J. Anthony Brown Raises His Voice
The radio personality and comic goes public about his type 2 diabetes
J. Anthony Brown is on the phone for a Saturday morning interview, and he warns us that he’s not at his best. Late Thursday night—maybe Friday morning?—he wound up in the hospital. He’s just getting back on his feet now. But he assures us he’s doing OK. “I was just listening to my body’s warning signs,” he says about his emergency room visit. “It wasn’t my diabetes. I’ve just been overworking.”
It’s that kind of candor that has garnered Brown fans, from his stand-up comedy routines to his cohosting gig on The Tom Joyner Morning Show (a syndicated morning drive-time radio show), to his acting work on the big screen (Think Like a Man, xXx: State of the Union) and small (The Rickey Smiley Show, House of Payne, Like Family).
But when he’s not behind the microphone or in front of the camera, Brown still brings the same energy to his conversations, especially when talking about his type 2 diabetes or his parents’ struggles with the disease. That’s why he has been honored with the American Diabetes Association’s Distinguished Community Spirit Award, recognizing his contributions to people living with diabetes.
Brown spent a recent Saturday morning chatting with Diabetes Forecast about his own health, his family history with diabetes, and why he brings it all to the morning drive.
What made you want to get involved with the American Diabetes Association?
I have type 2; had it for about 15 years. My parents had diabetes, but I wasn’t as aware of it, not having it at the time. I got it later on in life. I remember my grandmother [had type 2] back in the day, when they were using strips [to test for excess glucose that ended up in the urine]. A lot of people don’t know about the advancements in technology.
What was your diagnosis like? With your family history, did you think you might get diabetes at some point? Were you prepared?
I never even thought about it. I went to several doctors to find out what was the problem with my fingers. I had this tingling sensation in my fingers and my toes. Finally one doctor said, “Let me test you for diabetes.” It’s amazing how many physicians are not aware in terms of symptoms. [But] if it doesn’t affect you, you don’t really take it that serious. When I would see my grandmother and my mother with it, it was just a part of life. My mother had to take the shots, my grandmother with the strips, and now I have to take my medicine and eat right.
So what’s changed since your diagnosis? What is your diabetes management routine?
I stopped eating a lot of fried foods. I love chicken, so I eat a lot of roasted chicken and I love vegetables. If it’s a vegetable, I can eat anything. I cheat on the weekend; I’ll eat some sweets, but nowhere near what I used to. Once you realize you have diabetes, you realize you just can’t have them anymore. When you take them out of your diet, it just changes.
You really should get your rest and drink your fluids. I’ve been working the radio show from 6 to 10 a.m., then going right from there to do the television show [The Rickey Smiley Show, now in its second season] until maybe 1 in the morning. That’s the schedule I’ve been working for 2½ months. We were told that once we started the television show we’d get out of there by 10, 11 p.m., but the latest I’ve left is 2:30 [a.m.] I’m just trying to fulfill my obligations, but you can’t fulfill them if you’re dead. I let it get the best of me, and you can’t do that. I was just so tired. I feel much, much better now.
What made you want to share your health stories with the public? A lot of people aren’t that brave.
It’s a personal thing; it is definitely a personal thing. Once you experience something … like, here I am, I just got back from the emergency room; I went on Thursday. Well, I’ve already gotten five or six new minutes of material that I’ve never experienced, from going to the emergency room. If I can do this, maybe someone can hear this.
It’s a sad state of affairs. You’re bombarded with what you’re not supposed to have wherever you go. You go to a hotel, it’s a vending machine. You turn on your television, it’s sweets. Why wouldn’t you want that? The carrot association should be pushing carrots! The cucumber people ain’t out there pushing it. You see a Pop-Tart everywhere you go, and why wouldn’t you want one?
I don’t want to say we all just throw up our hands and stop working. I know a lot of people are being reached, but it’s just our society that we live in. Look at a refrigerator in 1936, then look at a refrigerator today. It’s huge! Look at the people in 1936 and look at the people today. You can store more food, so we can eat more food. Look at old Soul Train videos; all the people are skinny! Did they eat? Look at the dance shows today! They’re wider than the people on Soul Train. I’m not saying they’re fat; we’re just bigger people. Food is everywhere.
I’ve heard people say, “I already have sugar so I’m going to eat what I want. I’ve already lost a leg.” My father had both legs amputated, sitting in the hospital. We go into his hospital drawer, and I’m not lying, it was full of honey buns. You can’t save anyone from themselves.
But you still try.
I want to tell people, “I know it’s very, very hard. But the rewards, in terms of having a longer life, are greater when you take care of yourself as opposed to giving up.” It’s a very, very tough fight to live with diabetes and eat right and get some exercise. But the reward is … you’re going to be around longer.
Listent to J. Anthony Brown’s parody song about diabetes, "You Can Eat Whatever You Like".