Few entertainers today are as accomplished or versatile as Ben Vereen. For more than 40 years, Vereen has showcased his versatility and creativity, performing countless one-man shows not only in the United States, but also Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. Vereen’s acting credits includes his memorable roles as the unforgettable Chicken George in “Roots.” On Broadway, Vereen has appeared in numerous productions including “Wicked,” “Fosse,” “Hair,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Pippin.” His role in “Pippin” garnered him both the prestigious Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for “Best Actor in a Musical.”
After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2007, Vereen became a spokesperson for Sanofi U.S. on the Start Taking Action Now for Diabetes (S.T.A.N.D.) diabetes awareness program, which is also supported by non-profit organization Taking Control of Your Diabetes (TCOYD). There are nearly 26 million Americans living with the condition, including an estimated 7 million who remain undiagnosed. “Diabetes is not a problem,” explains Vereen. “Yes, it is global and medical and when you don't do the right thing, it is a problem. What we have here is an opportunity to not only heal those who are living with diabetes, but to heal the planet.”
The veteran entertainer holds five honorary doctorate degrees and is the spiritual director of the Angel of Love Spiritual Center where he is known as the Rev. Benjamin Vereen. Thus, he has a voice of sustained passion on the issue of diabetes awareness.
“Diabetes came, just to let you know to take care of yourself,” said Vereen. “Somebody said to me that in the garden the creator said, ‘I place you in the garden; take care of my garden.’ The garden is you. Diabetes came to remind us to take care of that which is sacred: our human temple. And to be an example for those who may not have it, or may be prone to it because we live in a society that is wrought with all sorts of disorders. Here’s diabetes, which has taken a lot of people down. But here’s the good news: You don’t have to go down that way.”
Professionally, Vereen addressed the issue of diabetes when the disorder was incorporated into the role of Phillip Long, the uncle of the lead character in the 1980s TV situation comedy “Webster.” In Vereen’s case, however, it became a matter of life imitating art. “Now in my family, we didn’t talk about diabetes because it was taboo,” recalled Vereen. “When someone was acting a little strange or they passed out, they use to say, ‘Oh, he got a little sugar in [his] blood.’ Remember that? So, we never talked about that. When I had to play this character living with diabetes, and in those days they had those huge needles for insulin and people thought (diabetics) were junkies because everyone had a kit , you know, similar to the heroin users. Well, when I was diagnosed in ’07, I had no idea of the symptoms. I didn’t know about the dry mouth, constant urination or fatigue. I didn’t know the symptoms ... and then one day I just passed out. I woke up in the hospital ... and right away I panicked. ‘How am I going to live with this disease? How am I going to alter my life to deal with this?’ Here’s the good news: I talked to my doctor, and he said, ‘You can live with this.’”
Today, the the 65-year-old hoofer remains active while constantly gracing both the small screen and larges stages. Among his television appearances are “How I Met Your Mother,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” for which he won the Prism Award, “House of Payne,” “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” “OZ,” “Touched By An Angel,” “The Nanny” and “Star Trek – The Next Generation.” Vereen and his band are currently touring his one man shows, “Ben Sings a Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. featuring the music of Sammy Davis Jr.” and “Brooklyn to Broadway” at top performing arts centers. He was the first simultaneous winner of the “Entertainer of the Year,” “Rising Star,” and “Song and Dance Star” awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). He also earned a coveted spot in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame.
In order to live what he calls a “good and prosperous life,” Vereen committed to a lifestyle that incorporates an attitude adjustment to diet and exercise. “I’m not suffering with diabetes. I can live with diabetes. I don’t have a challenge; I have an opportunity.”
Tony Award-winner Ben Vereen will kick off the Philadelphia “Step Out: Walk to Stop Diabetes” on Saturday, Oct. 6 as part of his work with Start Taking Action Now for Diabetes (S.T.A.N.D.) The ADA 5k walk begins with 8 a.m. Registration and 9:30 a.m. warm-up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. For more information, call (610) 828-5003 x 4645, or visit www.STANDforDiabetes.org.