(James Earl Jones. Image courtesy of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Inc.)
Whether you’ve seen this Tony Award winner on Broadway in such shows as The Great White Hope or Fences, in numerous feature films including The Hunt for Red October, Field of Dreams, or The Sandlot, or in his countless TV roles from Gabriel’s Fire to The Big Bang Theory, or heard his memorable voiceovers — including Mufasa in The Lion King series and Darth Vader in Star Wars — undoubtedly you know James Earl Jones.
One of America’s most distinguished and versatile actors, Jones has been acting for more than 60 years. The 85-year-old also has won multiple Emmys, a Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and the Academy Honorary Award (a special award given at the Academy’s discretion for lifetime achievement, exceptional contributions, or outstanding service).
But what you might not have seen him in is his current leading role: diabetes advocate and spokesperson for Janssen Pharmaceuticals’ diabetes awareness campaign. Jones is working to help promote Invokana, an SGLT2 inhibitor for Type 2 diabetes, which he takes to manage his blood sugar. In a video on the campaign website ICanImagine.com, he discusses his efforts to control his numbers. An interactive personality quiz on the site offers tailored tips for navigating diabetes.
Meet legendary actor James Earl Jones as he shares his diabetes journey, in his own impeccable style.
DSM: Many people recently may have read about your “accidental diagnosis” of Type 2. For those who haven’t, please share your story. How surprised were you?
JEJ: I first learned I had Type 2 diabetes when I was working on my weight back in the ’90s. I fell asleep on a bench in a gymnasium, and a doctor who happened to be there said, “That’s not normal.” He suggested I get tested, and there it was — Type 2 diabetes. The news hit me like a thunderbolt.
At the time, I didn’t really notice any of the symptoms, but I did know that people of certain ages and ethnic groups are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. My mother had it, and other family members may have had it, too. Still, for me, it took a while to realize I needed to ask for help in controlling my diabetes.
DSM: You’ve said you have succeeded because of your relationship with your doctors and the support of your wife and son. How does your family support your self-management efforts, and how important is that support?
JEJ: My family’s support is incredibly important to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. Working with your own supporters, including your family and doctors, can help you find the right lifestyle changes and treatment that are best for you. Personally, I have to be mindful of the foods I eat, and I’ve had to cut back on cookies and my favorite dessert, strawberry shortcake. It’s human to love sugar! Thankfully, my family helps me stay on track. I can still enjoy many of the foods I love in moderation, but I reach for healthier foods like fresh fruit when I can.
DSM: You’ve said the biggest challenge is coming to terms with the confusion and frustration of your blood sugar numbers. What is your advice for people newly diagnosed with Type 2?
JEJ: I feel very fortunate that I was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, since it happened quite by accident. So being diagnosed is a great first step. People with diabetes often struggle with their numbers. It can be frustrating — I know. But when your numbers move in the right direction, it motivates you. You can even start to imagine loving your numbers. My advice is for you and your support team to learn as much as you can and become your own best advocate in managing your diabetes. We all have individual strengths that can help us along the way.
DSM: After living with Type 2 for 20 years, what made you decide to now sign on as a spokesperson for Invokana and share your diabetes story? Do you have plans to continue any diabetes advocacy work?
JEJ: I have committed myself to the role of living well with Type 2 diabetes and want to help others do the same. It took me a while to find a treatment plan that worked for me and really helped improve my blood sugar and other health measures — and I know there are lots of others facing similar challenges. So I’ve joined Janssen to help raise awareness and inspire millions of people to take control of their Type 2 diabetes and to imagine loving their numbers. At ICanImagine.com, you can take a quiz to find out your behavioral strengths. Every time someone takes the quiz, a donation is made to the American Diabetes Association — and a second donation is made when you share your quiz results on social media. I was the “Innovator!” Funds raised will support American Diabetes Association research and initiatives for education, awareness, and advocacy.
DSM: In your video for the ICanImagine campaign, you talk about being the director of your own health and finding the right fit. Can you explain that, and how Invokana has helped you “love your numbers”?
JEJ: Being the director of your own health is about recognizing that you have to be active in managing your diabetes. I’ve certainly had to make lifestyle changes, like exercising more and watching what I eat. I was in the Army when I was young and we used to train by skiing uphill. And while I can’t do that anymore, I try to walk in the woods behind my house and in my neighborhood as often as I can. I make healthier food choices now, too. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help from my family — both my wife and son keep a close eye on me! When I was diagnosed with Type 2, my whole family had to work together to help manage my condition.
Working closely with my doctors, I’ve tried many medications to manage my blood sugar. With Invokana, it was the first time in a while that something made a difference. I lowered my blood sugar and even lost some weight.
I will always have Type 2 diabetes, but there is a way to live well with it and keep my blood sugar levels under control.
DSM: What’s next for James Earl Jones the actor? I’ve heard a rumor you are thinking about comedy?
JEJ: I have always really enjoyed myself whenever I have had an opportunity to work in a comedy. I’m very much in the mood to do one right now!
DSM: How does it feel to be known as the voice of so many iconic characters — both endearing and evil — from Mufasa to Darth Vader?
JEJ: As you could guess, I’m easily identified by my voice. I was in a taxi recently, and when I said hello and gave my destination, the driver turned around and said, “Hey, aren’t you Darth Vader?”
DSM: Last question — sorry, but I have to ask — what do you think Darth Vader would have to say about Type 2 diabetes?
JEJ: Lord Vader would say, “To all who do battle with the dark side of blood sugar, may the Force be with you!”