National Press Club

Natalie Cole leads battle against Hepatitis C

October 19, 2011 | By Robert Webb |

Singer Natalie Cole accepts a National Press Club mug from Club President Mark Hamrick

Singer Natalie Cole accepts a National Press Club mug from Club President Mark Hamrick

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Nine-time Grammy winner Natalie Cole appealed to an Oct. 19 National Press Club luncheon audience to join her and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Gregg Allman in their battle against chronic Hepatitis C.

The Los Angeles-born daughter of the late legendary musician, Nat King Cole, branded herself a victim of the hippie drug culture of the 1970s, which engaged in "doing things we thought were fun."

She said it took more than 20 years before she learned from a medical examination that she had the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) that infects more than four million Americans.

"I had no idea what I was carrying around in my body all those years," Cole said, speaking softly. "I'd worked out and thought I was in pretty good health."

If she hadn't received help, she "would have become really sick," she added. Help came eventually in the form of a liver transplant and new kidney.

Many Americans today are unaware they have HCV, which can be contracted from a prick by a contaminated needle or through contact with HCV-infected blood, Cole said.

Given the ease with which it can spread, Cole recommended that everyone ask their doctors to check them for HCV, which is not part of routine physical exams.

She deplored what she called America's poor health care system, which she said many poor people cannot access.

"Many are afraid to go to doctors," she said. "HCV still has something of a stigma about it. But not as much as it used to. HCV can occur (even) in ear piercing."

A new interactive resource, "Tune in to Your Hep C: A Guide for Patients," features Allman and Cole. HCV victims can also go to http.// and to learn more.

"There is so much more that can be done to help today," Cole said. HCV patients "will be able to talk to people who really understand them. (It's) a beautiful thing."

Cole acknowledged that her drug problem led to her HCV infection. Her book, "Angel On My Shoulder," chronicles her struggle with cocaine and heroin. Although her habit didn't affect her singing, she said she was home "getting high" once when her young child needed her.

"When you are on drugs, you're not thinking of anything else, what may happen tomorrow or later," she said.

Young people today can access more powerful drugs than were available to Cole, she said, citing "ecstasy" as an example.

On other topics, she said that she hopes President Barack Obama will be re-elected after learning the job for four years.

"Now he knows what to do," Cole said.

She also noted that it is good to see Herman Cain make a strong bid for the Republican presidential nomination.