Beth Ditto Interview: Diamonds Are Forever
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
December 03 2012 2:45 AM ET
Ditto’s strategy worked, and soon followed more fashion adoration, her first time playing the Cannes Film Festival, the much-heralded (also nude and unretouched) debut cover of Love magazine, and meeting her idol, John Waters, while playing the Coachella Music Festival.
But before all the fame and fortune in Europe came, Gossip’s star was on the rise but Ditto’s body and mind were failing her. When she was 24, she began losing her vision and her voice, her weight plummeted, and she lost equilibrium in the shower. She was terrified that she would never speak, much less sing, again. “I was losing my voice. I literally couldn’t speak, couldn’t swallow, my throat was paralyzed,” she recalls. “I was thinking, I have to think of something else to do, but I don’t know how to do anything else. And that was really frightening.”
To add insult to injury, while Gossip was becoming a critical success, none of the band mates were rolling in dough yet. It was 2005, just before their third album came out and two years before mainstream success. Ditto was still pilfering food from “whatever crappy job” she held in between albums and tours, shoplifting makeup, and living in a dilapidated “carny punk” house with all her friends. It was the “backwoods Southern experience of college dorm living,” she writes in her book.
The crooner certainly didn’t have health insurance. She was terrified when doctors told her she’d go blind if she didn’t get immediate treatment. “I kept thinking, I don’t have money to do this. I don’t even have a hundred dollars in my pocket to pay for the fucking co-pay, let alone [the rest].”
She was diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a rare immune-system disorder that attacks the internal organs. Few Americans had ever heard of the disease before it killed comic Bernie Mac in 2008.
“I’m so lucky that my disease was so fucking weird and with a really strange version of it,” Ditto says, laughing, “because the doctors were super interested. They would comp things, they would give me a discounted rate because it was so weird that they were intrigued — and thank God for that. I know that sounds totally weird. It was really surreal.”