People to Know 2017: Ben Vereen
Ben Vereen holds nothing back. On stage and screen, he’s in the spotlight, a source of infectious positivity. Behind the scenes, the Tony Award winner is a self-proclaimed “neon sign” for diabetes awareness. His goal? Change the dialogue about diabetes.
To do that, he’s moving the discussion from defeat to triumph. It’s something he had to do in his own life, too. “You have an initial onslaught of fear,” he says of his type 2 diagnosis in 2008. “You’ve heard the horror stories, and that flashes before your eyes.”
I can relate. When I was diagnosed with type 1, I wasn’t just scared—I was devastated. But I was determined not to let diabetes define my life or stop me from achieving my dreams. Once Ben learned to manage his diabetes with diet, exercise, and medication, his fear melted away, too. What’s left is a genuine passion to teach people with diabetes that you can live well if you take care of yourself. “[A diabetes diagnosis] is an opportunity toward wellness, an opportunity to heal,” says Ben, 70. “And by you healing, you become an example for the community of people living with diabetes.”
I’ve crossed paths with Ben over the years and can honestly say that he lives that example out loud. His career took off with an unforgettable Broadway performance of Pippin, and he’s been working on stage and in film ever since. His on-screen credits include the show Roots, a TV adaptation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and this year’s Sneaky Pete, available on Amazon, and Making History on Fox.
As performers, finding support is also key. When I was on the show Alias, Jennifer Garner would recognize that I was having a low before I did and make sure I got orange juice right away. In theater productions, Ben has the stage crew stash apple juice behind the curtains so he can take a swig if he’s feeling low. And he checks his blood glucose whenever he feels a bit off. “That’s the wonderful thing about diabetes,” he says. “I can check my blood sugar and know what to do.”
I’m awed by his unfailing positivity—and his willingness to go above and beyond for people with diabetes. His organization, Wellness Through the Arts, encourages kids to write essays about diabetes, and he continues to speak at diabetes awareness presentations sponsored by drug manufacturer Novo Nordisk. This year, he plans to spread the word about living well with diabetes at churches across the country to reach African American and Latino communities—all while writing several new shows for Broadway. He’s even willing to share his personal phone number with anyone struggling with their diabetes, simply because he’d “love to talk.”
To say Ben is living with diabetes is an understatement. He is truly alive, and diabetes is just along for the ride.
The Author: Victor Garber is a film, television, and stage actor known for his work in Argo, Milk, Sleepless in Seattle, and Titanic (to name a few). He currently stars in Legends of Tomorrow on the CW. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a preteen, he became an advocate and board member for Beyond Type 1, an organization that leverages the power of social media and technology to change what it means to live with a chronic disease. Beyond Type 1 aims to bridge the gap between diagnosis and cure, empowering people to live well today and fund a better tomorrow. For more on Beyond Type 1 visit beyondtype1.org.