In the Human Factor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduces us to survivors who have overcome tremendous odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. Be inspired by their successes, as we have been. Today we hear from an acclaimed pianist Byron Janis.
“When I was 11, an injury to my little finger left it permanently numb and almost ended my budding musical career. Since that day, I have understood what it means to overcome adversity.
When I learned I had arthritis in my hands and wrists, I again had to summon all my inner strength to face the pain. I’ve suffered for more than 38 years with psoriatic arthritis, an inflammatory form of the disease that causes pain and swelling in the joints.
For 12 years after my diagnosis I did not reveal I had this disease. With the support of my wife, Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of the actor Gary Cooper, I continued on a journey that despite the pain, allowed me to play with only sporadic absences from the stage.
Maria has for more than 40 years been at my side, chronicling my performances and daunting challenges. She has been an instrumental force in bringing our story to public television and to the writing and publication of a book. We have been lucky to have lived a life of international glamour, romance and triumphs in spite of this adversity.
I have been the ambassador and spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation since 1984, when my condition was revealed at a White House luncheon with Nancy Reagan. Recently, the Arthritis Foundation and I announced an extended relationship that I hope will benefit the 50 million Americans who suffer with arthritis, the nation’s most common form of disability.
I will donate to the Arthritis Foundation 25% of proceeds from the sale of a DVD documentary of my life, my recently published book, and my soon-to-be-released CD.
I want you to know that arthritis has taught me to look inside myself for new sources of strength and creativity. It has given my life a new intensity. I have arthritis, but it does not have me.”
Byron Janis plays at a sold-out concert in Paris in 1975.
A brief biography
Byron Janis is renowned internationally as one of the world’s greatest concert pianists. In 1988, he was honored by President Reagan at a State Dinner at the White House marking the 40th anniversary of his highly acclaimed debut at Carnegie Hall that launched his brilliant career.
In 1960, he was chosen as the first American artist to be sent to the Soviet Union to open the Cultural Exchange between the USSR and the United States. He has made many recordings and was asked by the French in 1978 to make a television special on the life of Frederic Chopin. This was shown on PBS in the United States, as well as in different countries around the world.
In 1973, he developed psoriatic arthritis in both hands and wrists yet he continued his performing career and even made two highly acclaimed CDs. In 1986, he became a spokesperson for the Arthritis Foundation as its National Ambassador to the Arts.
Among his honors are, Commander of the French Legion d’Honneur for Arts and Letters, the Grand Prix du Disque, the Stanford Fellowship (the highest honor of Yale University) and the Distinguished Pennsylvania Artists Award (past recipients include James Michener, Marion Anderson, James Stewart and Bill Cosby). He received an honorary doctorate at Trinity College and recently, the gold medal from the French Society for the Encouragement of Progress, the first musician to receive this honor since its inception in 1906.
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