For a disease affecting so few people, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or ALS) has a somewhat higher than normal profile.
That’s due in small part to the ubiquitous “Ice Bucket Challenge” America embraced a couple of summers back, but also because of some of the famous people diagnosed with the disease: Physicist Stephen Hawking, actor David Niven, and of course baseball great Lou Gehrig, who originally lent his name to what was then a mystery diagnosis.
Perhaps less well-known—outside of heavy metal music circles, anyway—is Jason Becker. But the story of how he’s persevered in the face of ALS is one that deserves to be told.
Becker is a genuine musical prodigy. Born in 1969, he began studying guitar at an early age and quickly made a name for himself with his insane guitar riffs and unique playing style. He released two albums before he was 20, and in 1988 began working with David Lee Roth.As Becker joined Roth’s band and began making plans for their first tour as band mates, Becker noticed a limp in his left leg. He decided to get it checked out by a doctor, and was shocked to learn he had ALS.
Doctors gave him only a few years to live. His family was devastated, but Becker tried to laugh it off. He went back to the studio to continue recording even as his father quit his job to help his son full-time. As the weakness began traveling through his body, Becker was eventually forced to put aside touring with the band.
Over time, ALS robbed Becker of his ability to walk, his voice, and even the capacity to breathe on his own. Despite his losses, he continued dreaming of music. With the help of a special letter board invented by his father (which lets him communicate using eye gestures) and the support of family and colleagues, Becker continued writing and composing music. He long ago passed the initial five year prognosis doctors gave him, and credits his continued strength to a healthy diet and the spiritual teachings of Yoga.Although Jason Becker is wheelchair bound and has no voice, he is hardly voiceless. Much as Stephen Hawking’s boundless imagination has helped millions “explore” the cosmos, ALS cannot prevent Jason Becker from dreaming up new soundscapes for his fans to enjoy. In so doing, he offers ALS awareness a vibrant soundtrack—with some really sick guitar licks!