many devastating issues, and illnesses, and I prayed to God that I wouldn’t get any. But I am diabetic. I have diabetes–but diabetes doesn’t have Patti. I’m off the insulin now. My A1C is almost normal. But no one is exempt from lung cancer or any type of illness. So I pray every day. I wake up smiling saying, “Thank you, dear God, for another day.” I go to doctor’s appointments all the time, and I’m always checking myself. As they say, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” And that’s what I’m going to continue to do. At 71, honey, I’m still strong–and look kind of cute. But my sisters, they didn’t look beautiful at all with their condition, and they were all beautiful women. You want to look at people and think there’s still hope, but at the time, I looked at them and there was no hope. So I’m hoping to bring awareness to lung cancer and bring people to the table because critical funds for research are necessary.
Switching to music, what do you think of the news that Rita Ora wants to remake “Lady Marmalade” with Iggy Azalea and others? There’s nothing like the original!
What a compliment! That’s such a compliment. When it was Christina Aguilera and all the little girls, I mean, that was a compliment to Sarah Dash, Nona Hendryx and Patti LaBelle. We were so happy. And if these girls, Rita Ora, who I love, if they do this song, that’s another feather in my hat [laughs]. Baby, we inspired someone to do something. Don’t you think that would be cute? It would be. I would love that.
Are there any singers with voices out now that you think could cover a Patti LaBelle song? If so, who would you love to see kill it?
For sure, singers like Adele. The young girls like Faith Evans, Lalah Hathaway, Leela James–that’s a singin’ fool. There are so many young girls with great voices who could do a Patti LaBelle song and just kill it. Even Demi Lovato! She’s my new crush. That little girl can sing like I never thought she could. She could sing a Patti LaBelle song. And Fantasia. That’s my daughter! She kills my songs. Oh yes, honey.
Also, what were you thinking when that so-called fan got on stage in Vancouver and tried to pull off his clothes in front of you? I saw you were NOT having that, Ms. Patti!
You know, baby, I’m praying for him. Because he knew not what he did. So if you’re going to come up to a person like a Gladys Knight or an Anita Baker or a Patti LaBelle, you better respect the fact that we’re older ladies. I said, “Bye, Felicia!”
That Patti LaBelle, always the comedian. And a fabulous one.
For more information on lung cancer, the American Lung Association and their LUNG FORCE initiative, go to LUNGFORCE.org and learn how to share your voice on social media, donate, walk to raise money and find out how to reduce your risk of getting it.