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'Killing Me Softly' singer Roberta Flack has ALS that makes it 'impossible to sing'

LA Times logo LA Times 11/14/2022 Christie D'Zurilla
Roberta Flack, seen in 2017, has been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. (Charles Sykes / Invision / Associated Press) © Provided by LA Times Roberta Flack, seen in 2017, has been diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. (Charles Sykes / Invision / Associated Press)

"Killing Me Softly" singer Roberta Flack has ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, her publicist announced Monday.

The progressive neurodegenerative disease, full name amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, "has made it impossible to sing and not easy to speak," Elaine Schock said in a press release.

Nearly coinciding with the 85-year-old's health announcement is the Thursday premiere of "Roberta," a documentary about Flack's life and career that premieres at DOC NYC, the nation's largest documentary film festival. The documentary is available online Nov. 18-27 and premieres Jan. 24 on PBS as part of the "American Masters" series.

The "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" singer had a stroke in 2016 and went through a bout of COVID-19 this last January. Though she rallied enough post-stroke to perform at Lincoln Center in July 2017, she hasn't performed live since then, telling People magazine in February, "I hope to see my fans in person soon."

ALS is likely to prevent that from happening. The disease causes the motor neurons that control muscle movements to degenerate, the ALS Assn. says on its website.

"When the motor neurons die, the brain can no longer initiate and control muscle movement. When voluntary muscle action is progressively affected, people may lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe," the website says.

Nonetheless, Schock said the singer intends to stay active in music and other creative pursuits, such as the Jan. 10 release of a children's book she co-wrote that tells the story of how her music career began, “The Green Piano: How Little Me Found Music."

"Her fortitude and joyful embrace of music that lifted her from modest circumstances to the international spotlight remain vibrant and inspired," the press release said. "Through her Roberta Flack Foundation, she continues to pursue charitable and educational initiatives. Roberta knows firsthand that music has the power to uplift, inspire and transform."

Stephen Hawking is one of the most high-profile ALS patients to live far longer than doctors expected. The famous cosmologist, who died in 2018 at age 76, lived more than five decades after being diagnosed.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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