Longtime professional drummer Pat Torpey shares his experience with Parkinson’s disease and how his bandmates and family stand by his side as he continues touring the world.
March 6 is my wife’s birthday. It’s also the day, in 2014, that I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Not exactly the kind of news you want hear on any day, let alone a joyous occasion.
As I sat in my doctor’s office, I saw his mouth move, but didn’t hear what he was saying. My mind raced as I thought of my amazing 11-year-old son and my beautiful wife, Karen. I was afraid of how this would affect our life and marriage. I thought of the drums and was afraid that I'd never be able to play again.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I've been a professional musician — a drummer — for over 30 years. I've played on "American Bandstand" and "The Tonight Show." I've toured with Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant, the Knack and Belinda Carlisle and recorded with many other artists. I’m also a founding member of the band Mr. Big. We were lucky enough to have a No. 1 hit in the U.S. and 15 other countries in 1992 with a song called "To Be With You."
I’ve always led a clean life, kept myself in good physical and mental condition, ate well and stayed active, and avoided the pitfalls that sometimes come with a career in rock and roll.
But in spring of 2008 I noticed something “strange” in my right foot and the way it moved when I played. I tried everything to fix the problem: used different pedals, shoes, drumheads, but nothing helped. I was originally diagnosed with essential tremor, until 2014 when my symptoms intensified. I began experiencing waves of fatigue, loss of appetite and eventually had trouble playing just one song, let alone a full two hour concert.
My wife urged me to go to the doctor again and that’s when I got the diagnosis. Following this moment, I fell into a deep depression. This was all new to me.
Meanwhile, there was a new Mr. Big album that needed to be finished and a tour in the planning stages. I couldn't see myself doing either. I called a meeting and told the band to get another drummer. But my bandmates insisted that I be part of the recording and tour or they wouldn’t do it. It was incredibly gracious of them and I'm lucky to call them friends and brothers.
Thankfully, Karen pushed me to seek treatment and it saved my life. A new doctor prescribed medications that helped my depression and I was advised to stay active. I soon realized that I have the ability to take control of my situation, a lesson I have to remember every day.
After months of darkness, I finally saw a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel and just that little bit of hope felt fantastic. I started feeling a little better each day and eventually found my way back.
I thank God for Karen; she was the light that I so badly needed. She, along with Patrick, Billy, Paul and Eric helped me realize how I lucky I am, and more importantly, that there's life after a Parkinson's diagnosis.
I also learned that depression is a very real and serious thing and it's ok to look for help and support. You owe it to yourself and the people that love you.
As for the band, I had to alter my approach to playing, but we were able to finish the album. We just completed a world tour and I was on stage for every show. Now we're getting ready for some U.S. dates and I can't wait. I feel like I've been given a second chance and I'm making the most of it.
See you on the road.