Rev. Jesse Jackson Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease

The Rev. Jesse Jackson announced Friday that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive degenerative disease that affects movement, in 2015. 

The civil rights advocate said in a press release he finds it “increasingly difficult to perform routine tasks and getting around is more of a challenge.” Jackson says he began having unspecified health issues three years ago but ignored them to continue working. 

“For a while, I resisted interrupting my work to visit a doctor. But as my daily physical struggles intensified I could no longer ignore the symptoms, so I acquiesced,” Jackson said. “After a battery of tests, my physicians identified the issue as Parkinson’s disease, a disease that bested my father.”

There is no cure for the disease, but symptoms can be managed with medications and in some cases surgery, according to the Mayo Clinic.

An estimated 7-10 million people have the neurodegenerative disease, symptoms of which include limb rigidity, gait and balance problems, slowness of movements and tremor, mainly at rest and described as a “pill-rolling tremor in hands,” according to the Parkinson’s Foundation.

Jackson, 76, says the diagnosis and its implications are “painful” and that he’s been slow “to grasp the gravity of it” but that he’s committed to lifestyle changes to slow its progress.

Northwestern Medicine confirmed Jackson’s 2015 diagnosis in a statement and said he has been receiving treatment in an outpatient setting.

Born in Greenville, South Carolina, Jackson has been a towering Chicago figure for most of his life. He received a football scholarship to the University of Illinois in 1959 and later attended the Chicago Theological Seminary from which he dropped out in 1966 to join the civil rights movement. 

The iconic and sometimes controversial leader founded Operation PUSH (now called Rainbow/PUSH) in Chicago in 1971 to effect political change for black and underserved communities.

Jackson said he sees the diagnosis as an opportunity to advocate for a cure for the disease in addition to his other causes.

“I will continue to try to instill hope in the hopeless, expand our democracy to the disenfranchised and free innocent prisoners around the world,” he said.

“I’m also spending some time working on my memoir so I can share with others the lessons I have learned in my life of public service. I steadfastly affirm that I would rather wear out than rust out.”

Eddie Arruza contributed.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz kthometz@wttw.com | (773) 509-5452


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