Gregg Allman Never Thought Twice About Death Before Liver Transplant, Playing Allman Brothers Hepatitis C Benefit Gig
Posted on Jun 21st 2011 12:00PM by Dan Reilly
The Allman Brothers Band are performing a benefit concert at New York's famed Beacon Theatre on July 27 that they've dubbed "Tune In to Hep C Presents the Allman Brothers Band" (Tickets go on sale Wed., June 22). Unlike other charity concerts, this event is personal for Gregg Allman, who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 2007 and had to undergo a liver transplant in 2010 because of the disease's ravaging effects on his body.
Now, Allman is feeling better than ever, with a new liver that, according to his doctor, "likes" him. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has decided to use his survival to warn others of the disease in a partnership with the American Liver Foundation and Merck pharmaceuticals.
Allman spoke candidly with Spinner about contracting the disease at 20-years-old, how his addictions to alcohol and drugs made it even worse and why death "never crossed his mind twice" during his ordeal.
How did you learn you had Hepatitis?
I started getting really tired all the time. Sometimes I'd get up in the morning and feel like, "Hey, it's time to go to bed." This lethargy comes over you. It gets kinda hard to move. It really steals your energy. The doctor gave me an extensive checkup and called me up and said, "I need to talk to you." So I went into the office and he said, "You have hepatitis C," and I'm going, "What is that?" He explained it all to me.
So they put me on the interferon. I was on it for 26 weeks. It was rough, lemme tell you. And it went away, but then it came back, because I waited too long. I had actually caught [Hepatitis] when I was 20. I was getting my first or second tattoo and that's where I got it, before they passed all the laws where they have to have the needles sealed and everything. He just picks a couple of 'em out of a bucket, stirred 'em in some water or something, and loaded them in the guns! Said, "Whatcha want, boy? What color?"
What was the tattoo?
Oh, it doesn't matter [laughs]. So then it laid dormant in me from 20 to 50. Then in the '80s, when I started drinking, that just made the environment perfect. Yep.
Watch Gregg Allman's 'Just Another Rider' Video
How has your lifestyle changed since you found out about it?
It didn't change too much. Certain things I can't eat anymore, like uncooked shellfish. When they do this transplant thing, they give you this anti-rejection pill, so your body won't reject the organ. And these pills have a lot of side effects, man. Make your hands shake. Make your hair fall out.
Anyway, all of that is over now. Thank god my hair fell out in some means of a pattern, so it never really looked like it was falling out in clumps, like usually when people go through chemo. All that's gone now, except I can't eat food that's been layin' out, because these pills lower your immune system. They said I might be taking some of these pills all my life. Each pill is a milligram, and I started out on nine. Now I'm down to two and half. The doctor says, "Your new liver likes you" [laughs].
Did you ever doubt that you would survive the transplant or that you wouldn't be able to sing again?
I don't think death crossed my mind twice. I just thought, "Hey, I got stuff to do!" There was a long time that I wondered [about my voice]. They did the surgery just right above where you sing from. I was in the clear on that one. About four days after the operation, I started trying to sing. And it came back.
Did it hurt?
No, it didn't. It was probably the only place on my body that didn't hurt.
Did it make you regret all those years of drinking and drugs?
No. I don't have time for regret. What's regret gonna solve? If there was anything I could change about my career, it would be drugs and alcohol. 'Cause they're a lie, you know? Like that cocaine commercial said, "All of it is a lie." Sure, you come home from work at night, you take a drink, relax, all right. You keep on and keep on and you become a mouthy nerd -- it loosens the hinges on your mouth. Liquor is just...ugh. I kicked it all though in 1996. I've been clean and sober for 16 years.
Was there a particular incident that made you realize you needed to get clean?
Yes, I saw a film of me accepting the Hall of Fame award. God, I'll never forget that day. I saw it being played back to me and I just thought, "That's it! If that stuff makes you look like that then nooooooooo."
Was it just your appearance or the way you acted or both?
Both. All. My very existence, I just despised it. It was just terrible. And I quit right at that millisecond. It was over. And I felt so good. After I did start feeling better, it was like those monkeys are finally getting off my back!
Were any of your addictions a way of coping with Duane's death?
Well, now, we don't want to get all personal. Y'know, [talking about it] doesn't help anything, doesn't change anything.
When you revealed you had the disease, did you hear from old friends, bandmates and ex-wives?
I don't know about the ex-wives [laughs]. Yeah, I heard from a lot of good old friends. I was well supported during this. I had bags of cards and letters and well-wishers. And they send me fruit. They wouldn't let any flowers in the hospital.
How often do you have young fans coming up to you named Melissa or Jessica by their parents?
It's pretty often. It blows my mind. Of course, it does.
You must be pretty excited about the benefit concert.
Oh yeah. It's always good to get back together with the Brothers.
What do you have planned for the benefit show?
Just another great show. It's at the Beacon, you know? Gonna be in the summertime, thank goodness. Won't have to freeze going in and out of that place. I'm really looking forward to it and we will have you some surprises. Trust me on that.
And you're using it to spread awareness of Hepatitis C.
The American Liver Foundation, I've been working with them and Merck Pharmaceuticals. Trying to get the word out, man.
Lots of celebrities have revealed they've had the disease but you're one of the few to really embrace it as a cause. What inspired that?
I just reasoned in my own head, if someone had of come along just a few years earlier and told me, "Hey, Look! You should go get checked for this thing, 'cause there's getting to be more and more cases, right?" then I would have gone and got it checked and they would have killed it with the medication that they use.
What message do you have for at-risk people?
I'd just tell them to go down and get checked. I'm not a doctor. I can't tell them what to do or what they're doing is right or wrong. I'm just telling you as one who's been through it, go and get looked at. Just a hot tip from ol' G.A. here. Save yourself a lot of grief.