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Multiple Sclerosis Claims Captain Beefheart


Legendary rocker and visual artist Don Glen Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, has died of complications related to multiple sclerosis at age 69. Despite being wheelchair-bound for many years because of the disease, Captain Beefheart continued to produce artwork until his death, according to Hollywood Reporter.

Multiple sclerosis can be debilitating and deadly

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, often severely life-altering disease that attacks the central nervous system. Specifically, there is damage to the myelin sheath, a protective covering for the nerves. This damage interferes with the transmission of nerve signals between the brain and the spinal cord and other parts of the body.

During the course of the disease, symptoms may come and go, while others can be persistent. For some people symptoms are mild and may include numbness of the legs or fatigue, while others are impacted by more serious and lasting effects, as was Captain Beefheart.

According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the more common symptoms of MS include fatigue, gait (walking) difficulties, problems with balance and coordination, bladder and/or bowel dysfunction, vision problems dizziness or vertigo, pain, cognitive problems, sexual dysfunction, emotional changes, depression, and spasticity. Some less common symptoms include seizures, tremor, hearing loss, swallowing problems, and breathing difficulties.

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Because multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease for which there is no cure, treatment is limited to relieving symptoms as best as possible. Drugs such as interferon beta-1a and 1b and other disease-modifying agents are typically prescribed. Physical and occupational therapies are also helpful. However, because these therapies are only partially effective, some people will continue to get worse despite all attempts at treatment.

Individuals who have advanced MS, as did Captain Beefheart, are at greater risk for certain complications. These include osteoporosis, pressure sores, severe kidney and bladder infections, and aspiration pneumonia.

Captain Beefheart’s musical career included his early start with Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, and going on to record a dozen studio albums, including The Spotlight Kid, between 1967 and 1982, the year he retired from the music business.

Even though he was suffering from the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis and was eventually confined to a wheelchair, Captain Beefheart spent more than two decades painting and drawing, and had several exhibits of his work in New York City. He is survived by his wife, Janet Van Vliet.

Hollywood Reporter
National Multiple Sclerosis Society