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Photo of Johnny Clegg, A Pancreatic Cancer Legacy Hero



The World Lost A Uniting Voice

Written By Debra Gelbart

Sadly, Johnny Clegg Lost His Battle With Pancreatic Cancer
On July 16, 2019 After A Courageous Four-Year Fight.

This Was His Story.

Johnny Clegg was a beloved song-writer, musician, singer and social justice activist in South Africa. His story is especially significant because he is often credited with helping to crush apartheid in South Africa. He had the ability to unite people across the races. Thus he made an indelible mark in the music industry and the hearts of the people. In South Africa and around the world, his fans knew him primarily as a prolific singer-songwriter of music that combines South African Zulu-inspired sounds with African pop. He is often called the “White Zulu”.

Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April of 2015. He was a lightning bolt of optimism and sage advice as he continued to entertain audiences around the world. “Everyone battling pancreatic cancer has to have ‘inkani yempilo,’ Zulu for ‘the stubborn determination to live,’” said Johnny, who had lived in South Africa since the mid-1960s.

Relishing Camaraderie

When he traveled from his home in Johannesburg, South Africa to attend the 16th Annual Seena Magowitz Foundation Annual Golf Classic for the first time (held in Boston in 2018), Johnny was delighted to find that other pancreatic cancer warriors have the same stubborn determination to survive that he had. But he was also fascinated that each has their own story.

“I really appreciate the opportunity to meet them and talk to them and share their experiences and get an idea of their struggle,” he said during an interview at the Boston event. “The struggle is very personal and at times a lonely thing, even if your family is there with you. Because you’re the guy who’s got it.”

Honesty and Authenticity

Johnny was upfront with his fans about his health challenges.

“I made a decision to post my condition on my Facebook fan page and just give a history,” he said. “It’s a desire to say, look, this has happened to me– I’m not special. This is the cancer lottery. I mean, it just happens. It’s a random thing that’s happened, right? I’ve had to cancel some of my tours while I went through chemo. That’s why I’m not around. I had kept silent until then and I thought, it’s not real. I want to be real.”

He appreciated how genuine the Seena Magowitz Foundation event to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer research is, especially for pancreatic cancer survivors. “I’m grateful information is getting out there and that the Foundation is celebrating the survivors.”

Though Johnny finished chemotherapy less than a month before going to Boston, he had the energy and drive to perform for an enthusiastic, grateful audience at the golf classic..

“You have to accept that you’re dealing with this cancer,” he said. “Your life takes a turn. You have to incorporate it. Instead of just saying, ‘Okay, I’m done for,’ you say, ‘Keep on doing what you’re doing.’ I’m carrying on with my music.”

A Continuing Legacy of Inspiration

In the sunlight of a democratic and equal South Africa, Johnny was a cultural ambassador for his country. As much as he could, he continued to put on concerts for his fans all over the globe. In fact, in October of 2017, two and a half years after he was diagnosed, Johnny was performing at a sold-out venue in San Diego. A mutual friend brought Roger Magowitz, founder of the Seena Magowitz Foundation, to see Johnny perform there. Roger was so moved by Johnny’s story that he invited him to the 2018 Magowitz Foundation Golf Classic in Boston.

Cancer Did Not Slow Clegg Down Significantly Until Nearing The End

”I’m dancing, I’m singing, I’m writing. I put out a new album that went to number one on the Canadian world music charts,” he said at the Seena Magowitz Foundation Annual Classic in 2018. “It’s also being released in France.”

Though Clegg finished chemotherapy less than a month before going to Boston, he had the energy and drive to perform for the enthusiastic, grateful audience at the golf classic.

You have to accept that you’re dealing with this cancer” he said. Your life takes a turn. You have to incorporate it. Instead of just saying, “Okay I’m done for; you say, “Keep on doing what you’re doing; I’m carrying on with my music.

Johnny Clegg Video (Asimbonanga) With Nelson Mandela 1999

Remembering Johnny Clegg Video

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